November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Housewares/Home Furnishings E-commerce sites as diverse as decorating...

Tastes in housewares and home furnishings run the gamut. The same can be said for the housewares and home furnishings Internet retailers named to this year`s Hot 100.


Housewares/
Home Furnishings
CrateandBarrel.com
LillianVernon.com
Oneida.com
RestorationHardware.com
StacksandStacks.com
Vivaterra
Williams-Sonoma.com

Tastes in housewares and home furnishings run the gamut. People want different form and function when it comes to their homes. Personal style can be rather unique.

The same can be said for the housewares and home furnishings Internet retailers named to this year`s Hot 100. Each has been working on very different content and aspects of its site.

At LillianVernon.com, it`s all about adding services that ease shopping for customers. The e-retailer introduced a reminder service that notifies customers when birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and other special events are approaching. When a reminder brings a customer back to the site, the site displays suggestions for products appropriate, for example, for a holiday. The site also added customer reviews, and a tool that enables shoppers to see how a name would look on a personalized product.

Crate & Barrel this year has added features to its e-commerce site to bring the online and store realms closer together. It built out its store locator section by adding photography of individual stores on their respective pages. It also made maps more interactive, and now includes details of promotions and in-store events for each store.

Oneida.com has used technology to aid shoppers trying to identify the right products without being in a store to handle and inspect them. Its interactive Virtual Table Setting tool displays different combinations of dishes and silverware on a variety of table backgrounds. Its Pattern Identifier helps customers identify their existing silverware pattern to order replacements for missing pieces.

Over at RestorationHardware.com, the e-retailer added an interactive catalog. The new tool allows shoppers to flip through the pages, apply virtual sticky notes and include comments about items on the pages.

Focusing on individual shoppers, StacksandStacks.com brought customer reviews onboard, and added a feature not widely seen: personas. Reviewers place themselves in a category of shopper--bargain hunter, for example--so other customers can best identify with like-minded shoppers to get ideas on products. And the Stacks and Stacks Clutter Control Freak blog lets customers post achievements in organizing, and even upload before-and-after videos.


Gotta have it
For die-hard home-as-art devotees and those who merely dabble, few online shopping experiences serve up the delights of CrateandBarrel.com. But it isn`t just about attractive merchandise, attractively presented. This year, part of what makes the site`s shopping experience stellar is the fine-tuning of site basics.

"Our focus has been to create a well merchandized, easy-to-use site that is uniquely Crate and Barrel. Our goal is to translate the store strengths of customer-friendly service, associate knowledge and engaging presentation to the online store," says Dave Widmer, senior Internet manager.

For CrateandBarrel.com, that has meant improving merchandising, streamlining checkout and order tracking, and increasing integration with stores. It has updated merchandising features to better leverage the product photography that`s so much a part of the brand`s appeal. Alternate views, room views, color changes on upholstered products all give shoppers more and easier access to product imagery.

New merchandising features such as Best Sellers and Top Gift Registry items give shoppers different entry points to the product mix, and something more. "Our merchandising team is populating them based on customer behavior," Widmer says. "It`s what customers are buying and responding to that is driving them."

Updated checkout now shows shipping charges earlier; and a new option allows customers to group multiple gift boxes into a single box for a single shipping charge. The site also offers threshold-based, rather than SKU-based, free shipping across a broad product assortment on select orders.

The site has tightened integration with the stores by building out the store pages in its store locator with vibrant photography of store exteriors, more interactive maps, and more promotion of local in-store events.

"We`ve been focusing this year on the fundamentals," Widmer says. "It`s setting the stage for some really exciting changes being developed for next year."

In the meantime, Lauren Freedman, president of The E-Tailing Group, has praise for the cross-channel consistency of new features such as the site`s trends merchandising area, the robust functionality powering its gift registry and that compelling product imagery. "The photography is so enticing," she says. "You want everything." Back to Top


Loyal to Lillian
Catalog and online retailer Lillian Vernon has a loyal customer base, and it plans to keep it that way, says Kristen Montella, vice president of Lillian Vernon Online. That`s why it has introduced over the past year a series of online services aimed at easing its customers` busy lifestyles.

"We wanted to offer more than just products for sale," Montella says.

Among the new features is a reminder service that notifies customers when a holiday, birthday or other personal holiday is approaching and suggests gifts that would be appropriate for the occasion. Free e-cards also are a part of the service.

"The reminder service is something we wanted to do as a special service for our customers," Montella says. "And then, of course, it gives us the ability to show them gifts that would make sense for that particular holiday."

LillianVernon.com also took what Montella terms its first foray into social marketing--the introduction of customer product reviews. "We stand by the quality of our products, and wanted our customers to learn from each other," she says.

Another new feature added to the site enables customers to see how their names will look on 150 personalized products. "We`re going to expand that more and basically add more imagery, and try to give the customer a little more than they can get in a paper catalog," Montella says.

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