With brick-and-mortar retail innovating to keep up with the Web, it only makes sense that e-commerce would open physical doors to stay ahead of their newfound competition. This year, some online-only purveyors went all in on bona fide flagships, while others took a more tentative approach through temporary spaces. Either way, 2012 was a year for visiting Web sites in the real world.
A note to other online retailers intending to follow the example — if you’re going to open a store, SoHo seems to be the place. To begin life in the real world, almost all of these retailers headed to that Manhattan neighborhood first.
Piperlime: The online multi-brand behemoth owned by Gap Inc. opened its first door this year, in SoHo. While others on this list are dipping a toe into retail first, with pop-ups or physical partnerships, Piperlime stands out for going all-in on a New York flagship as its first brick-and-mortar presence.
Warby Parker: The physical trend extended to progressive start-ups, which at least started life predicated on existing online only. The affordable glasses mainstay signed a lease in SoHo this year for an upcoming real world flagship outpost.
Bonobos: Like Warby Parker, the previously online-only men’s brand is giving real retail a go, with six new stores around the country. They’re taking a different tack than the others on this list, however, linking their new physical retail to their online distribution — while customers try on in-store, their correct sizes are sent to them later from the same distribution centers serving the brand’s e-commerce.
eBay: eBay entered retail gently this year, through a partnership with stores like Macy’s and Target. A mobile app the company’s creating will allow them to work with physical retailers to help consumers navigate stores and find deals.
Etsy: Like eBay, Etsy is starting small. The online clearinghouse for any and every independent artist and designer hosted a holiday pop-up shop in, where else, SoHo. For a personality-driven site like Etsy, the retail outpost made particular sense, since the creators themselves were on hand to meet their customers.