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Housewares and Home Furnishings: Loading up the sites
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The showroom without walls
Furniture sites have come and gone on the Internet-but, mostly, they’ve gone. That doesn’t include Bellacor.com, however. Though the privately-held online furniture retailer doesn’t disclose numbers, CEO Jan Andersen says sales at the two-and-a-half-year-old company are growing 100% yearly and that it just closed its seventh consecutive profitable quarter.
Bellacor’s success is a model in which its web site offers more than a store environment could ever hope to offer. For while space limits a furniture store’s offering to certain lines and products, Bellacor’s customers have access to more than half a million SKUs and 700 furniture manufacturers.
“There are thousands of home furnishing and lighting vendors and manufacturers, and in a traditional system it’s impossible for customers to be aware of even a small fraction,” Andersen says. “At Bellacor they can access the universe of home furnishings. We are creating a level of connection between customers and suppliers that is not possible offline.”
Though Andersen says the web site does more than replicate a store, he’s adopted a key element from stores in the form of product specialists in retail home furnishing sales. “Customers of home furnishings or lighting often like to have someone with them to make decisions. We have imported that online and found it extremely effective,” he says. The result is a system in which customers can select and buy online unassisted, or they can e-mail, phone or fax a product specialist, who will push through product recommendations, descriptions and images.
Retail consultant Keven Wilder of McMillan/-Doolittle rates attention to customer service among the site’s best features, noting extensive yet easy search functionality and the display of the 800 number on each page. “By asking right on the home page if you want a personal shopper or a price quote they are anticipating your needs, and that’s very helpful,” she says.
Those comments reflect Bellacor’s focus on building sales by increasing the value of customers it already has rather than just pursuing new ones. Andersen says that in its third year, Bellacor is focusing on database marketing with the goal of segmenting e-mail campaigns and the dynamic presentation of web pages by customer group and even individuals. “A lot of pure-plays with more working capital than we will ever have failed when too much advertising spending went down the drain,” he says. “Today we are more concerned about quality than the quantity of our online marketing. The key is to increase the lifetime value of customers who already come to us.”
Tunnel Design & Artropolis Inc.
Commission Junction Inc., Performics Inc.
Classic furniture reproduction retailer The Bombay Company has been around since the late ‘70s, but despite 400 stores and sales of $437 million in 2001, “Bombay” and “Internet” weren’t often used in the same sentence. Today, that’s changed. Bombay is moving aggressively to leverage its brand presence on the web, including a clean-lined redesign of all three Bombay site-BombayCo.com, BombayKids.com, and BombayOutlet.com-aimed squarely at site and channel integration.
Matt Corey, operating vice president of e-commerce, says a new strategy is pushing Bombay onto the Internet. Corey says the sites get 13,000 to 14,000 visitors a day and he projects that 2002’s web sales will double 2001’s and will double again in 2003. Without disclosing numbers, he says Bombay’s sites are profitable. That said, however, he illustrates the web’s greater importance to Bombay with a formula that spells it out clearly.
“If you were to get 20,000 customers a day coming to your web site, and your typical store gets 200 customers a day, your web site is touching as many customers as 100 of your brick-and-mortar stores,” he says. He’s quick to note, however, that Bombay is not just about selling to those customers on the web. In fact, Corey insists he doesn’t care whether customers buy online, research there and then phone the call center or go to a store, “As long as they buy from Bombay.”
That insight is driving a strategy change that’s making a difference at Bombay as it taps into the web’s ability to support sales companywide as well as ring them up online. Formerly, for example, each Bombay site had its own look, feel and navigation. Linkage between the sties was minimal, and the sites displayed only products available online rather than everything available in Bombay’s stores and catalogs.
Today, the sites display all Bombay merchandise to entice shoppers into the stores. New technology lets shoppers use the same cart across all three sites, while standardized layout and navigation make it easy for shoppers to get around all three. And new features such as the section that provides call center hours and number plus links to the store locator, shipping rates and return policy on each product page make it as easy for shoppers to move among channels as among Bombay’s three sites.