June 28, 2011, 2:41 PM

Williams-Sonoma heats up international expansion

The housewares and furnishings retailer will ship to 75 countries by the end of June.

Lead Photo

Building on its May launch of an international sales program for its youth-focused brand, PBTeen, in 75 countries, Williams-Sonoma Inc. is taking its other brands international this month, said Pat Connolly, executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

The housewares and furnishings retailer, No. 25 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, by the end of June will enable all of its e-commerce sites for international shipping to 75 countries, Connolly told analysts last week at the Goldman Sachs Second Annual Dot Commerce Day. The company also operates Williams-Sonoma.com, PotteryBarn.com, PotteryBarnKids.com, WestElm.com and WSHome.com.

“While at first this will be more of a service channel than a sales channel, we see it as the first step in our international expansion,” he said. “We’ve hired senior leadership in this area, and foresee a strategy of entering new.”

Williams-Sonoma will continue to expand its digital marketing efforts to drive growth, Connolly said. Last year, the company tested over 25 new digital marketing programs and rolled out 20 of them.

“Virtually all our efforts are based on our ability to target both customers and prospects,” he said. “We are currently putting out over 2 billion impressions a month on the web. Every one of them is targeted.”

The retailer combines purchase data with web browsing and other marketing data to drive the digital marketing programs, Connolly said, adding “they can be very sophisticated or as simple as sending an e-mail to someone who has just ordered a rug suggesting they might also want to purchase a rug pad.”

Because San Francisco-based Williams-Sonoma is located near Facebook, Twitter, Google and other leading Internet companies, and focuses heavily on online marketing, the retailer is frequently asked to beta test many new product offerings from those companies, Connolly said. “We get first crack at many and, in fact, influence their development,” he said.

Williams-Sonoma plans to extend its efforts into social media. “We believe there’s a significant opportunity to leverage our content by publishing it out onto the web and bringing new customers back to our sites where we can drive sales by merchandising around this content,” he said.

Already, the retailer gets about 5% of its e-commerce sales from mobile devices and tablets, primarily from users of iPads and iPhones, who tend to be a good demographic match to Williams-Sonoma’s higher-income target customer, Connolly said. In addition, a high percentage of the retailer’s customers and web visitors use Apple’s Safari browser, which is bundled with Apple computers and mobile devices. “As Apple grows, we will grow,” he said. The company reported $1.19 billion in web sales for 2010.

Williams-Sonoma also is in the early stages of testing various mobile marketing programs.

In addition to its direct business, including the e-commerce sites, Williams-Sonoma operates about 600 retail stores.

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