When to turn your online business offline?
Online fashion retail is a relatively simple concept. You don’t need to think about renting a space, paying for in-store staff nor dealing with other traditional retail tasks and costs. But is online retail business enough or should you consider opening you own brick and mortar store? In this post we’ll discuss should you consider taking your online business and turning it offline, by serving your customers outside the digital world.
If your business is doing fine, and you have loyal customer base, I would personally recommend to add a larger budget towards marketing and advertising. Get people to review your products and recommend your online store to a friend. Make sure your website is simple and easy to use, check-out works and you have enough information and (high quality) images of your designs on product pages. Try to impress your customers with custom packaging materials when they received the goods bought from your store.
In addition, people search for products online all the time in fact, 81% of shoppers conduct online research before buying (in 2014) and 55 percent of online shoppers start their product searches on Amazon (in 2016). The rate is increasing every year, as there are more internet users everyday around the world. Thus meaning, that your potential customers are currently searching for products you offer. Make sure your website appears in search engines (SEO) and that it works on various devices (desktops, phones, tablets etc.). What I’m trying to say, that you don’t necessarily need to go offline just yet. You should improve your visibility online and advertise your store both online and offline, depending where your potential customers are. (Offline advertising could be flyers/coupons, radio advertisement, TV, magazine/print media etc.).
Taking your online fashion store offline
First things first. What is the true reason you should go offline? There are few reasons why you should open a brick and mortar store, but you should also think about other major factors which come with opening a physical retail store: location, inventory, staff, interior and so on. So let’s start with the basics, why go offline?
1. Why should you take your online business offline
If you’re a new brand/label, and people don’t know about you, especially if you’re only selling your own label without those who people recognize/know and trust, the beginning of online business can be quite slow and difficult, unless people know you. Even then, you can find customers by trying out various marketing methods: hiring influencers or writing a blog to open up the sense of style, feel and additional information about your brand and designs.
But sometimes, even that is not enough, and requires larger budget and time spend on marketing, than few offline options. Your “why’s” should be clear for you. Do you want to built a strong brand? Are your designs so unique, people need to see, touch them and try them on? Do you wish to reach out to a specific ‘local’ market? Or do you simple want to grow your business? Which ever reason it might be, make sure it is clear to you, so you can plan what offline activities would work best for you and your brand.
Consider opening of the offline store as starting a whole new business. In some senses (or should I say in reality), it actually is. You need to plan the concept. Where, what, how, why? Write a business plan along with the marketing plan, because offline store will require a lot of attention.
If you are planning going offline for a short period of time, you can find few options listed below.
3. How to gain visibility and sell offline?
There are so many options how to gain visibility, build trust and find customers in the offline world. Some of them can even be free of charge! For these couple of years involved in the fashion industry, I’ve learned what works and which activity would it be the best option for a fashion brand. Think about the mission and purpose of your offline model/plan. Is it for starting a retail business offline or just for marketing purposes of your eCommerce? When you know the purpose and you’ve written up the action plan, you’ll know the reason, target you need to reach and how to reach it.
Big cities usually have showrooms. Some of them are set up with certain style/price group, e.g. luxury fashion goods. Showrooms cost money, and they are mainly for fashion buyers.
If you wish to have your designs displayed in a showroom, learn when is the buy-in season: Some big retailers shop twice a year, usually by attending big trade and fashion shows around the world, searching for the “next big thing” and serving their target group. If you decide that showroom would be the best option for your brand (maybe because you want your label to be part of certain style), you should also consider sending invitation to fashion buyers to go and see your clothes in the showroom. You can also send invitations to your customers, to see the entire collection at the display.
Ask from the manager of the showrooms, which brands have used their premises, and who are their most common fashion buyers. Are they ones you want to impress?
Fashion weeks also keep showrooms during the event. There are a lot of criteria for a label and you need to pass their review before actual approval. Showroom is also relatively pricey during the event.
There are few options regarding fashion shows. Hosting one yourself, and inviting buyers, fashion bloggers and influencers to your self-host event, of by attending various fashion shows hosted by fashion houses/traders/universities/professionals etc.
With self-host event, you have more power over the event, models, location and people you’re inviting. Downside is, it can get quite expensive. The risk of self-host event, that if something is missing or goes wrong, you need to be well prepared. Also, if you’re quite new and unknown, that people you’ve invited, might not show up. The best part of the self-host event, you can really have your brand, style and feel fully out there for the public. Showing what your label is really about.
Fashion shows hosted by professionals know what they are doing. They have all risks covered, so all you need to worry about, is getting your designs on the models and out on the runway. Depending on the fashion show, they can cost from couple hundred euros to several thousands. Some fashion weeks cover the models and make-up, and to some you have to have your own staff for the job.
There are many ways to get your clothing off from the online world. Collaboration with various businesses could be one option.
It can be a small boutique, a tailor store, cafe or any type of business, which works best with your label. You can either agree that owner get’s a percentage from sales, or you pay a monthly rent. This almost works the same way as a showroom, but in addition, average customers are able to actually try on the clothes and purchase them.
Pop-up store is a wonderful way to learn about the market and the actual need of a physical store in the desired location. It’s less stressful and requires less licenses. Pop-up stores are usually up for couple of months, and if you just want to see, if offline retails works for your label, I would highly recommend starting with a pop-up store.
Downside is, it is quite difficult to find premises for a short period, but there are various organisations, that take care of this part. They own premises in great locations just for pop-up stores. They are more expensive than a monthly rate for a one year contract, but again, you need to know what is the best way for you to go offline and what you want to accomplish with such activity.
This concept works the same way as a pop-up store, but for much longer period, perhaps even permanently. Having your own physical store gives you opportunity to turn the store to desired interior and style, making it more ‘your own’. Setting up a physical store requires more time than a pop-up store, but in longer term, it pays off, if well planned and designed. If you’ve never kept or worked in a physical store, make sure to hire an experienced store manager.
Make sure you have large enough inventory to sell both offline and online.