Bonobos Omnichannel Strategy Lets Customers Try Before They Buy

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Clothing retailer Bonobos was one of those innovative ecommerce startups which followed Amazon and eBay into the online space and joined the vanguard of a new wave of stores which had no physical presence whatsoever.

At the time, it was heralded as a brave new world for retail, focused on the vertical integration of manufacturing, branding, and distribution, and it was causing businesses following the traditional retail model to break into a cold sweat. Household name brands which had been mainstays for decades were closing, and industry experts everywhere were sounding the death knell of brick-and-mortar retail.


However, the Grim Reaper's scythe never fell, and now, in 2018, the landscape is quite different. While those tech-savvy shoppers/harbingers of the retail apocalypse are still happy to shop wherever and whenever they want from their smartphones, there has been somewhat of a backlash against the digital onslaught.

As MP3s looked set to take over music forever, vinyl came back into fashion. As computer games became ever more bloated and homogenous, board game sales skyrocketed. And, as digital books grew in popularity, people suddenly found themselves longing to hold bound card and paper in their hands once again.

The same thing is happening to retail. While customers still enjoy the ease, speed, and simplicity of the ecommerce business model, they still long for retail experiences which allow them to see and touch their favorite products.

"There may be no greater example than Everlane, whose CEO Michael Preysman famously told the New York Times, 'We are going to shut the company down before we go to physical retail,'" writes Greg Petro for Forbes. "In fact, they opened a few physical stores in select markets late last year. 'Our customers tell us all the time that they want to touch a product before they buy it,' Preysman said. 'We realized we need to have stores if we're going to grow on a national and global scale.'"


Nowhere is this desire more keenly felt than in the clothing retail industry. Buying clothes online is a notoriously haphazard affair, with no way to check (often inconsistent) sizing or try things on ahead of making a purchase.

While it's true that most online clothing retailers offer a no-questions-asked returns policy, allowing customers to send back items which don't fit or suit their style, the entire process is inconvenient and cumbersome - the exact opposite of what consumers want from an online shopping experience.

To answer this need, Bonobos initially partnered with Nordstrom to sell items in-store. However, it's now expanding its physical footprint with a showroom concept it calls Guideshops.

Customers can book an appointment with a Bonobos Guideshop where they can try on the brand's complete range of products. However - and this is the clever part - the shops themselves carry absolutely no inventory. The Bonobos online platform acts as the store's warehouse, with customers able to fill a shopping basket and complete their purchase in-store once they're happy with their look. The products are then shipped to them from the central distribution center in the traditional ecommerce fashion.

"The genius of Bonobos is that stores don't have to be 5,000 square feet in a mall, they can be 1,000 square feet," said Jared Blank of Bluecore at 2018's eTail East event. "The men's brand lets you try on clothes in the store but doesn't have any inventory to sell - anything you buy gets shipped to you from their warehouse after purchase."

Guideshops Go Mobile

Now, evolving the concept, Bonobos has taken its Guideshops on the road, with a funky trailer and a pop-up shop mentality.

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Touring university campuses with a mission to help students find their style with smart business attire, the Bonobos trailer offers the same unique service as the Guideshops, with the added convenience of coming to you. On top of this, visitors to the trailer can get advice on appropriate work attire and have a complimentary professional headshot taken - perfect for attaching to a resume.

"The mobile guide shop is aiming to present students with looks and ideas for how to dress for their professional endeavors after graduation," said Bonobos Public Relations Assistant, Kathryn Clare-Salzler. "It's setting them up for success and providing them with fashion tips and tricks on what to wear in an interview or a certain workplace."

Final Thoughts

One of the core principles of digital marketing is to be where the customer is (i.e. use the right social media platforms for your audience, etc.) and it's great to see that philosophy being carried over into the physical retail space with Bonobos' unique mobile Guideshop concept.

Innovative ecommerce is set to be a hot topic at Future Stores Seattle 2019, taking place June 5 – 7.

Download the agenda today for more information and insights.

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