WASHINGTON, D.C. - Folks who walk into a Bonobos Guideshop can't help but notice one thing: There's hardly any merchandise.
That's on purpose.
Bonobos, (say "bu-NO-bos") Guideshops are men's clothing stores that basically don't sell anything. Customers can try stuff on for size, put outfits together and get advice from salespeople. But if they like it, they've got to order it on the Bonobos website.
This small store is a big deal. If other stores catch on - and it may be more of a question of when than if - this could ultimately change the business model for the nation's 895,800 retail establishments.
Just as media giants are being forced to adapt to a virtual world and re-create themselves, the nation's retailers - whose sales are expected to top $3.1 trillion this year, according to the National Retail Federation - may sooner than later have to take a page out of the same playbook.
All of this plays into the shopping and spending habits of the nation's tens of millions of Millennials - a key target of many retailers.
But isn't the point of shopping to walk out of the store with a big bag of fashionable bounty? Not so, says founder Andy Dunn. "We think service is more important than instant gratification," he says. "What's the benefit of walking out of the store with a bag of two shirts and some pants if it'll be on your desk the next day?"
About half of the customers at the Bonobos Guideshop in D.C. request fitting appointments online, so there's usually only two or three customers at most in the small store at a time, and only two or three employees who offer them a beer when they show up. On a table front and center, a pile of washed chinos in rising sizes sits next to an array showing each color available. There's a similar setup with shirts, other styles of pants and suits. Aside from a couple of mannequins and a necktie display, there's not much else in the store.
Bonobos has company, too. Online eyewear dealer Warby Parker and Gap's Piperlime Internet label have been opening up physical locations for folks to try on the goods, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has discussed opening up stores, where customers can check out the Kindle line. It's all an attempt to ride on the $150 billion-a-year in sales success of Apple, whose hands-on-centric stores changed the focus from buying to trying.
Checking stuff out in stores, then ordering online is becoming the new way to shop. According to a recent survey from IBM, nearly half of all online shoppers use this technique. About 34% of them end up buying from an online-only retailer, too, which makes most traditional retailers pull out their hair, says Jill Puleri, vice president of retail at IBM.
"This is actually a perfect example of how retail is changing," says Kevin Sterneckert, vice president of research at business strategy firm Gartner. "Instead of a place where you buy things, it's a place where you're able to experience things."
Fiona Dias, strategy chief for online retail network ShopRunner isn't so sure.
"That's the whole reason to go to stores, because you get it now. I'm a little stumped," Dias says. "Sounds like they might not have thought their store strategy all the way through."