December 28, 2001, 12:00 AM

Finally, a way for furniture sales to work on the web

When consumers showed they weren’t all that wild about buying furniture online, many furniture dot-coms closed up. But now La-Z-Boy, with new modeling technology, is showing there is a role on the web for furniture sellers.

Back in the days when optimists thought retailers could sell anything online and consumers would buy anything, there were plenty of furniture sites. But it turned out that consumers weren’t all that hot about making that final furniture commitment online. So, like so many other sites, e-commerce-enabled furniture sites are mostly gone today.

But La-Z-Boy, the Monroe, Mich.-based furniture manufacturer best known for its recliners, may have found a way to meld the web and furniture sales. Last Aug. 1, it rolled out a design-your-own-furniture system at LaZBoy.com. Customers choose a frame and match fabrics to it. They then e-mail their creations to a local La-Z-Boy store, which follows up with the customer. Customers also can store their creations at a My Gallery section or e-mail them to friends.

Between the launch and the Christmas shopping season, customers had created 800 custom pieces of furniture. La-Z-Boy closed 75% of the sales that were e-mailed to stores at an average ticket of $1,100. And to top it off, that level was achieved with no marketing of the service.

The technology was developed by Intellitek, which also developed for La-Z-Boy a system to match fabrics and frames on in-store kiosks.

It is up to each store to act on the communication from the customer. To ensure that stores act on the customers’ messages, Intellitek is developing a system whereby the next level of management is notified if a local store fails to retrieve a customer message and so on up the line if the store continues to fail to act on the message, says David DeGeorge, Intellitek vice president of sales and marketing. The sales rep in the store and the customer view the customer’s creation on the in-store kiosk before placing the order.

With a successful implementation at La-Z-Boy, DeGeorge says Intellitek is getting ready to roll out a similar system with FlexSteel and has a deal with Broyhill.

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