TORONTO — Companies often launch online stores without a physical presence in order to save on costly overhead expenses from stores or to avoid being tied down by geography.
But many e-commerce operators eventually look to expand their reach beyond the nimble digital realm.
Physical stores offer digital retailers something the Internet cannot — a space to experience the brand's community, products and strong customer service in person. That can boost sales.
"You're real. You're alive. You're touchable," said John C. Williams, a senior partner at retail and marketing consulting firm J.C. Williams Group, explaining why online retailers open bricks-and-mortar locations.
"When you have ... four walls, you know, you can build in an emotional experience much better."
Here are five companies that have become, or are planning to become, so-called omni-channel retailers:
Frank + Oak
Frank & Oak co-founders Ethan Song, left, and Hicham Ratnani pose for a photograph at their warehouse and offices in Montreal, Thursday, April 11, 2013. (Canadian Press/Graham Hughes)
Ethan Song and Hicham Ratnani started selling men's clothing designed by their brand Frank and Oak online in February 2012.
The company opened its first store in Montreal in November 2013. It's since grown to 13 locations in Canada and the U.S. — with plans to open two more Canadian shops this summer. The newest locations will be at Toronto's Sherway Gardens mall and Ottawa's Rideau Centre.
Indochino's showroom in Los Angeles. (Photo: Indochino.com)
Another men's clothing retailer, Indochino got its start selling made-to-measure shirts and suits online. Customers measured themselves, ideally with the help of a friend, before completing the virtual checkout.
Heikal Gani and Kyle Vucko founded the brand in March 2007 and chose to open up its first bricks-and-mortar location, dubbed a showroom, in Toronto in August 2014 after hosting a series of pop-ups in North America.
The company now boasts eight locations on the continent where men can book appointments for an employee to take their measurements and can peruse the fabric selection. It plans to expand to 150 locations by 2020.
A Warby Parker location in New York City, Nov. 29, 2011. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/WireImage)
It's not just clothing companies that feel the need for physical shopping spaces in addition to their e-commerce ventures.
American eyeglasses company Warby Parker plans to open its first Canadian outlet this summer. The Toronto shop will sell the company's eyewear, which is designed in house.
The company formed in 2010 to offer a way for consumers to buy cheaper, quality eyewear.
It now has 31 retail locations, including one on a parked school bus in Austin, Texas, and several new ones planned.
An Apple store in Toronto. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Apple started out selling its computers online and in the stores of its partners. Legend has it co-founder Steve Jobs grew frustrated with shoddy customer service at retail outlets selling Apple products.
This growing discontent led to the advent of the Apple Store in 2001. That year, the company opened 25 outlet across America with the first opening May 15, 2001, in McLean, Va., and Glendale, Calif. In a statement at the time, Jobs called it "an amazing new way to buy a computer."
The company now boasts 463 retail stores, according to its most recent annual report.
(Photo: Canadian Press)
Luxury winter jacket retailer Canada Goose recently announced it will open its first two retail stores this fall in Toronto and New York City.
Founded in 1957, the company gained a following for its down-filled, fur-lined parkas that have been worn by celebrities, featured in Hollywood movies and appeared on the cover of Sport's Illustrated swimsuit edition.
It sells the parkas and other winterwear on its website and through authorized retailers in Canada and abroad.
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