March 29, 2010, 12:00 AM

Hunter Douglas embraces the web even as it discontinues online sales

Hunter Douglas confirmed today it is discontinuing sales through retail web sites effective June 1. But the company says it will continues to enhance its own web site to provide consumers with more information about its products.

The Internet is increasingly important for Hunter Douglas, it’s just not the best way today to sell high-end blinds and window coverings, says vice president of merchandising Joe Jankoski.

Hunter Douglas Inc., the U.S. unit of Netherlands-based Hunter Douglas N.V., confirmed today that it would discontinue sales of its products through web retailers in the U.S. and Canada effective June. 1. The company had notified its online and offline distributors of the decision last week.

Company research shows 85% of consumers need professional help in choosing, measuring and installing its products, and the independent decorating stores that sell Hunter Douglas window coverings are better able to provide that level of service, Jankoski tells Internet Retailer.

He notes Hunter Douglas has never offered its newest products online, because they require more consumer education, and has only sold older products such as miniblinds and wood blinds that consumers are familiar with. He says about 100 web sites have sold Hunter Douglas products, and that, while a few e-retailers have done a good job of serving customers, “our analysis is that the channel itself is not delivering the level of value-added services we felt we need to have.”

At the same time, Jankoski says, the company has continually enhanced its web site to provide consumers with more information about Hunter Douglas products. The site, HunterDouglas.com, offers more than 20 videos, lets shoppers ask questions of the company’s resident designer, and has a visualization tool that allows consumers to see products in rooms of different types and wall colors. Within a few weeks, the site will let consumers upload room photos so they can visualize products in their own homes, he says.

Hunter Douglas also hosts on its site more than 1,500 web sites for distributors that the retailers can customize with information such as the merchandise they carry and store hours. A second, password-protected site for Hunter Douglas dealers allows them to place orders, take online courses, order marketing materials, obtain mailing lists and participate in forums.

“The Internet has served us greatly in terms of being more efficient,” Jankoski says, “but we feel the last three feet needs a more personalized touch.”

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