Photography by Caitlin Abrams
Bonobos men's clothing at MartinPatrick 3
It looks like a store. There’s clothing on tables and racks. But make no mistake: Bonobos, the hot menswear brand built on the Internet, does not do traditional brick-and-mortar retail. Like many successful Internet startups—including Warby Parker eyewear, sold locally at Askov Finlayson, and Casper mattresses, available through West Elm—Bonobos (emphasis on the “no,” not the “bo”) is now engaging in physical commerce around the country, with a twist. You can't actually leave with merchandise.
I was trying to explain that to my shopping companion who’d never heard of Bonobos as we browsed the SoHo Guideshop—don’t call it a store!— in New York. The Twin Cities does not yet have its own Bonobos shop, although the line is sold at MartinPatrick 3 and Nordstrom. My friend was only half-listening to my oral report on the evolution of retail while she combed through a stack of shirts, searching for a price tag.
Why were there no price tags?
“We’re an Internet showroom,” an associate—er, Guide—deadpanned. “The Internet doesn’t have price tags.”
I’ll give you a moment to sit with that actual exchange.
Now. I may have needed a 22-year-old to show me how to Snapchat, but this I know for sure: The Internet is teeming with prices. OK, maybe they’re not literal tags, which is a convenient thing: On the Internet, prices never fall off! They don’t get hidden in pockets or tangled in buttonholes! Indeed, the magic of online shopping is the ease of searching for virtually any item by price. It’s right there! Centered beneath the words: Washed chinos. Dollar sign, digits—that’s the price! On the Internet!
I don’t mean to pick on Bonobos. This funny little flub could have happened anywhere—well, any “Internet showroom,” at least. It’s possible we happened upon some shirts that had yet to be marked. A better response from this employee would have been, simply, “$68.” It’s annoying to have to ask.
But that 10-second conversation stuck with me, because it hints at some of the kinks yet to be resolved between online and brick-and-mortar commerce. There are a lot of efficiencies that an online-first retailer brings to the store setting: centralized inventory, a personal profile that makes it easy for customers to place orders wherever they are.
But certain shifts come across as more frustrating than evolved—like, I can’t call the nice Warby Parker employee who just helped me at the North Loop store. I automatically get routed to national customer service, where everyone is very helpful, of course, but maybe I just want to talk to the specific person who already knows my story, and my face.
Bonobos Guideshops stock just one of each size and style, so men can try on the entire collection, but they can’t take anything with them. Orders are placed via iPad, and sent directly to customers’ homes.
At this realization, my friend stopped searching for a price tag and walked out. She wasn’t interested in ordering. She wanted the immediate gratification of a souvenir shirt to bring home from New York for her husband.
Bonobos believes my friend is in the minority—that most customers don’t care about walking out with their purchase. An exec for the company tells me there are no plans to sell inventory out of Guideshops. “What makes the concept unique is to shift the focus from managing operations (restocking, merchandising) to focusing on customer service,” says chief revenue officer Erin Ersenkal. “The benefit we see with not stocking inventory is it enables us to offer a much broader size range.” Considering fits, colors, and sizes, Bonobos offers more than 3,500 chino options alone.
Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s eventually a compromise where some smaller impulse items—T-shirts, ties— are grab and go.
Until then, we can once again be grateful for stores like MartinPatrick 3, where the staff is only too happy to sell a shirt and pants on the spot. They’ll even wrap it, with a bow on top.
As MartinPatrick 3 buyer Erick DeLeon points out, Bonobos comes in at an attractive price point for the aspirational MartinPatrick 3 shopper.
Just check the price tags—you’ll see.