Clicks & Bricks

By Anne Stewart, CIO |  Business

LET'S SAY YOU COLLECT CAPS. Baseball caps, college team caps, sportswear brand-name caps, visors. You know that Lids, the hat specialty store in the mall, will give you one hat free for every seven you purchase. So you visit your nearest Lids store. You buy two. You hit the Lids in another mall. You pick up two more. But you still want three others that you couldn't find at either retail outlet. Not to mention the freebie.

No problem.

You can ask either store to order the hats, then pick them up and pay for them later. Or you can pay now and Lids' warehouse will ship them to you directly.

Or you can go home, get on Lids.com and place the order yourself.

No matter how you split up your purchase, the headgear headquarters knows when you hit the magic number and qualify for the bonus hat.

If you've got a coupon or a gift certificate, you can redeem them at the store or at Lids .com. You can return merchandise in person or by mail, regardless of where you bought it -- a departure from the standard operating procedures of many companies that run their internet and physical-world businesses largely as separate ventures. The Westwood, Mass.-based company keeps a record of everything you've ever bought from Lids, anyplace, anytime. Online or off.

"If we're going to dominate the brick-and-mortar world, we want to dominate the internet as well," says Nancy Babine-Kucinski, president of the self-described category killer that sells 10 million hats a year. "We didn't see [Lids.com] as a separate business entity, because we couldn't imagine that our customers saw it that way. The customers see Lids as a brand" -- no matter where they're seeing it.

In a nutshell, that's what click and mortar is all about.

It's been less than a year since the term, attributed to a Charles Schwab executive, entered the lexicon. But it's quickly become more than a clever sandwiching of mouse click and brick and mortar. It signifies a monumental shift in thinking about how existing companies weave e-commerce into their business plans. They no longer think in terms of offline or online. It's offline and online. Bricks and clicks.

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