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By Alice Lesch Kelly
| October 2, 2019
When Andrea Romito started Nantucket Kids in 2017, she envisioned it as an online-only clothing brand, not a brick-and-mortar business. But soon after launching her Nantucket Kids website, various retailers began clamoring to sell her luxury children’s wear in their shops. Before she knew it, Nantucket Kids had its New-England-preppy-meets-Southern-charm styles available in almost 80 retail stores across the U.S.
Romito soon realized the need to go beyond her original e-commerce-only plan. Within a year, she debuted her first Nantucket Kids retail store in Cohasset, Mass.; another will open later this year at Derby Street Shops in Hingham, Mass. “People love to shop online,” Romito says, “but they also love to come in and touch and feel the clothing.”
Nantucket Kids is just one example of how successful online retailers are embracing the benefits of physical stores that many thought would be left behind as the online shopping industry grew.
Inversely, real-world shops and restaurants are also enhancing customers’ experiences by adding digital components, such as Whole Food’s online grocery shopping option. B.GOOD, a fast-casual favorite for eats with a location at Derby St., launched a new app this year, giving users the ability to order ahead or schedule a pick-up for later in the day. “Our mobile-ordering capabilities are a huge benefit to today’s consumers, who are time-starved and, as a result, are increasingly demanding food when and where they want it,” says Austin Brinson, vice president of IT and analytics at B.GOOD.
Derby St. hears positive feedback about these kinds of digital assets and encourages its tenants to implement them as often as possible. Derby St. as a whole uses technology to enhance customer experience, too. A new website recently launched with an events calendar that allows visitors to see everything that’s taking place on a given day at the retail and entertainment destination, so they never have to miss a thing.
The trend of blurring the lines between retail and e-tail offers customers greater convenience and more satisfying experiences, says Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, founder and publisher of Retail Minded, a newsletter and blog for the retail industry. “Overlapping the physical and the digital allows the customer to be more informed about their purchasing decisions,” Reyhle says. “And it gives them more control.”
Even more convenient? One-stop shopping locations that allow customers to fit in fun and check off to-do list items. “Customers can start their day at a complimentary stroller boot camp class, then head over to Anthropologie and have a style expert assist them in picking out the perfect fall outfit for the weekend, and then stop at Whole Foods and grab their groceries before they head back home,” says Sherri Schuler, the general manager at Derby St.
Making it personal
Like Nantucket Kids, menswear company Bonobos started as an e-commerce-only retailer, but it became apparent that customers wanted to shop in person, too. In Bonobos stores, like the one that opened recently at Derby St., customers get one-on-one attention from a staff member who’s trained to help them find their perfect fit. “We call our in-store staff ‘guides’ because they literally guide the customer through the Bonobos shopping experience, helping them discover new products while creating their unique fit profile,” says Colleen Conkling, senior director of brand marketing and PR at Bonobos. No matter how advanced a company’s chatbot, this kind of tailored approach can’t yet be replicated online.
Other online stores are testing the waters of in-person retail with short-term pop-up shops.
Derby St. has a rotating collection of pop-up shops that provide customers and small businesses benefits. “Pop-ups are a great way to keep our retail offering fresh while also providing a new experience for customers,” Schuler explains.
Derby St.’s most recent pop-up, Beau & Ro Bag Company, an online hat, handbag, and accessory boutique, is making its foray into brick-and-mortar with pop-up shops. Company founder Sara Rossi says the response to the temporary shops has been phenomenal so far. “It’s been amazing to have customers in Massachusetts stop into the pop-ups who have followed me on Instagram and know the brand,” she says. “Brick-and-mortar allows for you to bring the brand to life.”
Larger companies are popping up for short periods, too. Glossier, a cult favorite beauty brand with permanent stores in New York City and Los Angeles, opened its third pop-up of 2019 in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood. The temporary shop, selling crowd favorites like Cloud Paint, Balm Dotcom, and Milky Jelly Cleanser, will be open through October 4, 2019, taking over all nine tiny-home inspired pop-up units that make up Seaport’s The Current.
Consumers can expect to continue seeing more pop-ups at retail destinations. “Pop-up stores are here to stay, even though they only remain in one place for a limited amount of time,” Reyhle says. “They create an exciting shopping experience, which is what shoppers are looking for.”
As for the retailers themselves, pop-ups offer local or small businesses “the opportunity to gain exposure to a new audience and test retail at a highly trafficked destination,” Schuler says.
This is true in Rossi’s case. “Permanent brick-and-mortar is on the horizon for us, and a pop-up shop is a way for me to test what works and what doesn’t,” she says.
Listening to and delivering what customers want is the philosophy behind Derby St.’s success. In addition to combining the best parts of retail with the most convenient elements of e-tail, Derby St. leads focus groups of its most dedicated customers to further improve the property in other ways. One thing that came out of the focus group was the now beloved “Mamava,” a freestanding pod dedicated to supporting mothers who want a clean, peaceful, and private way to pump or nurse.
With nearly three quarters of Americans placing more value on experiences than products, a slew of retailers are taking the hint and packing their calendars with live classes and events that their online stores can’t provide. “We are consistently encouraging and partnering with our tenants to host in-store events, connecting deeper with their customers,” Schuler says. “We are always happy to support them with these initiatives.”
Nantucket Kids participates in a variety of special events at Derby St., including family fun days, holiday strolls, and book signings. Romito, who serves as the company’s designer as well as its CEO, often attends these community gatherings to get to know her customers. Nantucket Kids also sponsors popular Mom’s Night Out events with drinks, raffles, and mom-bonding time. “Moms are so busy, but they love to come in and mingle, enjoy some child-free time, and do some stress-free shopping,” Romito says.
Whole Foods Market is also putting events on tap, offering community activities including a free kids’ club, where parents and youngsters can connect with their peers and participate in health-focused activities like yoga and reiki. “Whole Foods Market stores continually experiment and innovate to offer the best experiences for our customers,” says Buck Rollins, store team leader at the Whole Foods Market at Derby St. “We are always looking for ways to give back, and it’s through these community events that we can demonstrate our commitment to growing communities.” Lululemon and Sephora are among other shops offering free, on-brand classes and gatherings.
Meanwhile, instructors from REI provide expertise, guidance, and advice to adventurers of all levels at activities and events. Recent events have included a full-moon hike, kayak tours, a class about adventuring with dogs, and a workshop on bicycling basics. “REI’s events, classes, and workshops bring people together by showing them they have a shared interest: a passion for the outdoors,” says Thor Dieringer, REI outdoor programs supervisor. In night-time mountain biking sessions, for instance, participants fly downhill together while instructors ensure their safety and help them hone their riding techniques. “Community is core to who we are,” Dieringer says. “We thrive on the success of serving that community.”
Like the successful brands it houses, Derby St. recognizes that connecting with customers in multiple ways—online, in person, and during events and activities—builds a satisfying relationship that benefits both retailers and shoppers. The Derby Street Green, opened in 2019 as a permanent outdoor event space in partnership with South Shore Health, exemplifies integrating community events and experiences into the heart of retail and has taken the community programming there to “a whole new level,” Schuler says.
In the warmer months, there are weekly fitness classes, story-times, and musical events. Big blow-out events, like the a summer Block Party and a Kentucky Derby Party—which includes pony rides, a live stream of the Derby, and real llamas to the kids’ amazement—are annual highlights.
Stop by Derby St. and the Derby St. Green, which will be transformed into a Pumpkin patch this October, to see for yourself why brick-and-mortar is back.
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