Spanx Leads The Way: Online Retailers Embrace Traditional Retailing

I have written a couple of times about the importance that retailers should place on establishing an integrated multi-channel strategy.  This concept is certainly gaining popularity with all sorts of retailers.  However, if until recently it was the traditional brick-and-mortar retailers that scrambled to come up with an online strategy and integrate it with their existing operations, today we are seeing that even online retailers are recognizing the importance of connecting to consumers through multiple platforms and channels. 

I have written about Tourneau's online strategy and about Amazon's delivery lockers.  However, there are a number of other examples.  Online retailer Net-a-Porter set up pop-up "window shops" in locations around the world from New York to Sydney.  E-Bay and Google are evaluating various storefront strategies, including pop-up shops to allow customers to physically experience certain products.  Online eyeglass retailer Warby Parker also decided to establish showrooms in a number of cities to deliver a more complete experience to its customers.

Shapewear brand Spanx is leading the way in this respect and is opening three flagship retail stores next month in the US.  While the brand has been present on the shelves of department stores like Neiman Marcus for over a decade, its business was originally online based.  In a Time Magazine article published this month Spanx's founder, Sara Blakely explains the reasons behind this strategy: "Our business is all about emotion - this feeling of women coming together, being honest about the help they might need and knowing we're all in this together.  When you're doing everything online, you miss a lot of that connection."

The Spanx stores will feature the same aesthetic and attitude that transpires from its website.  They will include an interactive "affirmation station" where customers can interact with Sunny, Blakely's cartoon alter ego, which is a staple in the brand's website and packaging.  Most importantly, customers will be able to enjoy a warmer, more emotional and complete experience that is difficult to convey exclusively online. 

Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers should recognize the advantages of storefronts that online retailers are starting to notice.  Traditional retailers should certainly continue their efforts to establish an online presence that complements their existing operations.  However, they should be mindful of the unique value that can be delivered exclusively in a brick-and-mortar environment, as expounded by Spanx's Blakely.  They should continue to refine and invest in the development of a distinguishing retail concept and unique customer experience and in specific staff training.  Their experience in traditional retailing is a remaining competitive advantage that they should nurture and improve.

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