For e-commerce brands, brick-and-mortar stores are an investment in customer insight.
M.Gemi, the online, direct-to-consumer brand for Italian-made footwear, has opened two storefronts in New York and Boston in the past year and a half. It’s also in the process of scouting out new cities to test more locations, starting with temporary pop-up stores. It’s one in a long list of pure-play brands that have opened physical stores, as traditional retailers simultaneously shutter locations. The oft-repeated reasoning for the move offline: Customers still like to touch and feel products in real life before they buy.
It’s a good reason, but for M.Gemi, it’s the customer data that can be mined from stores that is most valuable.
“First and foremost, the biggest benefit [from opening stores] is that we can access data about customers from the online to offline experience,” said M.Gemi president Cheryl Kaplan.
With technology powered by mobile commerce platform PredictSpring, M.Gemi has turned its stores into an offline database. It’s equipping its store associates with an app that can track the products customers purchase, add items to a customer’s online cart to save for later and enable mobile checkout. The goal is to create a feedback loop around product performance that the brand can then respond to, as well as create a more tailored experience for customers who shop M.Gemi both online and in store. Kaplan said that those who do shop both channels spend more money with the brand overall.
“We don’t want the [updated] experience to feel drastically different for the customer, just easier,” she continued. “It’s more about what happens behind the scenes and how we’re connecting our databases.”
Tech solutions that follow the way customers interact with products in stores, as well as efforts to personalize the in-store experience, are increasingly top-of-mind strategies for retailers who are rethinking the purpose of the store. Brands like Reformation, Fabletics, Rebecca Minkoff and Ralph Lauren have all incorporated technology into their fitting rooms so they know what items customers are considering, while e-commerce companies like Rent the Runway and Eloquii are asking in-store customers to check in, so they can link their online purchase history and shopping carts to the in-store database.
“What’s most important for retailers when using data and technology to interact with customers is that they actually respond to what customers want and don’t want,” said Sara Bamossy, chief strategy officer at the agency Pitch. “Every time a customer comes in and out of the store, they’re demonstrating a choice about your product.”
“Brands want stores playing a bigger role going forward than they traditionally have,” echoed Nitin Mangtani, founder and CEO of PredictSpring. “So we’re going to see technology playing a bigger role, from endless aisles to informing a product’s life cycle.”
For M.Gemi, which releases new items every Monday, real-time customer feedback is critical for making last-minute design changes and updates to inventory. That means every customer touch point — including the in-store — counts. If there’s a shoe that’s tried on frequently but never purchased, the design team can use that information to figure out what’s wrong with the product.
According to Kaplan, M.Gemi’s loyal customers are willing to share specific feedback on products, because they’re aware the brand is able to quickly react to any issues. Kaplan’s goal is that customers who shop in store will be willing to sign up with an account and share information with the brand, once they see the personalized experience themselves. Once customers sign up with M.Gemi, store employees can see a full list of the items they’ve purchased, or bought and returned, in the past, and make better recommendations.
“This in-store data informs the design process. When you look at data that comes in from returns, try-ons or purchases, there’s a whole list of insight there. Art and science is then put together, and that data lets us make those decisions,” said Kaplan. “Having storefronts gets us more of that information in a formulaic way. It’s a huge part of how we’ll monitor and update design and fit.”