An Essential Guide to Pure Play for Retailers

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In the past, having a business meant having a physical storefront by necessity. But with the invention of the internet and the boom of the ecommerce industry, businesses now have another option: selling purely through online channels. 

More and more ecommerce businesses are adopting the pure play business model — but not all. Pure play hasn’t quite killed traditional retailers or brick-and-mortar storefronts; in fact, more than 43% of ecommerce brands have a primary sales channel outside of their website, and more than 70% of ecommerce brands will add at least one new sales channel this year. 

So why are some retailers choosing omnichannel, and some pure play? it all depends on what you want for your business in terms of scalability, brand visibility, expenses, and customer experience.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into what pure play is, how it’s different from an omnichannel approach, the pros and cons of pure play retail, and how Shipbob can help optimize pure play retailers’ logistics for expansion.

What is pure play retail?

Pure play retail refers to a business that focuses only on one channel or line of business. In the context of ecommerce, pure play retailers are retailers that only sell online, and that don’t have any brick-and-mortar storefronts. 

Pure play vs. omnichannel retail

Both pure play retail and omnichannel retail come with benefits and tradeoffs that a merchant should consider.

To help you determine the best model for your business, here is a breakdown of the most notable differences between the pure play and omnichannel retail ecommerce strategies.

Website experience

Because a pure play retailer only sells through an ecommerce website, that website needs to be very high-quality to attract and convert customers — and because pure play retailers do not have as much infrastructure to maintain, they can afford to pour time, money, and resources into optimizing their website. 

Therefore, you can expect a pure play company’s website to be easier for customers to navigate, offer a better search function, and provide more comprehensive support than other websites. 

This isn’t to say that omnichannel retailers can’t have quality ecommerce stores. However, with other channels to maintain, most omnichannel retailers choose to invest resources elsewhere, and settle for a website experience that is functional and efficient. 

Cost

Both pure play retailers and omnichannel retailers will have to pay for website hosting services, website design, and an order fulfillment solution, as long as they have an ecommerce website

However, pure play retail is typically less expensive than omnichannel retail. Shipping costs and website design fees will be higher for pure players, but they do not incur costs associated with running brick-and-mortar locations (including rent, utilities, and labor).

Omnichannel retailers, on the other hand, must pay to run and maintain both their website and their physical retail locations, which can be costly. 

Customer experience

Even though ecommerce shopping is getting more and more popular, 55% of consumers prefer an omnichannel approach, and want to both browse products online and check what’s available in local stores.

This is because brick-and-mortar stores offer customers a few things pure play retailers cannot: the chance to interact with and evaluate the product before purchasing, zero shipping cost, and instant gratification.

Pros and cons of pure play retail

Like any other ecommerce strategy, pure play has its benefits and drawbacks. Here are a few pros and cons of pure play retail to think through before you commit to selling only online.

Pro: Can be cheaper

As long as your business has a good order fulfillment solution, pure play can be significantly cheaper than omnichannel retailing. 

With no storefronts to run, the only major costs to pure play are website maintenance and order fulfillment — and the right order fulfillment solution lets you minimize shipping costs and avoid investing in your own warehouse space, workforce, or infrastructure.

“We need to deliver quickly and inexpensively. Since switching to ShipBob from our previous 3PL, our fulfillment cost on comparable orders went down by 25%.”

Michael Peters, VP of E-Commerce Operations at TB12

Pro: More control over the customer experience

Since they have just one channel to manage, pure play retailers can focus all their efforts on perfecting the customer experience through that channel. 

More time, money, and attention can be devoted to addressing customer concerns, troubleshooting, and designing a checkout and post-purchase experience that delights and retains customers.

Con: Lower brand visibility

Without a physical storefront and the touchpoints it provides (such as signage, shop floor assistants, and shopping bags), it can be difficult to get your brand in front of consumers. 

Even if your digital marketing strategy is sufficient, branding opportunities are harder to come by for pure play retailers, and it can be harder to find loyal, repeat customers.

Con: Returns can be more expensive

In-store return transit costs are absorbed by the customer, as the customer is spending their own time and money to physically move the inventory back to the store it came from.

In-store returns are not an option for pure play retailers, and you could end up paying for shipping twice over if the customer decides to return their ecommerce order.

