C.O. Bigelow Merges Old-world Charm With Digital Advances

In its 180-year history, C.O. Bigelow has become legendary for its ability to tell brand stories. But faced with how to parlay the Greenwich Village mainstay’s appeal into a wider audience, Bigelow’s president Ian Ginsberg knew he had to merge the old-world charm of the store with the digital world.
“We’re a historical retailer competing in a modern world and we’re an indie retailer competing against giants,” Ginsberg said. The reality is, his store faces challenges of foot traffic, even in Manhattan.
“Many shoppers go to Amazon first,” said Ginsberg, who acknowledged his store must vie with e-commerce behemoths who can offer value and loyalty programs. “It can be hard to compete.” Undaunted, Bigelow just launched a totally rebuilt web site, one of the most powerful tools in his arsenal, Ginsberg said. The site promotes products Ginsberg has personally hand-picked in his travels as well as company-distributed brands like Proraso, Marvis, Carthusia and Gülsha.
“A lot of people know us as a brand, but they don’t know us as a store; and a lot know the store who follow us on social, but don’t know about the story behind us and the brands,” said Ginsberg, who added the retailer’s edge is that it is small and nimble.
While a web site refresh may not seem revolutionary, Ginsberg said the site stretches beyond traditional e-commerce options. The task at hand was translating the store, known for its “organized chaos,” and collections of beloved brands, into a digital presentation. “When you walk into our store you know what we stand for. It is a lot about teaching. We needed to mimic the in-store experience to the extent that we can.”
The upgraded web site offers 10,000 stockkeeping units consisting of national brands and Bigelow lines. Images reinforce the retailer’s New York roots, but also show how the company stays current with trending beauty lines such as Jane Iredale and By Terry. There are links to educational videos designed to mirror the high-service levels in the store.
Ginsberg also tapped years of feedback from being online — the retailer was an early adapter with a web site activated in 2000. “We’ve made it easier to shop by brand by showing all the logos. If you pick a brand, you can see a brand story from our perspective…where it is from, why we love it,” said Ginsberg. “There is great search technology.”
Bigelow has collected deep consumer data that was harvested to develop the site. “We know what people are searching and we aggregate things based on their preferences. We made the filtering easier based on how people have shopped with us in the past,” Ginsberg said. “Everyone wants to know about ingredients and we have a part called Honest Ingredients.”
The staple of Manhattan apothecaries also has sites devoted to other business segments, such as surgical supplies and its wholesale business.
The trust consumers have placed in the physical store translates into e-commerce. “We have a lower return rate because we only sell what we love,” Ginsberg said.
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