With shopping moving online, it’s not unusual to see brick-and-mortar retailers moving into the ecommerce space. But not all brands have been able to move online and boast a 100% increase in sales in less than six months.
Meet tokyobike. The independent bicycle company was founded in 2002 in the quiet suburb of Yanaka, Japan, and first made its way to the United States in 2014. The company is now headquartered in Los Angeles, which is where we sat down with Juliana Di Simone, tokyobike’s Partner in America, to discuss their journey to selling online.
The ethos behind the in-store experience
The tokyobike brand is inspired by the clean, minimalist aesthetic of Japanese design and pays homage to the “Tokyo Slow” movement—an emphasis on comfort over speed and a nod to simpler times. Their stores are designed to reflect this sentiment. With the open space, subdued colors, and thoughtfully-curated merchandising, customers are invited to explore the store at their leisure.
Buying a bicycle is very personal, explains Juliana. She adds, “[They’ve] traditionally been purchased in person. You want to see them, touch them, ride them. See if what you're buying will actually fit your needs.”
In fact, tokyobike’s commitment to their in-store experience is so integral to the brand’s ethos that the founders originally had no intention of selling online—they didn’t think they’d be able to mirror the experience or the high-touch service.
Up until 2015, tokyobike operated as a brick-and-mortar, exclusively. But when their staff could no longer support the influx of foot traffic in their bustling SoHo shop in New York City, they knew they had to offer an alternative for their customers.
Compounding this shift was a challenge specific to its flagship product: tokyobike’s purchase journey was longer than is typical for most direct-to-consumer brands. At $900 apiece, their bicycles aren’t an impulse buy. Bikes are a long-term investment and often an expression of one’s personal taste, so people take their time exploring their options before making a purchase.
This wasn’t a problem for local shoppers, who could return to the store once they’d made up their mind. But out-of-towners and tourists didn’t have the same luxury. Instead, they would typically test-ride a few bikes in-store, come across one they loved, only to return home without an easy way to finalize their purchase.
All roads lead to ecommerce
At first, tokyobike's sales associates tried to solve this problem by writing names and emails on the back of business cards for shoppers to take home. This allowed tokybike’s staff to then follow up with an invoice and credit card authorization form via email, and gave would-be customers the chance to buy the product. But this manual process was time-consuming, fraught with error, and introduced the joys of paperwork into what should be an exciting purchase.
“When you're a small team, time really matters...If your team is taken away from things that grow the business to do small, laborious things, you need to find tools that make it easier...If you're looking to scale, you really have to find platforms and systems that can help you do those things,” Juliana tells us.
Launching an online store was the clear next step for the retailer. But not all platforms are created equal, and in three years, the cracks were beginning to show.
“We knew there were things we wanted to do that we couldn't, and that's mostly because of the way we fulfill our orders and the way we wanted the online experience to be. We thought somewhere in there we were probably losing customers,” says Juliana.
They needed something more robust.
Taking Shopify for a test ride
In early 2019, just six months after moving onto Shopify, online sales would surpass tokyobike’s brick-and-mortar sales, with the physical locations increasingly being used for test-rides only.
For Juliana, the synergy between their storefronts—and the role tokyobike’s physical spaces would come to play in driving online sales—was an unexpected, but welcome shift in the company’s business model.
And the relationship is a two-way street. Juliana shares a typical scenario where a customer buys a bike online and opts to pick it up in-store. This is also known as buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) order fulfillment. Once they’re in the store, they might realize they need a lock, and a helmet, and maybe a bell. All of a sudden, an online purchase has driven in-store sales, too.
The idea that each channel should complement and influence the other to nurture customers through the sales cycle is the foundation of a unified commerce strategy, and ultimately, the goal for every retailer.
Switching from Lightspeed to Shopify POS
The journey toward a harmonized online and offline experience wasn’t without hiccups. “Until recently, we've always had different point-of-sales and a different platform for our online store,” admits Juliana.
When they switched to Shopify’s ecommerce solution, they decided to switch their Lightspeed point-of-sale (POS) systems to Shopify POS, as well. The separate systems were creating a messy experience—from minor frustrations, like not being able to redeem gift cards across sales channels, to bigger issues, like the inability to see inventory across locations.
Switching to Shopify’s POS allowed tokyobike to sync their online store with their physical stores, and manage the entire business from one backend.
"There are very few steps with Shopify. It's a one-click kind of thing."
“We integrated everything, it just made more sense logistically to have everything in the same place. Especially because sometimes, we'll have customers who are interested in things that we only have in-store. So if you need a new set of wheels, we don't have those on the website...but we can easily email a cart to a customer with items that are only in the store and they can complete that purchase as if it was an online sale,” explains Juliana.
For multi-location retailers like tokyobike, having an up-to-date inventory that could be moved on demand, with flexible payment and fulfilment options is often a turning point.
When asked about her staff’s experience with Shopify’s retail technology, Juliana says the platform’s ease-of-use was a big selling point. “In terms of our team, I think everyone thought it was way easier. The transition was actually really, really easy for us. There are very few steps with Shopify. It's a one-click kind of thing.”
The team has also benefited from a faster checkout experience since moving to Shopify POS. “Our transaction times are way quicker now. From the moment you decide which bicycle you're going to purchase, to actually inserting your card or tapping your phone, is a much shorter period of time than it used to be before,” adds Juliana.
Beyond ease-of-use, Shopify’s unified platform allowed tokyobike to provide their customers with a consistently delightful experience across every touchpoint, staying true to the brand’s origins, and their commitment to white-glove service.
The future of commerce is unified
It’s impossible to think of retail as separate...this idea of unified retail is the future.
Today, customers can begin and complete their journey with tokyobike wherever and whenever they want.
"It’s impossible to think of retail as separate. You have to be able to bring the physical into the digital, and the digital into the physical. From an experience perspective, but also in terms of systems. Connecting the two is important...this idea of unified retail is the future,” says Juliana.
The company continues to use its brick-and-mortar locations as a showroom for its products—an opportunity to get in front of new customers who are intrigued by their beautiful storefronts, and to give potential customers the option of experiencing their unique products in-person before ordering online.
For the folks who aren’t ready to purchase on the spot, tokyobike’s sales associates can keep the conversation going by re-engaging these shoppers online with cart reminders and e-gift card offers.
Across the board, this strategy has helped them boost sales and scale across the United States. Since switching over to Shopify, tokyobike doubled their online sales in under six months, and shrunk their sales cycle from 14-30 days, down to a single week. Their brick-and-mortar presence is growing too, with 13 flagship locations around the world, including stores in London, Berlin, Bangkok, and Mexico City.
You could say they’re moving at a pretty good clip.
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