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Spinning natural fiber into gold
Why should consumers pop for genuine cotton or silk apparel and home textiles when synthetic will do? Garnet Hill’s brand positioning creates the demand; its web site delivers extra product information to instill confidence in the buying decision. Garnet Hill launched as a mail order operation in the 1970s when its founders decided to make available in the United States the cotton flannel sheets they’d loved on travels abroad. Today, it’s a multi-channel lifestyle brand under privately owned direct marketing company Cornerstone Brands Inc., whose six brands have sales estimated in the range of $500 million.
No polyester or rayon here; the merchandise is constructed exclusively of 100% natural fibers. Though it differentiates itself on this, however, the brand isn’t really after the granola and Birkenstock crowd. The assortment offers stylish, beautifully designed luxury, positioning that’s reflected in its well-designed web site.
“Garnet Hill’s brand was initially indicative of natural fibers, but it’s grown to a trend- setting sense of design,” says director of e-commerce Brenda Royce. Customers can shop via the company’s catalog and two outlet stores, but the web, about 25% of sales, plays a unique role in supporting the brand’s value proposition. “We consider ourselves an outstanding resource not only for purchasing high quality natural fiber home and bedding products, but also for information,” says Royce.
The web easily delivers that content and information. For example, a zoom feature allows shoppers to enlarge product detail so as to better portray texture-critical when the fabric itself is a key selling point. A glossary of more than 100 terms on the site helps customers make educated decisions about the products, as do fiber and bedding guides. A fabric care instruction guide is available only online.
To support the lifestyle positioning, the web site offers both new and archived features on the products, the design inspirations behind them, and information on how product lines can enhance consumers’ lives; such as, how purchasing the right basic bedding items ensures the most comfortable sleeping environment.
Garnet Hill supports the spare yet visually appealing site presentation with fast registration and checkout and features to make shopping easier, such as the ability to provide multiple ship-to addresses within a single order. “The web site allows us more flexibility to highlight the unique aspects of our products in a manner not possible in the limited format of a printed catalog,” Royce says. m
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A light bulb moment
Lamps Plus president Dennis Swanson can’t remember every product attribute of the thousands of lamps and fixtures his stores sell, but he doesn’t have to. His web site remembers that for him, and importantly, for his salespeople and customers as well.
Lamps Plus’s experience shows the Internet is the glue that can bind a successful multi-channel strategy together. Swanson launched a site to augment his stores and catalog in 1999, but it wasn’t until last January that the investment started delivering its full potential. That’s when Swanson realized the functionality in his web site could help store customers and associates, too, so he put web-enabled kiosks in his 44 stores.
Central to that functionality is site search based on what Lamps Plus has learned about how consumers shop for lighting: by product attribute. Rather than starting with a brand, lighting shoppers typically narrow the field by features such as color, finish, and size. Experienced salespeople know which questions to ask to help customers find what they are looking for, and the site emulates that process to guide shoppers through some 7,000 products.
Features such as an interactive guide to designing your own ceiling fan walk shoppers through the choice of every separate element in the system from blade to light kit. When they’re done, a screen shows them their choices and the cost of each. With one click the customer can place an order for everything, save it for future consideration, or even e-mail it to a friend. In place for selected ceiling fan models for a year, the build-your-own feature is being expanded to other products.
“You have a wealth of experience in business, but it’s not shared knowledge,” says Swanson. “Going on the Internet has forced us to take what we’ve learned over 30 years, formalize it into a common interactive process, and put it where customers and salespeople can access it any time.”
The web’s share of sales at Lamps Plus is 10%, but the kiosks have had significant impact on store sales. Orders of products not in-store but flagged online at the kiosks as available for quick shipment have doubled, while store cross-sells and upsells are up as kiosks remind associates about related products. Since each associate now has a home page which not only stores sales and customer information but also delivers product updates and other information from management, Lamps Plus gets even more utility from its web-enabled kiosks.
“The web is becoming totally integrated into our business,” says Swanson. “It’s made us a better retail business than we were in so many ways.”
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