April 30, 2013 | Eric Head

Siteshowing: Defying the Norm…or Defining the New Norm

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Every once in a while I come a across a situation where I can’t decide if it’s completely brilliant or utterly insane. Such is the case with Bonobos.

With a pure play online clothing retailer such as Bonobos, the retailer runs the risk of having site visitors wishing they could try on the clothes before punching in their credit card number. Unable to do so, they find what they want on the retailer’s site, log off, and head to the closest department store (Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Target, etc.) where they can discover similar styles (by other brands) to what they found online at the site, try them on, and purchase right there at the register.

Siteshowing Bonobos Guide Shop

A Bonobos Guideshop

To address this phenomenon, Bonobos recently opened storefronts, dubbed “Guideshops,” in select cities that, as reported in a recent USA TODAY article, don’t actually sell anything.

The Guideshops are essentially a place for the company to showcase what it offers on their website by providing a place for men to see firsthand, feel, and try on the clothing before they make a purchase – a concept I call “siteshowing,” which is basically showrooming done in the most strategic of ways. And after customers try on clothes in the store, they still need to place their order on the company’s website, which they can either do right from the storefront or from home if they prefer.

While the concept of the Guideshop allows Bonobos to skirt some of the traditional operational costs such as large, on-site inventories and staff, opening the more expensive touch point goes against conventional wisdom without question. But it is done so with the best intentions and their customers’ expectations in mind.

“We founded Bonobos to really create a better shopping experience for men,” says Erin Ersenkal, chief of Bonobos Guideshop operations, in the article.  “Initially, we thought we could do it purely on a website, but we realized from talking with our customers that actually some of them like to try on the clothes.”

So, kudos to company execs for talking with their customers, actually listening to them, and attempting to fulfill their needs and wants – and for making the decision based on more than just a gut feeling.

There are countless ways to “talk” to customers, but the real question is: did they talk to the right customers the right way to get the right input they needed to make the right decision? Only time will tell by way of success or failure in this case.

It helps, too, that the Guideshops offer a very unique experience in and of itself. But will that offset the expense of operating physical stores?

There’s a thin line between brilliant and insane and Bonobos might be straddling it. Whether they are defying the norm or defining the new norm for online clothing pure play retailers is yet to be determined…as are the consequences (if any). This interesting and out-of the-box concept is definitely something the retail industry as a whole (although I can’t imagine Target or Best Buy adopting such a model), brick and mortar retailers, online pure players, and Bonobos itself need to monitor very closely to see on which side of the proverbial line it falls. What do you think? Is Bonobos onto something or off their rocker?

For more on showrooming read my last two posts:

Showrooming: Not as Bad as You Think

Browsing Fees…Really?

Categories: Retail

About the Author

ForeSee | Eric Head

Eric joined ForeSee at its inception in 2001 and today leads new business efforts for the company. During his tenure, he has been a central figure in establishing the ForeSee sales engine, building the company’s core base of clients, building the company’s presence in the UK and Europe, and developing strategic partnerships. Eric also introduced ForeSee’s offline business including Store and Contact Center channels and is a frequent speaker on customer experience measurement. He earned a B.S. degree (Marketing) from Miami University and an MBA (Strategy & Marketing) from the University of Michigan.

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