While the web opened up all kinds of selling opportunities, the future of commerce will be a blend of online and offline channels, said Dave Gilboa, the co-founder and co-CEO of eyeglass brand Warby Parker. Gilboa, who spoke at the GigaOM RoadMap conference, said less than 10 percent of the company’s sales happen in offline stores, like its shop-inside-a-shop partnerships with boutiques or its New York showroom built out of its SoHo headquarters.
But he said selling offline is a key way to interact with consumers, something the company learned right from the start when Gilboa and three friends created Warby Parker out of their Philadelphia apartment two and half years ago. He said customers started calling up and asking to visit their showroom, not realizing that the showroom was actually their dining room. But they opened up the apartment to strangers and the results were clear.
“We worried it would be a sub-optimal experience but we found that every single person that came into the apartment bought at least one pair of glasses. A lot of people bought multiple pairs,” Gilboa said.
Now, Gilboa said the company’s headquarters showroom does more sales per square foot than any retailer except Apple (s aapl). That has helped prompt the company to plan a flagship store in New York, which is opening up in January. And the company has also bought a big school bus to open up pop-up shops on the road.
Gilboa said the offline sales component is part of a long-term customer acquisition strategy which can fuel more sales online.
“The future of our business and all retail is going to have some mix of online and offline. The economics make a lot more sense to do as much online as possible but we are that seeing customers who are coming into the showroom and interacting with us initially in the offline world, when they buy again their second, third, fourth glasses, they’re doing so directly through the web site,” Gilboa said.
Check out the rest of our RoadMap 2012 live coverage here, and a video recording of the session (which also featured BirchBox co-founder Katia Beauchamp) follows below: