Should Your Online Store Expand Into Brick & Mortar? -
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Should Your Online Store Expand Into Brick & Mortar?

It used to be that business owners started brick-and-mortar retail stores, then added ecommerce capabilities to expand their markets. In some cases, they even closed down their retail stores altogether to focus solely on their online stores. But now, a new trend is taking hold: Formerly ecommerce-only retailers are testing the waters with brick-and-mortar locations.

Why this seemingly backwards step? Although online retail is growing, reaching $58 billion in the first quarter of this year, it’s still only a tiny slice of the retail pie, accounting for just 5.5 percent of total sales in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau.

Hip eyeglasses frames site Warby Parker is one high-profile entrepreneurial business that recently expanded into flagship brick-and-mortar stores in trendy locations. If you’re considering following suit, what are some reasons to go—or not to go—brick and mortar?

  • It can help you attract more local customers. Some retailers that have success reaching a wide market online want to focus on a local niche, too. Having a physical store can help you do that.
  • It can help you build your brand. Consider your store an extension of your online brand and make sure your signage, color scheme, window displays and store displays are in line with the image portrayed on your website.
  • It can serve as a testing ground. A physical store enables you to interact with customers in ways a website can’t. You can talk to customers, see how they interact with the merchandise and note what products attract attention and which get ignored.

The downside of a brick-and-mortar store, of course, is that it’s a big investment—and while companies like Warby Parker may be able to set up shops simply as a branding tool, for small businesses, this might be out of reach. Instead, consider:

  • Renting space at a local farmers’ market, event or crafts fair that’s relevant to your product. You can get the same exposure to local customers, without the commitment and expense. Be sure to have plenty of signage, business cards or fliers on hand to give out that drive traffic to your ecommerce site; gather email addresses for your email newsletter.
  • Doing a pop-up shop. These limited-time stores (typically in a location for six weeks or so) are a great way to attract attention during the holidays, summer or other popular shopping seasons when customers are out in droves. Look for empty space and negotiate a short-term rental.
  • Opening a kiosk. Kiosks at local malls and shopping centers offer a way to get real-world retail exposure at a lower cost than a full-on retail store.
  • Piggybacking on an existing retail location. Depending on your product, an antique mall, crafts mall or other location that incorporates different vendors could be the perfect way to dip your toe into the brick-and-mortar world.

Whether you’re retailing online or off, can help expand your online presence and attract more shoppers. Learn more about online marketing solutions.

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at, follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.
Rieva Lesonsky

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