Are Everywhere Stores the New Face of Retail?

Omnichannel retailers can extend their customer engagement and logistics capabilities via nontraditional sales and fulfillment locations.

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  • Carolyn Geason-Beissel/MIT SMR | Getty Images

    Nearly 30 years ago, a fledgling startup called Amazon made its first online sale, and a retail revolution began. Dubbed “the Everything Store” by Brad Stone in his book of the same name, Amazon leveraged digital technologies to expand the very nature of retail, demonstrating that selling physical goods no longer required a physical storefront.

    But today, the cornerstone of retailing — location — has expanded once again, and the advent of what we call everywhere stores is impacting omnichannel strategy and unlocking potential value for new entrants and incumbents alike.

    Retailing excellence demands optimal engagement with customers through experiences, paired with product fulfillment with minimal friction, and historically both have happened in stores. Everywhere store refers to a new kind of retail experience, in which customer engagement and product fulfillment occur in native environments — that is, they are not dependent on purpose-built stores or warehouses. They allow brands and retailers to think much more expansively about where customer interactions should take place and where inventory should be located.

    What Omnichannel Looks Like Now

    Omnichannel retail comprises four distinct approaches to customer engagement and fulfillment: traditional retail stores; online sales plus physical showrooms where customers can engage with products; online sales with in-store pickup; and pure-play e-commerce, in which both fulfillment and engagement occur online.

    Today, traditional retail through stores still accounts for more than 80% of sales in the U.S.1 Of course, the percentage varies substantially by product type: Less-complex goods that can easily be described online align well with e-commerce, whereas products that consumers prefer to see and touch before buying, such as espresso machines and grills, might benefit from display space and thus lend themselves to some form of offline shopping experience.

    Hybrid models use digital for one function, physical for the other. For traditional retailers that predate the introduction of e-commerce, “buy online, pick up in store” is a must-have — and yields the added benefit that customers who pick up their purchases at a retail location might make incremental purchases of other products when they visit.2

    For direct-to-consumer retailers especially, showrooms such as Warby Parker’s stores and Bonobos’s Guideshops increase brand awareness and allow customers to inspect products or try them on before buying. They excel in serving first-time customers and those with more complex needs.3

    The next wave of omnichannel retail is being led by innovators such as Los Angeles-based outdoor furniture brand Outer, which entered the market selling directly to consumers, without establishing physical stores. Outer’s cofounders, Jiake Liu and Terry Lin, saw an opportunity for disaggregated retail: Rather than creating traditional showrooms, they turned customers’ backyards into showrooms. Prospective customers visit the homes of existing customers to experience and engage with products and other customers offline. A key advantage of turning customers’ yards into showrooms is that other people in the neighborhood might be good sales prospects, given that they are likely to share sociodemographic characteristics.

    This disaggregated approach to retailing can also serve as a model for a stand-alone business. For example, the venture-backed platform Minoan enables the owners of short-term lodging spaces (such as hotels and Airbnb rentals) to purchase from specific brands, furnish their guest quarters with those brands’ products, and then invite guests to buy those goods while staying at the property.4 Minoan cofounder Marc Hostovsky had a lightbulb moment while staying at an Airbnb, where he admired the comfortable bed, kitchen knives, and other furnishings.5 It occurred to Marc and Minoan cofounder Shobhit Khandelwal that experiencing new products organically, in nonstore environments, was compelling. An alumnus of and, Hostovsky told us that “the best product experiences don’t happen on screens.”

    We are also tracking the emergence of everywhere storage, as we described above. Wareclouds, a venture-backed urban logistics startup based in Chile that disaggregates retail for brands by using residential locations to store inventory, aims to launch in the U.S. next year.6 This approach would allow brands to bypass traditional warehouses and tap into homeowners’ unused space. The tactic might save costs compared with using traditional warehouse space, allow brands to adapt capacity based on demand fluctuations, and place inventory closer to more customers. The latter enables faster delivery by local drivers, in turn potentially enhancing customer experience and saving brands money by avoiding warehousing expenses.

    While it’s still early days for the everywhere store and everywhere storage, retailers should begin to explore the possibilities afforded by these strategies and consider the attendant challenges. How will brands ensure that native spaces present their products as intended? How will a distributed storage system manage inventory across dozens of individual homes? Retailers and brands might choose to partner with specialist businesses such as Minoan and Wareclouds, delegating some elements of execution.

    Retailers must also bear in mind that meeting customers where they are in nontraditional spaces carries some risk: It’s important that customers don’t perceive those initiatives as intrusive, and it remains to be seen whether they’ll be accepted on a wide scale. If brands can do it right, some of the greatest in-person retail innovations will require no stores at all.


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