As restrictions begin to ease, the post-pandemic world of retail is welcoming online players into bricks-and-mortar stores.

Having previously experimented with pop-ups or partnerships, brands that were formerly purely digital players are venturing into permanent physical retail locations. 

Retail Week takes a look at what triggered the decision for four online-first brands to take the plunge to move into bricks and mortar post-pandemic. 


“The promise of immersive, real-life experiences rooted in discovery and connection is more resonant than ever”
Emily Weiss, Glossier


Glossier in 3D

The online beauty brand is focusing on ‘Glossier in 3D’ in 2021. Easing of restrictions means the American brand will open three permanent stores this year. Stores will open in Seattle and Los Angeles stateside in the coming months, with the first international flagship due to open in London in the winter. 

The brand plans for online and offline to co-exist going forward, with the claim that three out of four beauty consumers looking to buy a new product will search online first. However, demand is strong for shared experiences and store visits. 

Glossier’s previous temporary location in London had the highest average daily sales of any of the brand’s offline ventures. With more than 100,000 visitors in the 10 weeks after opening, it was the beauty brand’s most successful retail endeavour. 

Glossier’s previous temporary location in London had the highest average daily sales of any of the brand’s offline ventures

Overall, the brand welcomed more than 1 million people into its stores in 2019.

Now Glossier is planning to utilise the experience gained through pop-ups and permanent stores that faced closure over the pandemic to welcome beauty enthusiasts into three new spaces.

Stores will be designed to match the city in which they are based and will focus on technology to enhance the customer experience, allowing consumers to explore product offerings in person.

Founder Emily Weiss said in the Glossier 3D announcement: “At a time when the appetite for online shopping, accelerated by the pandemic, has never been stronger, the promise of immersive, real-life experiences rooted in discovery and connection is paradoxically also more resonant than ever.”

Imagination Space is a large display with screens inside that use Google's technology.

Image: Paul Warchol

Imagination Space takes Google’s online capabilities, such as Google Translate, and allows customers to utilise them in store

Google’s tech showcase in NYC

After experimenting with pop-ups, Google took the plunge and opened a permanent retail store in the heart of New York City in June 2021. The move by the multinational tech titan marks the first time the brand will showcase its product offerings in a permanent location.

In designing the store, Google planned to provide customers with the opportunity to engage with its line up of devices and services in person

The store will showcase Google’s Pixel phones and laptops, Nest products and Fitbit wearable smartwatches. An in-store team of experts will guide customers with any queries they have about the products.

Customer experience is paramount to the store’s creation. Google built a full-space mockup of the store in its Silicon Valley headquarters to ensure the vision was made. 

As well as displaying the products and servicing Google items, the store will have a Google Imagination Space. The exhibit, which is a glass structure with interactive screens, will showcase Google’s technology offerings and bring them offline.

The first custom experience will involve Google Translate. Customers will be invited to speak to the exhibit and simultaneously see the real-time translation on to the screens in 24 languages.

The store also contains ‘sandboxes’, spaces designed to appear like real-life rooms within a home – with added Google products. This interactive experience will allow customers to experience the technology in a realistic setting instead of viewing it online. 

A display in the Amazon Fresh store advertises the Just Walk Out technology.

Amazon’s first Fresh store in Europe opened in London this year and utilises the company’s Just Walk Out tech

Amazon’s unstoppable expansion

The online marketplace has not shied away from expanding its empire into the world of physical retail during the pandemic, with 2021 marking the opening of the first Amazon Fresh store in Europe in West London.

The store, which operates with the company’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology, provides consumers with groceries, a pivot from the brand’s typical offerings online. The technology was first pioneered in the brand’s Amazon Go stores in the US.

A customer receives a treatment at the Amazon hairsalon.

As well as opening physical stores Amazon opened its first hair salon this year, also in London

Amazon continues its focus of expanding into new areas through its physical presence. London was also the city of choice for the online giant’s move into haircare as it opened its first salon in April 2021. 

Allbirds’ global focus

The New Zealand–American footwear company Allbirds raised $100m (£72m) in a round of funding in October, pledging to use it to increase its opening of physical stores outside the US. The brand is most well known for its wool sneakers.

The eco-friendly company, which began as a DTC brand, has stated that its focus post-pandemic will be opening stores.

Chief executive Joey Zwillinger said in October: “It sounds crazy in this environment, but we are really committed to that channel. We think shopping in stores is going to come back.”

A display in the Allbirds Marylebone store

Allbirds pledges to focus investment on opening more stores as customers return to physical retail

The logic behind the move aligns with the brand’s ethos on slow fashion. The move to a physical space allows Allbirds to control its own distribution.

The footwear company is also conscious of where its online customers are located.

Speaking about the opening of the Philadelphia store in 2020, head of global operations Travis Boyce said: “We already had a significant ecommerce customer base in the Philadelphia area and felt there would be healthy demand for an in-person shopping experience.”

The brand, which opened its first store in 2018, continued to open stores throughout the pandemic. Its 22nd store opened in San Francisco in October.