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Millennial, Digital Native Brands Come to the Upper East Side

The internet and the real world. The brand and the business. The e-commerce market and in-person retail commerce; It’s all colliding in New York City. As retail stores work toward economic normalcy, digitally native brands are taking advantage of their online place in the market and are using these marketing strategies to expand their foothold, literally, in places like New York City.

Take a company like Glossier, which began as a fashion blog called “Into the Gloss,” that intermittently opened pop-up shops and others around the city but only opened its first physical location in 2018. Companies like this, that capitalize on the opportunity to narrow the gap between brands and customers, while giving people a sense of personal style and a unique retail-experience that mirrors their interactions online with the brand, can quickly expand operations and financial earnings. The one-time fashion blog is now valued at nearly $2 billion and has plans for three permanent stores this year.

Companies that can leverage their online presence can also capitalize on the growing retail market as the country and the world come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some businesses have looked into creating an Instagram in-person retail experience. Warby Parker, an eyeglass retailer, has stores with a “Green Room” where customers can shoot 15-second videos of themselves in different styles of glasses to post on social media platforms, promoting customers and business alike. An Instagram atmosphere can be very effective for companies to bring in more business; Hootsuite reports that 75% of Instagram users take action, like visiting a website or physical location, after they’ve viewed a brand’s post.

Some business strategies replicate the actual content they post to their social media sites. For FaceGym, videos of customers receiving facial massages and workouts are replicated exactly in its physical stores. DIY strategies are available as well, which is a key tenet of these “clicks-to-bricks” business; e-commerce and physical retail strategies are merging into one cohesive brand image, where the business can operate in store, over social media or in its customers’ homes.

The rapid expansion of brands into physical retail has been taking place since the early 2010s but has exploded in recent years. According to JLL, the most popular cities for pop-ups and first permanent locations are New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Soho neighborhood, where Warby Parker opened its first store in 2013, remains one of the prime markets for any business hoping to expand its presence.

Another business that is exemplifying this new e-commerce stragegy is HeyDey, who are taking “spa days” to the micro-level by opening physical locations that offer single-services like facials. The company has 10 physical locations and is planning to open 300 more in the next five years. Or consider Casper, the mattress company, which was founded in 2013 but opened its first store in New York City in 2018 and has quickly expanded into creating a popular shopping “experience.” They want a narrative, a story to associate with a shopping excursion. One of Casper’s more recent installations is “Dreamery by Casper,”, where customers can rent a freshly made and cleaned bed for a 45-minute nap, while also testing out its products.

These in-person “experiences” with businesses or goods that are normally completely online, or rarely have physical locations, have become a very popular and common marketing strategy. Even the arts are going this way. For Sally Rooney’s newest novel, her U.K .publisher Faber opened a pop-up shop that sold, among other things, a bucket hat with the book title on it. Wes Anderson’s newest movie, “The French Dispatch,” opened a pop-up store in October 2021 in the West Village of Manhattan. Bridging the gap between the two worlds of commerce has become paramount for businesses in a number of industries.

As the demand for in-person retail continues to grow, online brands transitioning into physical locations should heed their customers’ preferences as the country emerges from the pandemic. While Power Reviews notes that 70% of customers don’t worry about returning to in-store shopping, it does expect that stores will make sure there is frequent sterilization of store premises, curbside pickup options and mask-wearing inside stores. Brands that meet these demands, while also offering experience-based shopping options, Instagram-ready walls in locales and pop-ups and limited-run availability of opportunities and goods will thrive.

Rose Caiola
Bettina Equities
(212) 744-3330