Opinion I Can brand merch have the best of both worlds – in-store and online?

Published on: 19th January 2022

In-real-life and online shopping are both important retail strategies, but for brands in particular, they throw up different problems. Is embracing a ‘clicks and mortar’ approach the way forward, wonders Spread Group’s Head of Licensing Sven Burscher

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The last two years have seen a huge shift in consumer behaviour. Some colleagues in the industry argue that the move to online shopping is complete. Those consumers who were reluctant to buy online made the move during 2020-21. According to Salesforce’s Shopping Index, European e-commerce grew by 47% in 2020. That said, other colleagues see that the hunger for an in-real-life shopping experience remains strong.

There’s nothing like the brand store of course. The excitement of having merchandise in one place, all the on-trend products, the brand ambassadors, maybe a pop-up experience too. The consumer-interest can be countered by risk for the brand however. There’s the investment risk of having a wide range of sizes and colours, which might not sell. Whilst for the fan there’s a lack of customisation options. An opportunity to engender further loyalty is lost.

Personal human contact in store is key to the engaged customer experience, and often missing online. One industry trend is the idea that pure-play online retailers will need to embrace ‘clicks and mortar’ to truly engage with the consumer.

So how can brands have the best of both worlds? Can brands integrate online licensing sales with an in-store offering, or are they separate strategies? The way forward is to take the choice, control, and sustainability of online and use it to support the experience of in-real-life.


Online the customer has access to the full range of styles, sizes, products, accessories. There’s no risk for the brand in over-ordering XXS and the XXS customer has a greater choice of styles and colours than in-store.

This level of style customisation can be particularly important for women. Too often the styles in-store don’t include a variety of flattering necklines and different fits but are just a smaller version of a men’s t-shirt. Giving consumers this choice of fit can make the difference between a loved and a worn-once piece of clothing.


Online brands can maintain some control by offering limited customisation. This doesn’t have to be completely free reign, or brand inappropriate. A grown-up TV series can still keep its mysterious look and feel with dark colours. A children’s brand can make sure they only allow products that are relevant to young people and offer them in colours to match the age-range. Within these limitations, there is still scope for fans to choose a t-shirt style, fit or colour that suits them.

This usually works through our Spreadshop or Spreadshirt brand. It allows brands and entrepreneurs to run their own online shop or offer merchandise on our marketplace. Partners can focus on their brands while we handle the technology, inventory, production and customer service.

With an online offering supplementing the in-store range, brands retain control of their image, but customers get something they want too. Even small brands can now offer their followers a little personalisation, giving their devotees something special and receiving valuable feedback on what they like.


A print-on-demand online service can help brands with their sustainability goals. Nothing is printed until it’s ordered which means there is no over-ordering and very little waste. This helps to manage the brand’s exposure to the difficult-to-manage sizes.

It also means products can also be tested without incurring high costs. A design can be added to new products, launched online and the data analysed to see what actually sells. There won’t be a warehouse full of unwanted sizes or images, gathering dust and not earning revenue.

In the 20 years since the rise of ecommerce, we haven’t shaken off the in-store experience. Two years of more intense online shopping may only have increased the desire for shopping as entertainment. For brands, a clever combination of both elements of commerce can build loyalty with fans, offer a wider range, build their sustainability credentials and test new ideas. It’s time for clicks and mortar 2.0!

This article appears in the Jan/Feb issue of ToyNews. Read it here.

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