July 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

Some online retailers seeing value in opening bricks-and-mortar shops

Nina Chavez is an associate technical designer for Nasty Gal, which recently announced plans to open a shop. (Gary Friedman / MCT)

Some of the hippest online retailers around are pioneering an old concept: offline retailing.

After years of squeezing traditional retailers, e-commerce companies that were once digital-only are seeing the value of hanging up shingles in malls and bustling shopping streets.

Los Angeles e-commerce darling Nasty Gal recently announced plans to debut a shop. Beauty purveyor Birchbox opened its first store this month in New York. Bonobos took its men’s fashion brand to L.A. last month. And JustFab gave up being just online in September when it opened a flagship.

Instead of bricks-and-mortar, these shops might more aptly be called click-and-mortar.

“It’s all about having the online retail world figure out, ’Maybe we can showcase our products better in store,’ ” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD Group. “We are going to use retail as a way to eliminate some of the challenges online has because you can’t touch and feel and smell and taste.”

Of the thousands of merchandisers dedicated to working on the Web, only a relatively small group has opened a physical space, analysts say. But in going back to the industry’s shopkeeping roots, these merchants are acknowledging that no matter how easy or efficient a website is, some people still like to browse the old-fashioned way.

Designing the stores themselves can be a challenge. Retailers that once worried only about providing a seamless online shopping experience now have to decide what elements of their digital selves to import into the store and what to borrow from their more traditional competitors.

When JustFab Inc. opened its flagship store, the company wanted to present its products in a clean space that mimicked its sleek website.

Shoes and handbags were displayed in well-lighted cubby holes built into the white walls and the rest of the shop was kept relatively bare, spokeswoman Kimberly Tobman said.

But shoppers, who are used to a more bountiful display of items, ended up treating the products as “untouchable,” she said. JustFab quickly doubled the number of tables and brought more shoes for customers to pick up and try on.

“We tried so hard to make it like our online store,” Tobman said. They thought, can they merge tech and fashion?

The answer: “Not so much,” she said.