With Macy’s identifying 68 stores it will close by mid-2017, Sears and Kmart set to shutter a combined 150 locations this year and The Limited shutting down all of its 250 stores, traditional brands are having a rough start to 2017. But while many of these big names have experienced the difficulties of modern retailing, Warby Parker is illustrating what may be a new model for success, at least for smaller scale businesses.
The eyewear retailer plans to open at least 25 brick-and-mortar locations in 2017, bringing its total store count to 70. The new stores will expand the brand’s footprint in major cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami.
The Warby Parker example serves as an object lesson to a host of e-Commerce brands seeking to expand beyond the digital world. Prior to the rise of e-Commerce, retailers that had the largest physical footprint carried a distinct advantage over their smaller counterparts. Now, that is certainly not the case, as even companies can use digital and social channels to establish a strong presence for themselves.
As many brick-and-mortar brands continue to close unprofitable stores to save long-term costs, e-Commerce brands or those with limited physical space don’t have this big a burden on their hands. If these brands feel prepared to finally make a significant jump to the brick-and-mortar side, they can scale their operations slowly to fit with business growth and available financing.
Warby Parker is a brand that got its physical momentum going from heavy consumer demand to try on eyewear in person, so its stores immediately had something to offer beyond simply being a physical representation of a digital storefront. Brands closely watching the retailer in hopes of building out their own unique physical store presence must discover where their added value proposition lies. If the brand has already driven a significant following via word-of-mouth like Warby Parker has, then it will already be ahead of the game.
“I don’t think retail is dead,” Warby Parker Co-Founder and Co-CEO Neil Blumenthal told The Wall Street Journal. “Mediocre retail experiences are dead. While e-Commerce has been growing, the majority of retail still happens within four walls.”