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It`s no surprise to find a frying pan listed on a kitchen and cooking-focused web site: Williams-Sonoma.com has 20 of them. Look at the site`s tool for wedging hardboiled eggs, however--or its circus pancake molds or peppermint-swirled marshmallows--and part of what sets Williams-Sonoma Corp. apart becomes clear.
"We will always have items that people say are classic," says Paul Miller, Williams-Sonoma e-commerce vice president. "But we also will have things that you have never seen before. Is it inexpensive? No. But they are so unique and interesting that it brings to the brand the spirit people look for."
Beyond the merchandise itself, the rest of the site`s appeal--and success--rests in large measure on how the merchandise is presented, a skill the lifestyle retailer`s flagship brand has shined to brilliance over the years. "In the original manifestation of the brand online, we used outline photos almost exclusively," says Miller. "We`ve made a shift over the yeas to a lot more lifestyle photography."
Beyond beauty shots that tap into shoppers` aspirations for cooking and home entertaining, the site makes it easy to find and buy the specific products that support the pictured lifestyle. "In a category as SKU-dense as kitchen and cooking, the issue becomes, how do you organize things to make them accessible to people who want to shop," says Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president of consultants Retail Forward Inc. "The site does an excellent job. Once you`re in a category like bakeware, there are very intuitive subcategories. Once you`re in a subcategory, they make it easy for you to move to the next item. They`ve found a way to make an almost unmanageable number of items manageable by the way they classify them online," she says.
The ability to search recipes and to keep recipe files online gives customers more reasons to keep coming back. This year, the brand has continued to add to its online presence with easier navigation, and more content and product categories, including web and catalog-only products, to make the online experience even richer. "The merchandising has to constantly evolve and surprise and delight the customer with things they expect to see and things they don`t," says Miller.
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