BaubleBar, a New York startup that sells women’s accessories online, is opening a popup shop in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood tomorrow. The 4,000-square-foot location will serve Godiva chocolates and specialty cocktails and offer tablet computers that customers can use to demo personalized jewelry. Beyond the bells and whistles, the idea is to give customers the tactile experience they can’t get online.
Sixty-person BaubleBar isn’t the first e-commerce business to hawk its wares offline. Eyewear site Warby Parker and men’s apparel startup Bonobos have experimented with so-called guideshops, where customers can try on products to be ordered online. In April, Warby Parker opened a full-service flagship store in Manhattan. Gap’s (GPS) online retailer Piperlime has a brick-and-mortar boutique; further afield, legal advice startup LegalForce opened a storefront earlier this year.
Nor is this BaubleBar’s first experiment with brick and mortar. Since October, the company has been operating a retail store out of its sixth floor office. (Downside: no storefront window. Upside: founders Amy Jain and Daniella Yacobovsky can keep a close eye on the operation. The shop is now by appointment only.) In February, Bauble operated a popup shop in Manhattan for a month. Jain says e-commerce sites experimenting with the concept share a common motivation. “The reason for all of us is to solve a consumer hurdle we’re facing online,” she says. “In our case, people need to touch and feel our merchandise.”
Jain and Yacobovsky, who graduated from Harvard Business School in 2010, founded BaubleBar in 2011 with the goal of filling a hole in the market for women’s accessories. Traditional retailers, they say, treat accessories as an afterthought and build in fat margins. By focusing on jewelry and selling directly to consumers, BaubleBar’s founders say they can offer more styles at better prices. In 2012, the company raised $4.5 million from Accel Partners and Greycroft Partners.
E-commerce sites’ offline experiments also help them understand their customers better. When Warby Parker launched its flagship store in April, Om Malik wrote that:
“this isn’t just another retail store, co-founder Neil Blumenthal told me in a conversation a couple of weeks ago. Instead, the company is using sensors, Wi-Fi, and other new technologies to understand how people use its retail space, taking that data and marrying it with its online sales trends and other information. As a result it can come up with unique business trends that not only lead to more interesting pricing models but also help give its design and sales teams vital intelligence.”
Warby Parker has shared its brick-and-mortar staffers with BaubleBar, helping speed the jewelry seller’s learning curve. BaubleBar’s new popup shop, which will run through the summer, is the company’s last experiment before taking the concept national, says Jain. The company hasn’t announced where it will roll out future brick-and-mortar shops, but she says it sells well in such cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas.