Selling Stuff Online? This New Retail Model Is a Gamechanger
When online shopping started to catch fire about a decade and a half ago, predictions of brick-and-mortar stores dying a slow and painful death followed close behind. And to some extent, those predictions have come true; we’ve all born witness to the shuttering of big box stores (RIP, Borders) as massive online retailers have bulldozed the marketplace. As consumers, we’ve developed an incessant appetite for ever cheaper and ever faster shipping, our phones have now merged with our wallets, and drone delivery is suddenly a real thing. Yet the current state of retail vs. e-comm has become more nuanced than expected--something that’s perhaps best illustrated by the fact that tomorrow, Amazon, a company initially that established itself by selling books online at discounts so deep it nearly eradicated bookstores across the country, is opening its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in New York City [insert skeptical chin-stroking emoji here].
Still, the Pew Research Center found that even though 80% of us buy stuff on the Internet, with 43% hitting that “place order” button weekly or a few times a month, non-store sales made up 11% of retail in 2016, which indicates that the vast majority of our shopping still goes down in physical stores.
So what does this mean for a generation of entrepreneurs who have built companies in the era of online shopping? The fact that customers still like to see, hold and try products in person suggests that having a physical retail space is still a significant a boon. The thing is, for many small-business owners who built a direct-to-consumer online business, physical retail space simply isn’t an option. Signing a pricey lease for years at a time isn’t in the realm of possibility, nor is staffing a store with salespeople and the rest of the overhead (and headaches) that come along with it.
Enter Bulletin, a startup that describes itself as the “WeWork for retail space.” Founded earlier this year by Ali Kriegsman and Alana Branston, the co-retailing space recently secured $2.2 million in funding for its model of renting out shelves, sections or corners in their sleek stores to online retailers who might otherwise not be able to sell to things humans in real life. With stores currently in high-traffic areas of Williamsburg and Soho, Bulletin curates cool, unique items that stay in the store for a minimum of 8 weeks.
And aside from removing cumbersome red tape and intimidating leases out of the equation, Bulletin is also tapping into the other important aspect of in-person shopping that seemed to have gotten undervalued in the e-commerce revolution: a sense of community. Brands stocked at Bulletin stores sometimes hold events together, looking to lean on each others’ loyal customers for new exposure. And most recently they built out Bulletin Broads, a store stocking items from 30 women-run companies that was created in partnership with Planned Parenthood.
Not in NYC? The savvy women behind Bulletin have made it shoppable online, of course, and plans to expand to Los Angeles and beyond are currently underway.