jul17-21-hbr-andersson-marketing
Kenneth Andersson for HBR

Historically, shopping has been a sensory experience. Store associates served as personal shoppers, helping customers pick out items. Shoppers gauged quality by the look and feel of a product. They asked for sales associates’ opinions when they tried on clothes. It was as much an emotional experience as it was a physical, tactile one.

That traditional “personal touch” shopping experience is hard to replicate online. As more companies struggle to find their niche with the modern consumer, they’re turning to new technologies to recreate this sensory experience. What’s emerging is what I call the “StoreHouse” — a hybrid model that merges the physical benefits of a real-world store with the convenience of home. To embrace this market shift, retailers will need to experiment with a range of technologies and strategies across marketing, supply chain, and merchandising. Here’s how some brands are already doing this:

Making the bedroom the new fitting room

When eyeglass maker Warby Parker launched in 2010, its founders had $2,500 seed funding and impressive business school pedigrees. Thanks to a well-timed Vogue feature and a refreshing concept — try on affordable glasses virtually or at home, with free shipping and returns — the company scooped up its Series A through D funding rounds and earned a $1.2 billion valuation within five years.

Others have latched onto customers’ desire for choice. Rent the Runway lets women browse dresses online and then borrow one style for a few days, including a free second size. Amazon recently announced a new service, Prime Wardrobe, that allows customers to select 3-15 items and try the clothes for up to seven days, with free shipping and returns for the items they choose not to keep.

Brands like these know that savvy consumers want both the convenience of online shopping and the experimentation they get in an offline store. I call this trend “bracketing” — buying multiple versions of an item to see which…