Exterior of the Allbirds location in Philadelphia, PA.
Allbirds has begun working with Shopify to enhance its pick-up-in-store and ship-from-store capabilities and boost its customer personalization and service. — Jason Varney/Allbirds

Why it matters:

  • Amid the surge in online shopping, half of consumers say they would like to schedule appointments for store visits.
  • Digital-first brands like Allbirds are now focusing on the critical role stores will play to serve shoppers’ multichannel needs.
  • Post-pandemic, more direct-to-consumer brands will turn to physical retail as a way to build community.

The pandemic accelerated online shopping, but it also has caused digital brands to focus on the crucial role stores will play in an omnichannel future.

Allbirds, the sustainable sneaker sensation that was born online, is continuing to open new retail stores and expects store traffic to rebound strongly post-pandemic.

Shopify, the e-commerce platform used by more than a million online sellers, is helping store owners schedule curbside pickups, ship online orders from stores and create shop-by-appointment reservations to make the in-store shopping experience more efficient.

Allbirds and Shopify executives spoke about the role stores will play this year and beyond, at the recent National Retail Federation trade show, which was held virtually this year.

“Our north star is to create more entrepreneurs, and however commerce is happening is where we want to be,” said Arpan Podduturi, director of product at Shopify.

Allbirds, a Shopify customer, is working with the e-commerce platform to enhance its pick-up-in-store and ship-from-store capabilities, and boost its customer personalization and service.

[Read more here on how e-commerce investments are yielding big gains for small businesses.]

“Having the ability to meet the customer wherever they want to be met, at any time, is critical as we go into the future,” said Travis Boyce, head of global retail operations at Allbirds.

Podduturi and Boyce participated in a “Technologies Shaping the Store of 2025” discussion moderated by Pano Anthos, founder and managing director of retail and tech accelerator XRC Labs. The panel included Leigh Sevin, founder and CEO of Endear, a startup that provides messaging and marketing technology to retailers.

Having the ability to meet the customer wherever they want to be met, at any time, is critical as we go into the future.

Travis Boyce, head of global retail operations, Allbirds

The future of stores: Hubs for personalized, omnichannel experiences

Allbirds began 2020 with ambitious plans to open 20 stores during the year and increase its store count from 15 to 35. The pandemic slowed those plans, and it ended last year with 23 stores, including store openings in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

“We’re taking a cautious but optimistic approach for next year [2021],” in terms of store openings, Boyce said. “We’re starting to commit to stores again.”

Going forward, Boyce said, stores will serve as hubs for a broad omnichannel experience, and as places where Allbirds can build a sense of community for its customers.

One challenge Allbirds is focused on both in its stores and online is “making sure we understand who the customer is when they walk in the door or when they log into the website,” Boyce said.

The goal, he said, is “being able to recommend products, understand sizing and preferences, surprise and delight them on their birthday,” and take other actions to connect with customers individually.

The trick for retailers, the panel said, is being able to know which customers want that kind of recognition and service, and which prefer to be left alone.

“There is the other side of people walking into a store and not wanting to feel pressured. Sometimes they just want to come in and browse,” said Leigh Sevin of Endear.

 Interior of the Allbirds location in Philadelphia, PA.
Post-pandemic, Allbirds plans to have its stores serve as hubs for a broad omnichannel experience, and as places where the company can build a sense of community for its customers. — Jason Varney/Allbirds

Bespoke service via appointment scheduling

Endear offers retail staff ways to communicate with customers via text and build relationships before the customer walks into a store or buys online. Customers in turn can text a store and let them know when they plan to visit and what they will be shopping for. That allows store associates to have items waiting for the customers in fitting rooms.

“Those kinds of small details can really make someone feel like they are getting the attention they deserve,” Sevin said, while giving the customer the choice to “opt in” and let the store know they want that kind of interaction.

Appointment scheduling could become how shoppers let stores know they want personalized service, Podduturi said.

Shopify surveys have found “that 50% of consumers would like to be able to schedule time for in-store shopping,” Podduturi said. Appointments let shoppers share information about their preferences and sizes before they get to a store, allow store staff to choose specific products for them, have information about their purchase history and give more shoppers the VIP store treatment.

“It’s opt-in on both sides,” Podduturi said. “I think over the next years you’re going to see a lot of innovative technology there.”

[More here on companies monetizing the customization trend.]

He also thinks that post-pandemic, more online-only brands will be looking at stores and physical retail “as a great way to build community.”

“When it’s safe to do so, they’ll be hosting events and building lifetime value with their customers there,” he said.

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