Number of online retailers taking ‘showroom’ stores increases as internet sales slow, Colliers shows


A growing number of formerly ‘pure-play’ online retailers are taking physical stores as the rate of internet sales growth looks set to slow during the next few years.

New research from Colliers International shows that by 2021, the rate of growth in e-commerce sales is expected to decline from the current level of around 11 per cent to seven per cent. In anticipation of this, online retailers are increasingly using physical stores to bolster their sales and their brands. The new trend is being labelled ‘showrooming’ as the primary intention of these stores is not necessarily to generate sales through the tills but to reinforce customer loyalty – and spending – online.

The global real estate advisor has analysed more than 30 different online brands across the EMEA region which are becoming ‘showroomers’.

An example of this migration is the French fashion brand, Sézane, which had its beginnings on eBay before moving to a branded online platform. Having opened physical stores in Paris and New York, the brand’s creator, Morgane Sézalory, is now exploring the London market with a pop-up store in South Molton Street and is considering a permanent presence.

Also in London, one of the Duchess of Cambridge’s favourite online brands – ME+EM – is opening its third store and is looking at the potential for more.

This increasing presence of pure-plays ‘on the High Street’ is being supplemented by a growing number of brands such as Samsung, Dyson and Volkswagen which previously sold through stockists but are now looking to go direct to the consumer through their own store networks.

Paul Souber, co-head EMEA retail at Colliers, commented: “With the rate of web sales forecast to level out over the next four years, many e-retailers have identified ‘showrooms’ as one of the remedies to a decline in profits.

“Increasingly ‘Showrooms’ in physical shopping environments which both generate online sales, raise awareness of their company, promote brand loyalty and offer the customer an opportunity to see, touch and feel the products.

“The trend is also driven by cost considerations: it’s not uncommon for 40 per cent of online fashion orders to be returned by the customer without making a purchase. This is imposing a huge logistical and cost burden on the online brands.”

Showrooming is encompassing all types of retailers. In the Netherlands, one of the online brands that has been most acquisitive of physical space has been Fietsenwinkel – the bicycle retailer where you can test the products and then buy online. It has more than 30 outlets across Holland where you can get bikes repaired or road test new ones.

Taking physical space also delivers benefits for landlords and retailers. Etienne van Unen, Co-Head EMEA Retail at Colliers, observes: “Because showrooms are often located in a non-prime property and in units which would not appeal to mainstream retailers, the rents they command are often acceptable to both landlord and occupier.

“The landlord is letting a property which may have been problematic or not in demand and the pure-play is getting a lower rent than they would pay for a mainstream store”.

The research highlights the changing balance between the channels – online and physical – which are open to retailers.

Colliers’ head of forecasting & research, Mark Charlton, comments: “The trend for ‘pure-plays’ to take physical stores will undoubtedly accelerate as increased online competition and lower rates of sales growth requires them to find a competitive edge.”