The men’s store is the latest proof that even successful online retailers are discovering the benefits of an offline presence.

Share story

Online retailer Bonobos is opening its first Seattle store at University Village on Friday, a sign that even the most successful practitioners of Internet commerce are rediscovering the benefits of an earthly presence.

The New York-based men’s retailer calls its 1,000-square-foot store a “guideshop.”

Customers can make fitting appointments with the store’s style experts online or walk in to try Bonobos’ famous trousers or other apparel. But Bonobos’ online heritage means shoppers won’t walk out with bags: all purchases are shipped to their home or office.

That means that the stores can be small and relatively cheap to run, carrying no inventory. But it also means that there’s no instant gratification.

Bonobos representatives say that it doesn’t matter, because many guys just want to see how something fits or to get some style advice, and don’t mind waiting a couple of days for their items. Also, men don’t like to walk around with shopping bags, they say.

Bonobos’ brick-and-mortar foray comes amid similar moves by other pure-play online retailers such as eyeglass purveyor Warby Parker and Seattle-based jeweler Blue Nile, which recently opened a showroom in New York.

It’s a sign that customers are increasingly comfortable shopping both online and offline, and like doing both, says Julie Smith, a Seattle-based consultant with Point B, a management consultancy. “That’s causing a shift for everybody,” she says.

Smith adds that online retailers are also discovering that their exposure can be greatly boosted by proper offline stores, and that many apparel shoppers still like touching and trying before buying.

Bonobos started in New York in 2007 and quickly became famous for well-fitting men’s chinos that avoided the baggy khakis look; the company recently announced that it has sold more than 1 million chinos.

It soon attracted the attention of major retailers: Nordstrom in 2012 led a $16 million investment round in the startup and began distributing Bonobos clothes in its stores. Nordstrom has made subsequent investments.

Also in 2012 Bonobos dipped its toe into the brick-and-mortar world.

“The initial thought was that we wanted to make shopping easy for customers,” said Erin Ersenkal, who leads the Guideshops unit at Bonobos. “But over time as the business evolved, we had customers coming to us asking to try things on.”

Bonobos set up a couple of dressing rooms at its fifth floor midtown New York headquarters, and it was a discovery.

“People like to try them on before they buy,” Ersenkal said. “It’s kind of a silly learning.” Soon it opened a store in Boston, and others followed.

The expansion got a boost from $55 million raised last year. The Seattle store is its 19th location; Bonobos expects to have 20 by year’s end, twice as many as it had a year ago.

Ersenkal says Bonobos expects to maintain the same pace of openings. Most of the stores are small, like Seattle’s. But it has a larger flagship on Fifth Avenue in New York City, which opened a few weeks ago.

The results are “impactful” and a major focus for the company, Ersenkal said.