Online retailers are getting physical.
But they're taking it even further by doubling-down on the tactile experience. Online mattress retailer Casper, for instance, is opening stores that allow customers to book naps and test out mattresses before buying. Indochino -- the online tailor -- decided to borrow from the old Savile Row model where customers can be measured face-to-face for custom suits.
"Online brands have embraced clicks-to-bricks," said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman's retail division. "Shoppers love to touch, interact and try on in person and malls are upping the ante by offering immersive experiences that are exciting and memorable."
The store openings mark a major shift for formerly online-only brands that just a few years ago believed they didn't need a physical presence to generate robust sales growth.
Digital natives are now finding that the cost of acquiring new customers online is soaring as competition for eyeballs has increased the cost of online ads on Google and other platforms. At the same time, opening a store has become more affordable as higher mall vacancies have prompted landlords to offer flexible leases and other perks. It can be 10 times more expensive to acquire a new customer online as it is with a physical store, said Jim Ward, who heads up recruiting for online brands for mall owner CBL.
There are now roughly 600 stores across the country from these online natives, according to Green Street Advisors, a real estate research firm. Bonobos, which now has 60 stores and sells men's clothing, plans to have 100 by 2020. Online eyewear retailer Warby Parker, which opened its first store in 2013, will have nearly 100 stores by year-end.
Others are following suit. Casper plans to have about 200 stores in the next two to three years, up from the current 20. And Fabletics, an active sportswear brand co-founded by celebrity Kate Hudson, aims to quadruple the number to 100.
For a brand that's less than 10 years old, new store openings mean a 45 percent increase on average in online traffic, says a recent survey by International Council of Shopping Centers.
But not every mall is benefiting from the shift by online retailers. Digital brands are clustering in top-tier shopping centers, driving an increasingly large gap between the poshest of malls and those struggling to fill vacancies. While many online brands are planting stores in tourist destinations around New York and Los Angeles, they're also launching stores in Oklahoma City and Birmingham, Alabama.
"We're not considering anything outside of the premiere malls," Dave Gilboa, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker.
The physical stores often provide a level of convenience that the web lacks.