Solidifying the Cross-Channel Retail Experience [Future of Retail]

We caught up with Neil Blumenthal, Co-Founder of Warby Parker, to discuss some of the key ideas to look out for in the Future of Retail

As part of our 2015 Future of Retail report, we reached out to industry experts and tastemakers to get their opinions on the key trends shaping the future. Neil Blumenthal is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker, an eyeglass retailer working to solve the problem of an overpriced market by offering designer eyewear, while leading the way for social conscious business.

Warby Parker Store 3

Warby Parker started as an online brand, however as you expand into a larger brick and mortar retail presence, how do you think about that experience as complementing your already existing online presence, and is there a differentiation between those two experiences for your consumers?

Neil: Across the organization we consider ourselves experienced designers, whether you’re designing our frames, whether you’re designing our stores, whether you’re designing our emails. As experienced designers we take a holistic view.

From the moment somebody hears about the brand, to their decision to shop, to shopping with us on whether online or in one of our stores, to transacting with us, to waiting for that product to arrive, to unwrapping that product, to using that product on an ongoing basis, to communicating with us post purchase. When you walk into our store compared to most other stores, it’s a better experience because we’ve been more thoughtful about it. When you walk in, hopefully, it’s visually appealing and you sort of smile.

Warby Parker Store 1

Our Green Street store was made to evoke a feeling of great institutions like the New York Public Library. It has floor to ceiling shelving made to look like book stacks and rolling ladders. The product is displayed in a way that through research we’ve found is sort of the most optimal that people shop for glasses, whether it’s the number of frames per shelf, the number of mirrors or using full length mirrors versus smaller mirrors.

All of these different elements make for a superior eyeglass buying experience combining that creativity of walking in and seeing something really improving the functionality aspect of shopping. It took outsiders and actual eyewear consumers to look at the current way of buying glasses and say, “This wasn’t quite right.” It didn’t make sense to have glasses under lock and key in a display or on shelving behind a counter and out of reach. People want to touch and feel the product that they’re buying.

Neil2

Something we have been looking at closely is the rise of mobile retail and in particular social shopping. For example, Twitter adding a ‘buy it now’ button to Tweets. What do you see as the potential impact of this trend for online retailers, and is this something you are looking towards for Warby Parker?

We’re sort of experimenting now. I think a lot of social networks also are experimenting, trying to monetize. We’re going to be in a period of change for the foreseeable future where these new channels are going to emerge.

It’s going to be important for retailers to be nimble and take advantage of them. As quickly as they emerge, they may disappear. We need to move fast and quickly and also not invest too many resources, because you don’t know what’s going to be around. The period of change is only going to increase.

Warby Parker Store 2

Finally, can you share some of your own predictions for what you see coming up in the future of retail?

There are probably three. One is the emphasis on greater channel experiences. A lot is happening in this area to make it seamless with our customer, from interacting with us online or in our stores. Make sure you can track and identify customers in any channel and provide personalized and customized experiences for them that are really special.

The second is to be much more robust as a retailer than a tool to transact with. I know that’s been going on between wholesalers and retailers for decades around customer information. It is just going to accelerate and become more profound as that data is now more valuable than ever before. What’s going to help that is that wholesalers, which are namely brands, will face existential questions over the next one to five years on where they want to be. A lot of them, in order to survive over the next 20 years are going to have to really build out their direct channel. When they do that they’re going to be in direct conflict with their retail customers. The retailers are going to push back in pretty meaningful ways.

Third, looking at mobile and mobile commerce. Mobile traffic as a percentage of total traffic has doubled year over year. We know that’s happening to all of our peers, and it’s happening across categories. Selling on smaller screens is profoundly more difficult, and expertise is really lacking across the board within the retail industry. People are beginning to learn this piece of the puzzle, and we’re going to see a big emphasis on that.

Thanks Neil!

In the fifth volume of the Future of Retail report the PSFK Labs team presents a manifesto to reinvent the store. This content series on PSFK.com will explore emerging retail trends and key strategies necessary to take advantage of them so that brands and retailers can deliver against evolving shopper needs and expectations both on and offline to drive better sales, service and engagement. Download the full report here, view our trend summary onSlideshare and be sure to check back daily for new articles about the latest trends in retail.

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