July 9, 2008, 12:00 AM

Cymax Stores web sales up despite the housing downturn

Store-based merchants are seeing less foot traffic and sales because of a weak housing market, but by prudently finding new niches Cymax expects to grow web sales by 38% in 2008.

Bill Briggs

Senior Editor

The sub-prime mortgage meltdown and slowing general housing marketing certainly aren’t taking a toll on niche retailer Cymax Stores Inc.

In fact, while store-based merchants in the home furnishings and housewares space are seeing less foot traffic and slower sales because of a weaker economy, Cymax, No. 247 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, is expanding. A year ago Cymax had 30 or so niche sites, a number that has since grown to about 112.

By December, Cymax could be operating as many as 200 stores. Sales in 2008 also are forecast to rise by about 38% to $45 million from $32.5 million. In the last month, Cymax has launched seven new niche sites aimed at buyers of patio furniture and by September will launch 15 more stores targeting consumer electronics and appliance shoppers.

Niche retailers count on drop-shipping arrangements, a common e-commerce platform and basic storefronts to quickly launch more e-commerce and microsites. The drawback to that approach is that customers often have to settle for a basic and straightforward shopping experience.

But Cymax, which carries an online inventory of about 5,000 products and has relationships with about 1,000 manufacturers, is taking measures to introduce more value-added features to its e-commerce platform and storefronts. “Once you have the infrastructure in place you can make even complicated changes easier to implement,” says Cymax CEO Arash Fasihi.

Cymax recently updated its site search application from Mercado Software to include more attribute-based search functionality and added customer reviews technology from PowerReviews Inc. So far Cymax has posted about 5,000 customer-generated reviews. The niche retailer is also in the process of manually reviewing all of its product images and upgrading each image to at least 1,000 by 1,000 pixels.

“We are increasing the total size of our image file to at least 50 gigabytes,” Fasihi says. “You can’t cut back on the customer experience. Whether it’s one web site or 112, customers expect to find plenty of product information, crisp images and to locate merchandise quickly.”

Cymax, which is based in Vancouver, British Colombia, sells most of its merchandise in the U.S. But a recently launched Canadian version of its e-commerce sites also is generating more sales. Since the Canadian web sites went live in spring, Cymax has increased sales from Canadian shoppers from about $50,000 per month to between $300,000 and $400,000, Fasihi says.

Comments | 2 Responses

  • All, beware. From my recent experience here is their business model. Cymax Charges a customer credit card. Cymax delays processing the merchandise order until the customer contacts Cymax to inquire as to the anticipated delivery. Cymax then processes the order for 50% of the merchandise and delays delivery claiming that they are waiting to be certain that 100% of the merchandise will be delivered. They delay delivery 3 times claiming that they need to make sure that all items are on their deiivery schedule. Cymax delivers on the 3rd scheduled delivery and then only delivers 50% of the items ordered and paid for. Only after deliverying 50% of the furniture do they tell you that not everything was loaded and that they will return in the morning with the balance of the merchandise. Obviously there is no additional delivery. They never ordered 100% of the merchandise. And now the rest of the charade begins....they claim that they need to investigate and will be back in 4-6 business days. They then claim that the merchandise was never shipped and they need to re-order. After another 4-6 days they never re-ordered. At the end of several 4-6 days of waiting, I request a cancellation. They need to investigate and will be back to me within 4-6 days. After several rounds of waiting, I place a cancellation on line - meanwhile they act apologetic and claim that they will cancel the transaction and refund me without penalty. Then they send a message that claims I will have to pay restocking and return shipping fees and have still not credited me for merchandise that I have not received. This absurd "looking into" exercise goes on for months - meanwhile they have my money and have failed to deliver or resolve the situation. When they finally issue an RMA to return the partial delivery, they give the customer 15 days [including weekends and holidays] to return in the original packing. Mind you they did not deliver with any boxes or packing - and will not accept returns without the original packaging. So essentially, they take customer funds and fail to deliver what was ordered. In my review of the company I have found that the treatment that I have received is customary.This retailer should be investigated - not congratulated.

    • Our customer placed an order online and her order was shipped with one of our reliable White Glove Service carriers. Firstly, we apologize on behalf of them for the delays in shipping and the 3 delivery attempts they made that were unsuccessful. Unfortunately in the shipping world inevitable delays and problematic issues do arise. We were notified by our customer that 2 of her 5 items ordered were not delivered. We understand (based on the customer’s response) that the delivery carrier advised her that they were trying to find all of her items, and delayed delivery until all items were found. Once they did finally arrive they did not arrive with all her items. Once we were notified of this, we contacted the manufacturer to attain the paperwork stating that all 5 pieces were sent from their warehouse. We contacted the carrier who advised that all 5 pieces were delivered and signed for. This caused a delay in locating all missing items. We then received an email from the shipping company advising that there were pieces missing. Retrieving the paperwork to make sense of where the missing furniture was; we agree untimely, but in this situation necessary. In these unfortunate cases, if an item is missing or damaged for a customer, our Replacement Policy states that we will replace it for the customer at our charge. As the customer did not want us to replace the missing items at our cost we needed to find alternate options for her outside of our Standard Return and Replacement Policy that was agreed to. We acknowledge that this experience was less than optimal for our customer and have fully rectified the situation by refunding her in full and have picked up the items she received.

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