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Online-only retailers look to offer better customer service by opening offline stores

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In the age of Amazon Prime, it's easy to look at the brick-and-mortar store as an antiquated way to shop that continues to diminish in importance — but on the contrary, some internet-only retailers are beginning to find that opening physical retail stores are an important way to extend their brands. The New York Times has put together a report looking at this trend; men's clothing retailer Bonobos, for example, was staunchly in support of its online-only sales model. CEO Andy Dunn gave a speech arguing that retail stores were a bad economic decision for a lot of businesses, and said in 2009 that "we keep men out of retail stores when we know that men fundamentally don't enjoy shopping."

"I was pretty puritanical about e-commerce only."

However, Dunn has since changed his tune, opening six Bonobo stores this year. "I was pretty puritanical about e-commerce only," Dunn told the Times, but he found that about half of his potential customers were reluctant to order online. Bonobo's hardly the only retailer moving in this direction — Piperlime, Gap's online-only brand, also opened an NYC retail location this year, while online retail giants eBay and Etsy are both testing temporary stores. Similarly, online retailer Fab is also planning to spin its site into new physical stores, but without the risky retail practice of overstocking its inventory and relying on slim profit margins. Bonobos' model is rather unconventional, as well — visitors try on clothes and place an order at the store itself; the purchase is then delivered as any other online purchase would be.

Why the change of heart? For a lot of these retailers, it came down to offering a better experience for potential shoppers. Dunn said the idea stemmed from customers wanting to actually try things on before purchasing, something the online experience obviously can't offer — instead it recommended that buyers purchase multiple sizes and return the ones they didn't want. "Clicking on six sizes and having them shipped to me is not a great experience," he said. And while online sales are certainly not going anywhere, the in-store experience can have other advantages, as well — Dunn said the average sale from his retail stores was about double the average online purchase.