Ruslan Kogan isn't a shrinking violet when it comes to publicity, and true to form the online entrepreneur couldn’t resist the temptation of pulling a fast one on the media on April Fool’s day.
To mark the event, he sent out a tantalising press release that was simply too good to be true: Kogan.com was set to launch a flagship bricks and mortar store at Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne.
After spending the better part of last year slamming the likes of Myer and David Jones’ multi-channel retail strategy it now looked as if he was about to adopt the very same tactic.
To be honest, I fell for the scam. I failed to notice the date and the absurd line-up of celebrities the release said were attending the launch event. My earnest emails to verify the news were subsequently met with a polite reply: it was a joke and I’d been had.
Kogan got me, but is the idea of a Kogan superstore really that absurd? There is usually an ounce of truth to every April fools gag and building an offline retail presence just might be the next big step for Kogan.com.
My reasoning comes from an interview I did with Kogan last year. Before he would let me finish the interview (yes, he kept me on the phone) he explained to me about how traditional retailers were ruining one of their key advantages... the spectacle of retail.
Kogan illustrated the point with an anecdote about when he was selling toy helicopters in a shopping centre. It wasn’t until he pulled one of the helicopters out and started flying it around the centre that the products sold like hot cakes, he said.
Spectacle generates interest, which in turn generates sales. Kogan went on to say that he tried to emulate this with a pop-up on his site that lets customers know when another item is being sold. But he ultimately conceded that it is difficult to emulate the buzz and vibe of a bricks and mortar store on the internet.
And this is where the idea of a flagship store comes into the picture. It wouldn’t be as much of a sales generator as would be a marketing arm; where customers can go and experience the “spectacle” of Kogan-branded products and find help if they are having trouble with them.
Much like Apple, Kogan wouldn’t need to have stores at every street corner, just enough so that they would be accessible. It would also mean that he wouldn’t break the bank when it came to stocking and maintaining these stores with staff. Think of it as a “bricks and clicks” kind of business model.
Sure, this “bricks and clicks” term is usually reserved for traditional retailers struggling with digital disruption, but there may be some merit in considering it for online-only enterprises as well; particularly if some kind of minimal physical presence helps counter the weaknesses of an online-only business model.
Of course, adopting such a strategy could be seen as hypocrisy on Kogan’s part, given his berating of Australia’s major retailers. But if such an endeavour widens Kogan’s reach and boosts his brand and retail dominance, then he’d be an April fool for not jumping on it.