This could eat into your profits over time, especially if you sell a type of product that is commonly returned after being bought online (such as clothes). 

Examples of pure play retailers

A lot of businesses start out as pure play retailers, as it is much easier and more affordable to launch a website for your business than secure a physical storefront. Here are some examples of successful pure play retailers and how they got started.

Slime by Nichole Jacklyne 

YouTuber and influencer Nichole Jacklyne didn’t have a background in business. But as her fan base kept growing , she took the plunge and started selling slime and other toys on Etsy

Eventually, she rented a warehouse space and hired help to manage the packing of orders, but it didn’t leave her any time to focus on any other part of her business. After outsourcing fulfillment and shipping to ShipBob, Nichole got her time back and achieved 12.5x growth in order volume year over year.

“I’d moved my fulfillment operation from apartment to apartment and to different warehouses, so when I saw my products in the ShipBob fulfillment center, it was like my wildest dreams were being realized. Our order volume has increased by 1,150% in the past year! I’m incredibly grateful to have found a partner in ShipBob, knowing they can sustain my growth versus holding me back.”

Nichole Jacklyne, Founder of Slime by Nichole Jacklyne

SubSubmarine

SubSubmarine is a music label and artist collective that sells vinyls and cassettes via their BigCommerce website.

They launched just as the pandemic hit, when international shipping costs skyrocketed — but with ShipBob’s help, SubSubmarine was still able to ship orders across the globe affordably. With no order minimums, free order tracking, and discounted shipping rates, ShipBob was the best choice for the small business that wanted to grow big.

“In the music industry, there are ‘digital seasons’ that make the most sense to release new music. Sometimes, I might not have orders to ship for months. With ShipBob, there are fewer caveats, and I don’t have to worry about exuberant fees on minimums.” 

Lee Nania, Founder of SubSubmarine

MANSSION

Men’s jewelry brand MANSSION designs its products in-house, sells online, and doesn’t do retail dropshipping. They were having trouble scaling with their previous 3PL partner owing to poor customer service, no accountability, and high picking fees.

Once they switched to ShipBob, they were able to grow their customer base across the globe, fulfill orders faster (even during the holiday season), and achieve 1,000% growth YoY.

“Before ShipBob, we used to work with another 3PL that was terrible. It was so stressful trying to deal with them. The old 3PL charged for each pick and pack, wouldn’t take responsibility for any errors they made, and getting orders fulfilled would take up to 20 days in some cases. I’m super happy we switched to ShipBob. We got a fresh start, and it was a very smooth and easy transition.”

Torii Rowe, COO & Co-Founder of MANSSION

The Finer Things 1920

The Finer Things 1920, a quarterly gift subscription business startup, wanted to scale its online business, but fulfilling and shipping packages from the founder’s basement was too exhausting, and orders took almost three weeks to arrive.

ShipBob’s fulfillment services and analytics software helped this pure play brand move inventory out, hand off fulfillment to experts, and triple its customers in less than a year while continuing to sell online.

“The entire process of getting started with ShipBob was so easy. I was handing my business over to someone who was not just a vendor but a partner, one who was going to hear me and understand the complexity of what we do — and have a solution. During our initial conversations, it was never “we can’t do that …,” it was always “we can do this and …” and “it’s going to be this or that …”

Andrea Hamilton, founder of The Finer Things 1920

Transitioning to omnichannel or brick-and-mortar retail

While many brands start out as pure play retailers, these brands can always grow and expand into more channels over time. Here are some of the benefits of expanding your pure play ecommerce store into a multichannel business.

More brand awareness

With more channels come more ways to increase brand awareness. Physical storefronts offer unique opportunities for brand visibility, from staff uniforms to shop floor decoration to bagging, and other digital channels such as social media or ecommerce marketplaces like Walmart or Amazon drastically broaden your customer demographic.

These gestures can go a long way towards gaining more customers, and getting customers to remember your brand, and establishing a market presence.

Improved brand loyalty

The more positive experiences your brand can offer customers, the more customers will continue coming back for your brand.

By offering consumers the omnichannel experience that the majority of them desire, and delighting customers through a variety of channels, you will build a loyal customer base that is more likely to purchase again. 

Shipping from store

If you don’t want to invest in a 3PL but still need a way to reduce shipping costs, establishing a few strategically located storefronts enables you to ship from store.

