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Why online retailers like Wayfair and Dormify are popping up at the mall

Ellie Silverman, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. -- Megg Dillon, 36, has been wanting to redecorate her Santa Monica, Calif., apartment, so she appreciated physically seeing the items she usually browsed online.

"I do like that pineapple," she said to her friend, referring to the fruit-shape cutting board inside home furnishings retailer Wayfair's pop-up shop at the King of Prussia Mall. "How cute is this?" Dillon said soon afterward, picking up Octopus bookends.

Her friend, Jenna Hunsberger, 36, of Collegeville, Pa., had her eye on a "Crazy Plant Lady" mug, snapping a picture on her phone to remember later.

Whether or not the two friends buy any of the items they saw, Radha Patel, Wayfair's senior manager of experiential marketing, would view this interaction as a success.

"We wanted to give our customers the opportunity to touch and feel and experience our products and take it home the same day," Patel said. "And if they don't make a purchase, seeing the chairs, artwork, dishes, and rugs in person can give them that confidence and that ease to shop on our website."

Retailers that started out selling online are increasingly opening physical locations, even as big-box stores struggle to get in-store business. At the King of Prussia Mall, Dormify has a pop-up for the back-to-college shopping season, and Fabletics, the digital-native athletic clothing brand, recently opened a permanent store. Other online retailers with a physical presence at the King of Prussia Mall include Casper, Bonobos and Untuckit.

 

"We're at the forefront of physical retail, so we see demands from just about everybody, and it's really exciting to be working with all of these new concepts," said Zachary Beloff, national director of business development for Simon Property Group, the owner of King of Prussia, one of the largest malls in the United States. "It's a great way to excite the customer and give them what they want."

The pop-up stores have different goals from more traditional retailers, said Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and author of "The Shopping Revolution: How Successful Retailers Win Customers in an Era of Endless Disruption."

Instead of simply evaluating sales per square foot, which defined success for stores in the past, Kahn said, companies are looking more holistically at revenue and profit. Digital-native retailers can now find spaces in malls to open more of a showroom and boost brand recognition.

"Online vs. off-line is the wrong way to think about it," Kahn said, pointing out that shopping is more integrated than that. "You're online looking at these cool new brands, you may go to the mall to see what it looks like in person."

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