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Online-To-Offline: E-tailer Blue Nile Thinks Beyond ‘Traditional’ Stores

With the opening of its fourth Webroom, the online jeweler is proving that digital isn’t an “extra”; it belongs in physical retail.

Online jeweler Blue Nile will open the fourth store location of its “Webroom” concept this summer in Portland, OR, a move that further bolsters the claim that the most successful retailers are those who blend the digital and the physical shopping experience rather than solely relying on one or the other.

Blue Nile’s Webrooms are physical showrooms that employ digital tactics, giving e- and m-commerce fans a new way to experience retail. The Webrooms are smaller than traditional jewelry stores, and in order to give shoppers a seamless checkout experience, all transactions happen online via in-store tablets — and online prices are in effect. But shoppers still have the opportunity to view and try on Blue Nile’s wares in person, and non-commissioned consultants are on hand to help with selections, meaning that the Webrooms do offer a few hands-on extras.

The company’s first Webroom, which launched in June 2015, provided a sales lift to the overall New York City-area market and “exceeded expectations,” according to Blue Nile CEO Harvey Kanter.

Living Omnichannel

From e-tail pioneer Warby Parker to upstart Tuckernuck, plenty of online-only companies have moved from “clicks to bricks” in recent years, establishing the value of a diversified physical and digital presence. But many businesses making the online-to-offline move — or vice versa — may be underestimating just how much physical stores can (and should) employ digital tactics.

Blue Nile’s Webrooms suggest a new vision: E-tailers don’t necessarily have to open “traditional” physical stores; they can bring all of the elements that made them successful online — from mobile POS to shopping cart recommendations — into the retail experience, creating a digital/physical hybrid “showroom” that truly offers the best of both worlds in one place.

This is what distinguishes a retailer that “does omnichannel” by letting customers purchase both in-store and across devices from a retailer that truly embodies the omnichannel mindset; in such a case, the company understands that online and offline are genuinely equal in consumers’ minds, and they should be blended and treated as such.

“Today’s shoppers want the freedom to shop in their own way — via PC, tablet, phone, or in-store,” a spokesperson from Blue Nile told GeoMarketing. “We’re not simply opening a traditional store with massive overhead. Instead, we’re creating an efficient model that allows us to simultaneously disrupt and leverage the brick and mortar experience.”

Up to four new Blue Nile Webrooms will open this year.