Bringing Online Shopping to Life: How Etsy Experiments With Retail as a Brand Experience From free haircuts to wreath-making, Etsy's pop-up holiday shop re-imagines the traditional sales experience and brings online shopping to life.

By Kathleen Davis

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Etsy has become known as a popular online marketplace for hand-crafted goods. So what is it doing opening a pop-up shop in New York City's SoHo, a trendy neighborhood known for high-end luxury stores?

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company is joining a growing number of ecommerce businesses experimenting in immersive brand experiences for customers.

"Our primary motivation isn't to sell," says Etsy's creative director Randy Hunt. The Etsy Holiday Shop is the first attempt at a brick-and-mortar retail store for the company, whose site is home to over 800,000 independent sellers from nearly 200 countries. The holiday shop is open for 10 days from Nov. 29 to Dec. 8.

Here's how Etsy is translating its online brand experience to the offline world.

The products themselves become just one of the many elements of the shopping experience. The shop features items from more than 100 sellers. But the products themselves are not the focus. Cards placed near each item with the seller's website information and the item's description implore shoppers to experience the item in person, but make their final decision to buy online. Stations of iPads around the store encourage visitors to explore the website.

Draw inspiration from your online design and the spirit of your online community. A guest-curator wall, at the front of the large airy space, recalls Etsy's homepage. It showcases items from Etsy sellers that have been hand-selected by the shop's nine guest-curators, an eclectic mix, ranging from Martha Stewart to comedian-musician Reggie Watts. "Some of the curators maybe familiar to you, which is a great entry point if you know and trust their taste," explains Hunt. "While others maybe are surprising and have a different set of tastes, but those things live together on Etsy."

Bringing Online Shopping to Life How Etsy Experiments With Retail as a Brand Experience
Photo courtesy of Sara Kerens

Give customers an opportunity to connect with products on a deeper level. Each day, three of the site's independent sellers set up in the shop's center island or in the front window. They work on their creations, allowing shoppers to see their work, engage them in conversation, and request custom items.

Related: 3 Ways to Turn Holiday Shoppers Into Year-Round Customers

Include surprises to delight customers. The intimate customer-service experience is enhanced by the surprise extras, including free in-store haircuts from high-end barbers, an evening open bar, and a diverse line-up of workshops and events ranging from ornament-making to banjo music and lectures on the history of code. Those who want to start their own online shops can attend lectures on topics including "Selling With Social Media" and "Getting Started With Wordpress."

When spreading the word, stay true to your brand. The site supplemented word-of-mouth marketing for the shop with geo-targeted social-media ads and two local hand-painted billboards. Foot traffic has exceeded the site's expectations and some events have had lines of people down the block waiting to get in.

The company has no plans yet for future pop-up shops, but it isn't ruling them out. "The internet is often a discovery mechanism but not a point of decision, there are so many beautiful items that you want to experience in person before buying. It's a sensory experience," says Hunt. The majority of the shopping experience happens offline, he says. "So we are interested in experimenting with it more."

Related: How Increasing Interaction Helps Retain Customers

Kathleen Davis is the former associate editor at Entrepreneur.com.

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