Online to offline brand experience

This month’s Hotlist explores how online brands can design bricks and mortar experiences to drive effective results.

From experiential pop ups to partnerships with big box retailers, digital native brands continue to disrupt the retail industry, moving online to offline, to build in-person relationships with customers. To create successful physical brand experiences, digital native brands will need to gain a true understanding of their target customer, elevate experience over transaction in bricks and mortar, and connect the customer back to online channels.



Understanding the customer is key to creating an effective and memorable retail experience that is tailored to a specific audience. A customer-centric approach to retail should encompass multiple factors. These include but are not limited to tailoring the location to where the target audience spends time, keeping product placements and partnerships in line with customer and brand values, and personalising in-store communications and services.

Digital native brands that put customers at the heart of their brand strategy are seeing impressive growth. Take Glossier’s model, which focuses on understanding the role beauty plays in customers’ lives rather than demographic stereotypes. In the brand’s New York and LA flagships, store representatives – Offline Editors – are trained to act as customers’ knowledgeable friends, facilitating feedback, learning and sharing with customers. Glossier Inc. is now valued at $1.2 billion. (Forbes, 2019)

Digital-first lingerie brand Adore Me, is taking a tech-first approach to understanding the customer, using in-store tech to tailor the retail experience. To inform future improvements, RFID tags track top selling items and reveal which products are most frequently taken to fitting rooms. Adore Me plans to open around 300 new stores in the next 5 years. (WSJ, 2018)



A focus on experiences is key to the future of bricks and mortar retail, and this is no different for digital native brands branching out. The strength of physical retail is in providing something that customers can’t access online. From immersive product trial to events and demonstrations, the brand needs to give customers a reason to visit beyond transaction alone.

Beauty services brand Glam Squad partners with CVS to offer express versions of its on-demand hair and beauty treatments in store. This partnership is a win-win for both parties. The experiential offer encourages CVS customers, who may have only popped in for a prescription pick-up, to dwell for longer and make additional purchases. For the Glam Squad, the partnership offers a public platform to expand the brand’s reach and lets customers try out Glam Squad services before investing in higher value at home sessions.

For product-focused brands, the bricks and mortar emphasis should still be on trial and product immersion rather than sales. Wedding registry brand Zola has opened a pop up in New York where customers can view potential wedding gifts in person. Beyond the central product offer, the emphasis is on experience over sales, from creating personalised wedding cake toppers to relaxing in the CBD lounge. All the store associates are ordained, so customers can even get married at the pop up if the wedding planning has got too much!



For digital native brands, a key part of the offline retail experience will be establishing clear connections back to online. Brands with an ownable tone of voice can translate this personality into bricks and mortar via in-store experiences and communications. Frank Body’s brand footprint in Showfields, a New York department store for direct-to-consumer brands, is a light-hearted, experience-driven exploration of the Australian beauty brand. From the playful design and voting buttons for favourite scrubs, to stickers in the brand’s signature tone of voice, the experience provides genuinely useful product trial without taking itself too seriously.

Going beyond the physical retail experience itself, digital native brands will need to close the online to offline loop and give customers a reason to return online. This will be particularly important for direct-to-consumer brands partnering with big box retailers. Direct-to-consumer toothbrush brand Quip partners with Target to sell electric toothbrush starter packs in store. However, Target doesn’t stock the replaceable toothbrush heads and customers are encouraged to return to the Quip website to sign up for automatic refills. Ease and access will be key to getting customers to return online. Take Showfields, where each brand booth is equipped with an iPad for convenient online purchase or subscription sign up.

When it comes creating a brand experience that makes the most of bricks and mortar, digital native brands will need to ensure that the experience adds a true benefit to the target customer; builds an emotional relationship with the brand; and integrates the best of online into the physical brand experience. The key is combining the cues that made a brand successful online with retail expertise, to define a fresh approach.

Images Courtesy of  Quip

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