November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Housewares/Home Furnishings

Among online housewares and home furnishings retailers in this year’s Hot 100, success comes from making the shopper feel she’s at home on the merchants’ e-commerce sites


Housewares/
Home Furnishings

CSNStores.com
LandofNod.com
MaxFurniture.com
SmithAndNoble.com

The most basic advantage of shopping online is the ability to search the world for the right product and buy it without ever leaving home. Among online housewares and home furnishings retailers in this year’s Hot 100, success comes from making the shopper feel she’s at home on the merchants’ e-commerce sites.

Window treatments retailer SmithAndNoble.com, for instance, has designed its web site to minimize the online fear factor. Through its customer satisfaction guaranty, education programs and the ability to view entire customized packages, shoppers know what they are buying will be right-and if it isn’t, that it can be fixed.

“This site has a lot of special add-on services that set it apart,” says Jessica Jourdan, senior research scientist for Perceptive Sciences, which specializes in user experience testing. “These services help people purchase what otherwise could be a very difficult product to sell online.”

When a shopper views a dining room or bedroom set at MaxFurniture.com, the high-resolution zoom lets her virtually experience what it’s like to walk into a showroom designed to look like a typical home. “Imagery is good and gives the customer options to see the product’s detail through both zoom technology and staging of rooms,” says Danielle Savin, a vice president at consulting firm FitForCommerce.

At CSN Stores, where the emphasis is more on information than on large images, the focus is still on making shoppers feel as comfortable as possible when deciding on purchases that can reach hundreds or thousands of dollars. “You can sort by frame type, like kiln dried, when searching for sofas on CSN’s AllModern.com,” says Nikki Baird, managing director of research and consulting firm Retail Systems Research LLC. “This is great attention to the details that aren’t necessarily easy to pull out of vendor-supplied information.”

Shopping online for the home can also be personal and fun, particularly at LandofNod.com. At the children’s furniture and gifts online retailer, shoppers can search by a child’s personality-The Adventurer, the Little Gourmet, or the Not So Mad Scientist, for instance. “This is a unique marketing strategy that makes navigation a lot easier,” says Sunita Gupta, executive vice president of consultants LakeWest Group LLC. Back to top


Furnishing service
Whether it’s the thickness of a rug, the likelihood of a dining room table getting damaged in shipment, or how eco-friendly a faucet is, CSN Stores is out front providing online shoppers what they need to know while shopping the retailer’s more than 200 home furnishing sites that sell everything from bedroom sets and baby cribs to barbeque grills.

And, unlike many e-retailers, CSN prominently places toll-free customer service numbers and links at the top of every web page.

“Many retailers try too hard to entertain their customers, but we see our role as more of information providers,” says chairman Steven Conine, who co-founded CSN with CEO Niraj Shah.

CSN carries out that strategy unusually well through its site designs, says Nikki Baird, managing director at research and consulting firm Retail Systems Research LLC. She especially likes the filters on category pages that make it easy for visitors to home in on the products they want. “You can sort by frame type, like kiln dried, for sofas on AllModern.com, or you can find a bathroom vanity on BathroomFurnitureDirect.com by the number of drawers it has,” she says. “This is great attention to the details that aren’t necessarily easy to pull out of vendor-supplied product descriptions, but are actually important to shoppers.”

Conine and Shah started out in the mid-‘90s with an IT services firm, but as retail e-commerce gained traction, they looked for a market where they could meet a need.

“We saw furniture as an area that could be better served on the web,” Shah says. CSN was an early provider of white-glove, full-service delivery of a broad range of furniture products, and it has continued to develop new ways to help customers shop online. Furniture product pages, for example, show how items stack up to comparable products on construction quality.

CSN also caters to particular needs of its niche shoppers-blogs for parents obsessed with baby products, for instance, which help the retailer learn how to serve customers even better, Shah says. “We let them tell us how they want to interact,” he says. Back to top


Shop by personality
At LandofNod.com, shoppers can search for kids’ furniture, toys and gifts by a child’s personality, selecting from such types as The Adventurer, the Little Gourmet, and the Not So Mad Scientist. Clicking on a category icon opens the product catalog. The feature debuted in October as part of the retailer’s holiday season merchandising strategy.

The idea grew out of a similar feature that allows shoppers to search for an item based on room type, such as nursery or playroom, and shows how the product will look in those settings. Crisps visuals and bright colors enhance the presentation.

“We were looking for a new way to categorize items for the holiday season and felt this would help personalize the presentation,” says Michelle Kohanzo, marketing manager for LandofNod.com. A majority interest in LandofNod.com is owned by Euromarket Designs Inc., which also operates housewares and furniture retailers Crate and Barrel and CB2.

“This is a unique marketing strategy because kids have unique personalities that can be categorized,” says Sunita Gupta, an executive vice president at consultancy LakeWest Group LLC. “It also makes navigation a lot easier.”

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