Millennial, Digital Native Brands Join Neighborhood Amenities on 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 back towards 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 NYC.

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 their first physical location in 2018. Companies like this, who capitalize on the opportunity to narrow the gap between brands, customers and give 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. And the word is getting out there, an Instagram atmosphere can be very effective for companies to bring in more business. 75 percent 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 their physical stores, and 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 their 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 businesses hoping to expand their presence.

Another business that is exemplifying this new strategy of e-commerce is HeyDey, who are taking “spa-days” to the micro-level by opening up 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 shopping “experience”  and has become very popular with customers. 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 their 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 UK publisher Faber, opened a pop-up shop that sold among other things, a bucket hat with the book title on it. Or take Wes Anderson’s newest movie, The French Dispatch, which opened a pop-up store in October of this year 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 70 percent of customers don’t have any worry about returning to in-store shopping, they do 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 and locales and pop-ups and limited-run availability of opportunities and goods will thrive in metropolitan areas as the economy continues to recover.