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Bricks as well as clicks? Why online brands are now getting physical

By Lucy Whitehouse , 02-Apr-2014
Last updated on 02-Apr-2014 at 14:19 GMT

Bricks as well as clicks? Why online brands are now getting physical

With several historically web-only cosmetics players now investing in bricks and mortar, it looks like brands are flying in the face of the recent industry emphasis on going digital; Cosmetics Design looks at why.

At a time when many market analysts are saying beauty players could still do more to assert themselves digitally, the recent expansion onto the average sidewalk by major online cosmetics brands like Birchbox seems to go against the grain.

Yet Birchbox is not alone in expanding its business in this way. Fellow beauty retailer 100% Pure started as an e-commerce business, but has also recently opened multiple brick-and-mortar stores, with plans for continued expansion in 2014.

Deserting digital?

In fact, this move away from the web does not come as a surprise to everyone: while it may initially seem like a step backward, some analysts suggest it’s actually the future of beauty retail.

Jason Stoffer, partner in venture capital firm Maveron and industry expert, notes that while brands may now start online, the eventual destination is actually multi-channel retail.

We believe the next great beauty brands will start online and move multi-channel over time – and their early adopter customers will come through effective use of social channels such as YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook," he recently told CosmeticsDesign.com USA.

Chief operating officer of Care Minerals, Michael Wolf, agrees: "Companies need additional channels of (customer) acquisition that they can control beyond sitting around and hoping their customers tell their friends. Opening a physical presence is a natural next, but ultimately expensive, step in the customer acquisition process." 

The future

According to the most recent expert opinion, tomorrow’s successful retail experiences will depend on the complete multi-channel experience.

"We need to stop thinking about digital marketing and start thinking about marketing in a digital world," Marc Mathieu, global SVP of marketing at Unilever, said recently. "Think about connection first and build content around that."

Craig R. Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting and research firm, agrees.

An Apple store doesn’t just exist to sell iPads and MacBook Pros; it exists to create a brand experience that builds loyalty, brand and buzz,” he recently told the New York Times. “The Internet is emotionally a very flat experience. It can never match the experience of being there in person.”

It looks like tomorrow’s brands will privilege neither bricks nor clicks: the most successful campaigns will rely on a synergy of both. 

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