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For years now, shopping has been gradually migrating to the Internet as more consumers discover the advantages of online shopping over the old-fashioned practice of picking over merchandise in an actual store environment. Why get dressed, hop in the car, and drive somewhere, when you can get on the computer and purchase the same items with a few clicks of your mouse?
Yet many online retailers are realizing the value of the in-person shopping experience. After all, the majority of retail transactions are still performed in-store. Even Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) may be considering such a move -- yes, the granddaddy of all online retailers and the bane of brick-and-mortar stores such as Best Buy, Target, and Kohl's. There have been rumors for several months now that Amazon is planning to open a non-virtual store in Seattle, probably to showcase its Kindle e-reader and paper-and-binding books. How will an Amazon store look? Possibly like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) stores, the bellwether to which the formerly Internet-only vendors seem to aspire. It's the benchmark for good reason, too: Apple stores realize the highest sales per square foot in the retail realm.
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) has actually taken the plunge, having opened an Apple-like mini-store in London last year in order to exhibit its line of Chromebooks, as well as a few accessories. Now the scuttlebutt is that the Big G is planning a full-scale retail space near its Dublin headquarters sometime this year. Although Google hasn't confirmed those plans yet, the company did file paperwork with the city to do so, according to CNET.com.
Other, less flashy retailers have also made the move to Main Street reality. Take men's clothier Bonobos, founded online and found only online (except for one obscure Manhattan location) -- until recently. The company has teamed up with tony retailer Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN ) , which has invested several million dollars in the apparel maker, to sell its form-flattering clothing at some Nordstrom locations and on Nordstrom's website. For its part, Bonobos would like to see its clothing and accessories expand to all Nordstrom locations.
Is it now fashionable to cater to customers who prefer tangible, rather than virtual, shopping? There seems to be no danger that any of these companies will reduce its online presence. However, this movement into the world of traditional merchandising seems a nod to the notion that there is something intrinsically satisfying for customers to handle and examine products they want to buy. The idea is clearly getting the attention of online merchants, at least some of which are now fine with being considered touchy-feely.
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