November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Housewares/Home Furnishings

(Page 2 of 2)

Recognizing that furniture purchases from repeat customers can come years apart, LandofNod.com has expanded its product catalog to include not only accessories for a child’s or baby’s room, but items such as music and book downloads that give shoppers a reason to come back between furniture buys.

“There is a lot of kid’s music and we wanted to offer it as an enhancement to our product catalog,” says Kohanzo. “The more products we introduce, the more reasons we give customers to return to the site.”

The music section includes Top 10 selling albums for the month, music under $10 and customer reviews. The site also presents monthly podcasts, each 15 to 30 minutes in length, from children’s musical artist singing songs with lyrics mentioning LandofNod.

“Offering more than furniture greatly enhances the appeal of the site,” says Lee Diercks, managing director at consulting firm Clear Thinking Group LLC. “It makes the site more shopable because it keys in well on its target audience.” Back to top


Rooms with a view
Shop for a dining room or bedroom set on MaxFurniture.com and it doesn’t take long to experience the site’s extensive use of image zoom that aims to recreate the feeling of walking into a showroom. On many products, the visitor can zoom in by moving a slider or by clicking on the image. The products are pictured in home settings so consumers can envision what the pieces would look like in their homes.

With online purchases often as high as $5,000 to $7,000, Max Furniture must make the virtual shopping experience as lifelike as possible, says chief financial officer Heath Malone. “When we ask someone to spend that much money, it helps to have great images,” he says. There are plans to add zoom to virtually every product photo, he adds. The site also offers a room planner that lets shoppers configure complete furniture sets.

“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 former head of e-commerce at Playboy.com and Frederick’s of Hollywood and now vice president of multi-channel marketing and retail specialist at technology consultants FitForCommerce.

Savin adds that Max could serve shoppers better by letting them search by furniture style, such as traditional or contemporary, and purchase individual items from within furniture packages. In fact, Max plans to add both features as it upgrades its site, enabling visitors to shop by style and to purchase pieces a la carte, Malone says.

To further engage customers who can tire of reading product specs, Max plans to introduce virtual salespeople to demonstrate, as a salesperson would in a store, why a shopper might prefer a table made of a particular type of wood or a couch covered in a certain kind of leather.

Unlike other online furniture retailers that rely mostly on drop-shipping, Max maintains direct control over fulfillment by shipping most orders from its own warehouse and by using its own shipping partner to transport some orders from suppliers to customers.

“Our mantra is to exceed customer expectations,” Malone says. Back to top


No-fear shopping
There are obvious obstacles to selling customized window treatments online. It’s often hard for customers to visualize what the product will look like in their homes. And they may lack experience in taking the required measurements and installing products. Finally, given the cost, customers don’t want to take a chance that they can’t return a customized product.

But Smithandnoble.com 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 online, shoppers at this site 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.”

Among such services is the use of Adobe Scene7 technology to allow customers to configure and view customized draperies, shades and panels. That lets customers not only view the primary window treatment, but see it along with the various accessories and upgrades they have chosen, such as valances, ladder tapes and decorative trim. Many of the site’s competitors allow parts of the total window treatment to be viewed online, but not all the components together, says Anna Gould, director of online marketing at Smith+Noble LLC.

Smithandnoble.com pays a lot of attention to customer education, as well. “Customers often think that the process of buying custom window coverings is intimidating and confusing,” Gould says. “ However, we walk them through it on the web site so that they gain confidence and build a product they will love having in their homes.”

Unique for customized window treatments, Smithandnoble.com offers a customer satisfaction guarantee, an important benefit to customers. “This is about our customers’ homes,” she says. “We want them to be happy with what they buy so that they will consider us in the future or, better yet, recommend us to their friends and family.”

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