The shoeless shoe store connecting e-commerce with brick-and-mortar shopping

Why retailers like Eobuwie are adding click-to-order conveniences to stores.
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Dalziel & Pow

· 6 min read

As consumers who’ve been mostly shopping online for a couple years increasingly return to stores, retailers are hunched over their Ouija boards, asking how those shoppers’ expectations have shifted. How will the convenience of click-to-order shape what shoppers expect to see in brick-and-mortar? How can flexibility be designed into stores for whatever public health catastrophe—or technological triumph—might happen next?

Intending no offense to Ouija boards, or any of the dark arts, we decided to take a less paranormal approach. We jawboned with representatives of some major retail design firms to identify what they see as the most important priorities in-store design today—and in the future.

A foot in the door

When Eobuwie, an online footwear retailer in Poland, decided to open its first brick-and-mortar location, it made a choice that seemed more than a little counterintuitive.

It didn’t put any shoes in it.

You enter the store and encounter rectangular tables fitted with tablets. Sleek modern couches line the walls, which have LED screens stretching across them. The vibe is Apple Store-meets-WeWork, but not even a hint of DSW.


Dalziel & Pow

Shoppers—who, before the store opened in Zielona Góra, Poland, in 2019, clicked to buy—proceeded to do what they would in their own homes, namely choose from Eobuwie’s vast selection of footwear on a screen. But here’s the kicker: A store associate brings shoppers their picks to try on. The storeroom in the back, it turns out, is more like a warehouse.

  • The backroom has ~110,000 pairs of shoes from as many as 450 brands—and an ingenious racking system.
  • Thanks to digitized dispenser shelving and conveyor belts, a shopper clicking on a pair of sneakers can try them on in as little as 30 seconds.

“You have all the choice and the ease of clicking through different things and not having to wander through the store missing things,” Alastair Kean, group development director at Dalziel & Pow, the London-based brand innovation studio that designed the store, told Retail Brew. “You can do that from home if you want, but the store gives you the advantage of immediately trying that pair of shoes on. Are they comfortable? Do they fit?”

Home away from home: One way for retailers to lure customers back is to incorporate some of the best elements of online shopping into their stores, and—like Eobuwie—maybe even add a few couches.

Kean, whose agency has also done projects for brands including Lululemon and Johnnie Walker, said that when it comes to e-commerce and in-store channels, “What we’re trying to do is kind of [align] these worlds a little bit more evenly, so that you have the convenience of the online transaction and…there’s a reason to shop in-store, because it’s a richer experience than you get online, but it’s no less convenient.”

Omnichannel surfing

Retailers often think of “omnichannel” as being flexible about transacting with consumers in whatever lane they choose. But Lara Marrero, principal and global retail practice leader at Gensler, the worldwide architecture and design firm that’s worked with clients from A (Adidas) to Z (Zara), said retailers should stop being binary.

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Over the last two decades, Marrero told us, “We’ve been looking at this physical place versus e-commerce and realizing, actually, it’s not a versus, it’s an and. It’s really [about] allowing the customer to have the brand where it needs to be, when it needs to be.”

The elephant in the (changing) room: Amazon’s announcement that it will open its first brick-and-mortar clothing store, Amazon Style, later this year (yeah, they just announced they would close a bunch of other stores, too) is what many are obsessing over when it comes to how e-comm will affect physical stores.

The Amazon Style shopping area will have as few as one or two samples of an item, and to try it on, customers will use an app to select the size they want, which will in turn be whisked away from the vast inventory stocked in an unseen area to a dressing room, where it’ll await them.

  • Shoppers will also be able to scan QR codes for additional info like reviews and, when something doesn’t fit, use the app to have an associate bring another size.

Mark Landini, creative director of Landini Associates, a Sydney-based design studio that has worked with brands including McDonald’s and Aldi, said that retailers and store designers should be emulating Amazon’s strategy—or else.

“I think Amazon Style will have department stores groaning from their shallow graves before long,” Landini told us.

Gensler’s Marrero stressed that while it’s important to bring e-commerce convenience into stores, it’s equally important to bring the service, human touch, and overall experiential elements of physical stores into e-commerce.

Marrero, who’s based in London, said she’s a fan of Burberry’s, which lets her schedule video chats with store associates who are actually in the store. They show her clothes she’s indicated that she’s interested in, giving her not only a better sense of what the items really look like and if they’ll fit, but also the vicarious pleasure of being in a well-appointed store, even if she’s just seeing it on her phone.

“And I can either have it sent to my house or I could go in and get it and know that it’s a purposeful journey,” Marrero said. “And the cool thing about that is I’m helping them by not buying it and returning it, which costs them shipping.”

Cash out: Scott Denton-Cardew, principal and executive creative director of Denton Cardew Design, a creative consultancy that’s done retail-design projects for companies like Levi’s and Nike, says that one thing he expects to be designing less and less of for stores—thanks to technology originally developed for e-commerce—are banks of cash registers.

“I’ve seen it mostly at Nike in Nike stores where…if you have the app, you can scan the barcode and it’s tied to your Nike account where the credit card is already saved,” Denton-Cardew told us. “I personally think the cash wrap is a huge pain point” and “a thing of the past” he said.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.