With brick-and-mortar locations nearby popular order destinations, you can turn those locations into micro-fulfillment centers to cut back on shipping and storage costs. 

However, you will need an inventory management system that can sync inventory levels across channels to prevent overselling.

Transitioning to pure play retail

For some omnichannel retailers, it may be time to take a step back and reconfigure as a pure play company. Here are some best practices to ensure a smooth transition into pure play retailing.

Check if your business is ecommerce friendly

If you’ve been focusing your efforts on physical sales channels, you may need to reassess whether or not your product is a natural fit for ecommerce before you commit to pure play. 

Consider the following questions to determine if your business is pure-play friendly:

  • Does your product or brand need a store in prime locations? 
  • Do your sales rely heavily on impulse purchases? 
  • Is your product easily and cheaply shippable?
  • Will your customer demographic be willing or able to shift to online-only purchasing?
  • Is your ecommerce website easily navigable, or does it need to be redesigned for efficiency?
  • Can you scale up your fulfillment operations, or do you need to find a better order fulfillment solution?

Understanding the online shopping experience

Before committing to pure play retail, make sure you have thought through the entirety of the online shopping experience. What will customers see first when they come to your website? Is it easy to navigate? How easy is the checkout process? How will you handle returns?

Consider adding conversion optimizations such as 2-day badging, product bundles, and estimated delivery dates as well, as these can help offset a consumer’s natural hesitation to purchase online.

Invest in digital transformation

Switching to pure play retail may require an overhaul of your entire operations workflow and tech stack. Take the time to research and invest in the best ecommerce platform, technology partners, and logistics solution for your pure play business, and don’t be afraid to ditch your old supply chain practices for newer, more accurate, digitized processes.

“ShipBob’s platform is easy to use and navigate, the interface is intuitive, and the analytics are very clearly laid out. I give ShipBob’s technology a 9/10. Getting our WooCommerce shop integrated with ShipBob was easy, and it’s been fantastic to have; we had no problem with it. We can see our orders come in and get fulfilled in real time without any hiccups for the most part, which is great. Our fulfillment is on autopilot. ShipBob saves us so much effort, and the opportunity cost savings has been substantial.”

Yannick Crespo, Co-Founder & President of Pot d’Huile

ShipBob can optimize pure play retailers’ logistics and help you expand

To unlock the cost-savings and simplicity that pure play retailing offers, you’ll need a logistics platform that streamlines your fulfillment and shipping operations. ShipBob helps online retailers of all sizes manage inventory, fulfill online orders, and delight customers through fast and affordable shipping. 

When you hand off order fulfillment to ShipBob, you’ll get access to dozens of strategically located domestic and international fulfillment centers. by stroig your inventory across our fulfillment network, merchants can dramatically reduce shipping costs, and finally move on from home inventory storage. 

ShipBob also integrates with major ecommerce platforms to seamlessly and automatically push online orders to fulfillment. Merchants can monitor inventory levels, fulfillment operations, order tracking, and important metrics in real-time through ShipBob’s dashboard, and unpack analytics to further improve their business. 

And if you ever decide to expand into omnichannel retailing, ShipBob’s comprehensive B2B suite enables retail dropshipping and retail distribution for businesses as soon as they’re ready — not to mention facilitating online expansions into online marketplaces and social channels.

Pure play retailers FAQs

Here are answers to the top questions about pure play retailers.

What are pure play retailers?

Pure play retailers are companies that only sell through a single channel — usually a digital one, such as an online store.

Is Amazon a pure play?

Amazon is not a pure play retailer, since it has opened several physical stores in the USA and UK.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of pure play retailers?

The bandwidth to focus deeply on just one online sales channel is the biggest benefit that the pure play retail strategy offers. Without having to worry about juggling inventory, order management, fulfillment, or shipping for multiple channels, a pure play retailer is free to hone every part of the single channel to perfection, from supply chain to customer experience. 

The main disadvantage of pure play is that there are fewer touchpoints to engage with customers. Customers tend to prefer an omnichannel purchase experience, so it can be difficult to convert customers consistently and build brand loyalty.

Written By:

Rachel is a Content Marketing Specialist at ShipBob, where she writes blog articles, eGuides, and other resources to help small business owners master their logistics.

Read all posts written by Rachel Hand