Retail Pulse: Shopify, Warby Parker Open The Doors On Digital-First

Online brands continue their march into the offline world as Shopify and Warby Parker announce plans to open brick-and-mortar locations in the coming months.

For Shopify, a Canadian eCommerce platform that helps artisans and other small merchants do business online, this will mark its first foray from the virtual world into the real one. The company told Forbes that its goal is to provide a physical location where those small businesses can sit down across the table from experts who can help them navigate the turbulent retail waters ahead.

One-on-one workshops will be offered in the space, which the company said will be established at an undisclosed location in the U.S. Shopify hardware, such as barcode scanners and cash drawers, will be on display in a showroom for merchants who are ready to launch a brick-and-mortar outlet of their own.

As for Warby Parker, the digital-first eyeglasses retailer, its new store in Ann Arbor, Michigan won’t be its first rodeo: The company has two other brick-and-mortar stores in Michigan and has opened one other new shop in metro Detroit this year. Warby Parker has more than 70 locations across the U.S. and Canada  some of them open now, some slated to open isoon in cities such as Miami, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. It’s all part of the company’s plan to open 25 new locations in 2018 at minimum.

Warby Parker CEO Neil Blumenthal said, unequivocally, that he doesn’t believe retail is dead or dying only “mediocre retail experiences.” The success of Warby Parker’s Netflix-style business model would certainly appear to back that up.

Shopify and others are going out on the same limb with every physical door they open and analysts wouldn’t call them crazy for it. Far from blaming platforms like Shopify and Warby Parker for the so-called “retail apocalypse,” some analysts say that eCommerce is actually helping the retail space by getting new, smaller brands up and running quickly so they can start building revenue and a customer base. This could one day lead them to establish a future brick-and-mortar storefront.

In Other Brick-And-Mortar News…

American Apparel plans to reopen its Los Angeles store sometime in the fall the first store opened by parent company Gildan Activewear since the Canadian basics manufacturer and wholesaler bought the company at bankruptcy auction in 2017.

Executives told Retail Dive that the success of American Apparel’s eCommerce site spurred the company to launch the new flagship, which could be the first of several stores but the brand will be proceeding with caution when it comes to expansion.

Five Below, essentially a Dollar Tree for teens and tweens where everything is priced at $5 or less, has two stores slated to open in San Diego: One on Aug. 3 of this year, and one in the first half of 2019. These openings will beef up the West Coast presence of this primarily-East-Coast value chain, which operates a total of 625 stores but only 15 in California. The chain plans to open 125 new locations this year, with a long-term goal of surpassing the 2,500 store mark.

It’s not all good news this week. To facilitate a merger with Asda, Sainsbury’s will need to sell at least 73 of its supermarkets and that number doesn’t include Sainsbury’s convenience stores that may be at risk. However, if the merger goes forward, it will be the deal of the decade, according to BBC. The combined supermarket group would have the largest market share in the U.K.

Finally, after announcing in March that Foot Locker would be closing more than 100 U.S. stores this year, CEO Dick Johnson spoke with Quartz about why it’s not a big deal. He said Foot Locker has shuttered around 1,000 stores this decade, and this time around, it has plans to open new, better stores that are tailored to specific markets via partnerships with local artists and influencers.

Like Warby Parker, Blumenthal said, it’s not retail that’s dead. It’s just boring retail experiences.