Online shopping comes to life at Water Tower with store called ‘In Real Life’

CHICAGO -- While eight in ten Americans say they shop online, the Pew Research Center found shoppers in the U.S. are by and large getting the bulk of their shopping done in brick and mortar stores.

Malls and shopping centers are the most popular and these day's it's all about the experience stores bring to shoppers to lure them in.

A new pilot program at Water Tower Place joins the online purchase with the in-store experience.

It's a store named IRL and stands for "In Real Life."  It contains 15 brands in one store and zero bags on your arm when you leave.

At IRL, emerging online brands get a feel for selling in a store and shoppers get a feel for their goods typically available only online.

One retail think tank says stores in 2016 were closing at alarming rates. 2017 numbers are expected to climb. Retailers are struggling to survive in what feels like an online market.

So Water Tower Place is getting creative, trying to merge the online buy with the in-store experience. They opened IRL last week.

"It's essentially a living retail lab for emerging and online retailers. Gives them a platform and opportunity to expand in a physical brick and mortar space they they might no otherwise have the opportunity to," said Katie Sholem, Water Tower's landlord.

The shopping destination focused on unique eating experiences, a sports museum, even a live theater is now offering a new shopping experience for emerging online brands like Leesa, MaidenHome, Priv and Killerspin. These brands may know their products and their customers, but may not know how to operate in a retail environment.

IRL wants shoppers to think of this pop up store as a learning lab.

"It's always better to partner with people who know what they're doing versus doing continual experimentation," said Robert Blackwell Jr, of Killerspin, a company that sells cutting edge Tennis tables.

Killerspin trains IRL workers, whom are called concierge, on what to know about the art of luxury ping pong. And IRL designs the entire space, creates the "Home" theme and runs the store.

For HomeChef, a meal kitchen delivery subscription service, it's that home environment -- complete with food, drinks, a couch and all -- that makes it a good fit for her 5-year-old Chicago based online business.

"It gets you back in that home mindset because we are only online. It's a great place for us to make it a tangible thing," said Maggie Lakowske, with HomeChef.

Shoppers can come in and play and hopefully buy at IRL.

"Part of this is to test the market and see if they do want a permanent space along with the online part of their business," said Aliana Galan of the Lionesque group.

At IRL, when you want to buy something, head to the check out bar and purchase it on the spot. One hitch: you go home empty handed. All products ship directly to you since you are purchasing it from a website.

IRL wants to bring more online brands to life and more traffic to one of North Michigan Avenue's shopping hubs.

"There is nothing like the physical touch, that human connection. You just can't get it online," said Sholem.