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Online Sellers Experiment More With Brick-and-Mortar Shops

Warby Parker's holiday spectacle bazaar in New York

Photograph by Astrid Stawiarz/WireImage via Getty Images

Warby Parker's holiday spectacle bazaar in New York

Over the weekend, online eyewear seller Warby Parker opened a flagship store in SoHo, New York City’s trendy shopping district. It isn’t the company’s first experiment taking its business offline. The company has previously experimented with a showroom concept, allowing would-be customers to try on glasses before purchasing online.

Nor is Warby Parker the only online brand to open brick-and-mortar locations. Men’s clothing retailer Bonobos and fashion site BaubleBar have also opened showrooms. Gap’s (GPS) online-only retailer Piperlime opened a brick-and-mortar boutique in September.

Warby Parker co-CEO David Gilboa tells CNBC that the new flagship will help build brand awareness and drive sales. Meanwhile, Om Malik writes that the store may become a model for traditional offline retailers who want to rethink the shopping experience:

But this isn’t just another retail store, co-founder Neil Blumenthal told me in a conversation a couple of weeks ago. Instead, the company is using sensors, Wi-Fi, and other new technologies to understand how people use its retail space, taking that data and marrying it with its online sales trends and other information. As a result it can come up with unique business trends that not only lead to more interesting pricing models but also help give its design and sales teams vital intelligence.

Not every online business can afford to open a brick-and-mortar outpost in a high-end shopping district. Still, the appeal from online to offline appears to be catching on. One unlikely candidate—the legal advice startup LegalForce (formerly known as Trademarkia)—has opened a retail space in Palo Alto, Calif., where it sells law books, tablets, and in-person legal counsel at $45 per 15 minutes.

Clark is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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