Brick and Mortar 2.0

24 Nov 2018

I want to start this by pointing people to Y Combinator’s Requests for Startups, specifically their “Brick and Mortar 2.0” section. What came to my mind when I read it was a mish mash of streetwear brands, Warby Parker, pop up shops, Instagram shopping, and snapchat filters. Basically the vision I had was of a retail shop that complemented digital sales through really good customer service (like Warby Parker), that could create profiles of their customers based on trends and aesthetics they like (Instagram), that could be “rented” out to brands on a short term basis (snapchat filters).

To paint a clearer picture of what I’m talking about, imagine yourself as the customer. You walk by a store that has a bunch of displays of clothing brands, some of which you know and some of which you don’t. You walk in, and one of the employees greets you, and asks you to fill out your profile on a tablet. It includes things like your measurements, Instagram handle, and aesthetics you like. You’re then taken to a wall-mounted giant touch screen with a camera pointed at you. The touch screen shows a live feed of you standing in front of it, then shows you with an item of clothing that you may like. You can swipe one way or another to accept, reject, or say maybe to the clothing, which further builds your profile. After you’re done, an employee asks you if you would like to purchase some of the clothing now and have it shipped to your home, and if you don’t like it you can either ship it back or return it to a physical store. You say you’d rather think about it before buying. The employee hands you a paper list of the items you’ve liked, along with a few discount codes for the brands that were promoted and you go on your way.

The benefits of this from a business side are pretty obvious. For one you don’t need to have any inventory, all the brands handle that. Second, you can rapidly switch between different brands, causing customers to want to come back to see what’s new. Third, you can create limited time and exclusive offers, which are really good for creating an “in group” of people (just like street wear brands like supreme).

If a company could pull it off successfully, it could be a sea change in how people experience retail. It would essentially bring the obscure clothing options of streetwear, popup shops, and thrift stores to normies who don’t really have the time to follow all the trends or brands.

Update: 26 Dec 2018

I recently learned of a Japanese company called ZOZO that will sell you custom-sized clothes. They had this dot-covered body suit that you would put on and record yourself with your smartphone, but they may be ditching that in favor of videos of you in normal clothes. Either way, it seems like their innovating pretty quickly and have a lot of money behind them. I'll keep my eye on ZOZO and see where they head.