See you in real life: when to take your online brand offline

As it happens, most shopping still occurs offline.

We have all seen ads for them – trendy clothes, aesthetic jewellery, miracle skincare products and gorgeous home décor are featured all across social media sites, constantly enticing you to click, buy and own. The rise of digitally grown brands has revolutionised the way retail operates, and has launched the careers of many creative entrepreneurs. The success of ecommerce sites like Singapore’s Hip Van , have proven that when a company knows how to connect with customers on social media, it can quickly become a brand with legitimate clout.

By launching and growing your business online, you’re able to gather feedback from customers, get creative with messaging to see what resonates with your audience and what doesn’t, and intimately understand why your customer base is attracted to – and loyal to – your products. All of this works together to help you fine-tune your brand, better direct the future of your company and, ultimately, become a business that’s taken seriously by other brands and investors in your retail space.

Once you’ve cemented your market position and become profitable, it’s only then that you should consider moving into brick and mortar. If you try to go this route before you’ve built and matured your brand and customer base, retail partners won’t have much reason to include your wares in their stores and, in the end, you’ll have wasted time that could have been productively spent building your brand online.

That said, you may be wondering why, if you have a successful online business, you would even need to move into a brick-and-mortar footprint. As it happens, most shopping still occurs offline.

According to Retail Technology Review, though most shoppers are looking online for general information and reviews about products they’re interested in, 90% of sales still occur in-store because most people want to see, touch and experience a product in real life before fully committing the purchase. Bolstering this further for Southeast Asia is the fact that online trust levels are particularly poor across the region, as many customers are concerned about not just the quality of the items they’re interested in, but also the security of the website handling their banking information, and often prefer not to purchase online.

As a consumer, being able to visit a physical retail outlet to familiarise yourself with a product before purchasing, organically discover what other goods you like and engage with a knowledgeable sales associate helps create a more positive retail experience. But more than that, it also helps to build brand awareness and establish legitimacy, providing a sense that a brand and business a passing fad.

So the big question is, how, exactly, do digital brands transition to brick and mortar?

A practical option that can be used to test the waters is to host a pop-up event in a city where you know you have a strong consumer base. For example, Sand & Sky recently held an event in London where the founders of the skincare product line mingled with the crowd of customers and influencers, to great success – there was a significant amount of press coverage, which helped to further awareness of the brand. Aside from the brand boosting, pop-up shops are a wonderful way for ecommerce brands interested in a physical store to see how an offline retail location may work for them.

Another option for going offline is partnerships with multi-brand boutiques, department stores or retail chains. In order to be stocked in shops, you’ll need to contact a buyer, pitch your brand and products, wow them with your customer and sales data, and find a great business partner. Since you’ll be taking this step once your business is already in the black, you’ll be able to negotiate consignment terms based on your margins, meaning you’ll have a much stronger position than you would if you were pitching while the brand was still in its nascent days.

If you have the budget to invest in your brand’s own dedicated retail space, you’d be in good company: within the past five years, several digital natives have taken this route – Warby Parker, ModCloth and Casper, among others – and seen success in an omnichannel approach to sales that blends the best of online and offline shopping. For example, both Warby Parker and ModCloth, an affordable eyeglasses provider and an independent-brand only women’s clothing and accessories site, respectively, allow customers who swing by their stores to try on products or have their measurements taken, and then order products online. Casper, a mattress company, operates as a showroom where customers can choose to either purchase in-store or order online.

No matter which physical retail option is right for your brand, considering going from online to offline will only help boost your brand awareness, help you connect with customers in the real world and help to generate more sales. So even if it’s a daydream, start thinking of your online company’s future retail space – it just might be a daydream that pays off.

Emily Hamilton is the co-founder and chairwoman of Supernova.

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