You would have never imagined, that in an where the internet has reigned supreme for commerce, that retailers—that too ones that were born online, nestled amidst bits and bytes—would actually decide to venture into the physical world of storefronts.
After all, outfits like Snapdeal have expressed no interest in physical spaces for good reason. "Around 60% of our sales are beyond the top 10 cities. Our reach is more than that of organized brick-and-mortar retail. We believe online shopping business will be bigger than offline retail by 2015," said Kunal Bahl, co-founder, Snapdeal.com.
Physical retail spaces offer the usual headaches of sky-rocketing real estate prices (that too in land-hungry, urban cities), training personnel and other such things.
So it's a conundrum to hear that online fashion retail giant Myntra, now absorbed by India’s largest online retailer Flipkart, has decided to open up stores in the country by next year. Even one of India's top online lingerie retailers. Zivame, whose founder once said "Unless we figure out a viable way to solve the problems we set out to deal with, it doesn’t help to setup a physical store," recently declared that "The touch-and-feel experience remains a barrier to online purchase."
The lingerie purveyor will soon be opening up a 'fit lounge' where customers can test drive products and is also launching an initiative called 'home try on' where goodies will be dispatched to the comfort of your bedroom where you can try them on.
Joining them are online health portal HealthKart as well as India's leading travel sites Makemytrip and Yatra with offline presences. Makemytrip launched its first retail store in the Indian city of Coimbatore in 2012 and has expanded to 20 some outlets across India including in cities like Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Yatra has as much as 40 franchisee outlets and is planning another 100.
Is India alone in this strange twist of trends in retail? Apparently not. US web-only retro eyeglass purveyor Warby Parker has opened up physical stores in New York and men's fashion retailer Bonobos has done the same in New York, Boston and San Francisco. I'm sure there are many others joining this trend as we speak.
There are good reasons for doing so. Despite the apparent supremacy of the internet as a retail channel, online sales in consumer meccas such as the US, China and South Korea are apparently under 15 percent of the total retail sales in those countries. In India, retail is a whopping US$490 billion market but only 10 percent of that is organized. And online is a tiny .02 percent of that organized retail total (ie. US$3 billion), despite a 50 percent growth rate. According to retail consulting firm TechnoPak, both online and offline will be worth approximately $200 billion each by 2023 in India.
In other words, a lot of the unorganized sector will gravitate towards becoming legit and online which is a good thing for both consumers and producers not to mention the coffers of the government.
Going offline makes sense for online purveyors of goods—just as much as going online is becoming a necessity for offline Indian retail giants like Kishore Biyani and clothier Arvind who are both ramping up their online efforts. Essentially, retailers need to adopt broader multi- channel strategies that ensures them a multitude of touchpoints to reach consumers.
And those that are migrating from the virtual realm to the physical world are doing so because the ability to improve customer engagement, enhance one's brand presence and connect with your audience in physical spaces is still seemingly more important than relying on internet marketing campaigns and viral videos.
Despite the ubiquity of the internet, it looks like many of us still need need terra firma to earn a living.