May 1, 2013, 11:05 AM

How e-retailer Wayfair meets changing consumer demands

Its CEO will discuss how it listens to what customers want at IRCE 2013.

Lead Photo

Niraj Shah

The key to being adaptable in the fast-changing world of online retail is to approach any initiative through the eyes of the customer, says Wayfair LLC CEO Niraj Shah.

Shah will speak June 5 at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2013 during a presentation entitled “Endless adaptability: the key to e-commerce success." He says Wayfair, which posted web sales of $602.4 million in 2012 and is No. 52 in the 2013 Internet Retailer Top 500, benefits because it stresses creativity and entrepreneurship among employees. “Creating the right work environment is a key to being adaptable and that’s regardless of the size of the organization,” Shah says.

In December Wayfair raised $36.3 million in equity financing to build on the rapid growth of its Joss & Main flash-sale site for home furnishings. The funding came from such investors as Battery Ventures, Great Hill Partners, HarbourVest and Spark Capital. But the idea for the site came from being flexible and entrepreneurial enough to listen to Wayfair customers who were looking for different ways to shop for home furnishings, Shah says. “We found a great new opportunity to launch Joss & Main because we listened to what our customers wanted and acted,” he says. “We like to create new reasons to be flexible.”

Wayfair, which changed its name from CSN Stores in 2011, began selling online more than a decade ago with a single web store that sold TV stands—RacksandStands.com. From a first-year startup with annual sales of $450,000 and fewer than 2,000 customers, Wayfair is now a $600 million  international e-commerce company with 6.4 million customers.

The key to its growing web sales involves being adaptable enough to move into new product categories. “We kept asking our customers ‘What products to do you want from us?’ and that kept moving us into new directions,” Shah says.

In his IRCE session, Shah will give examples of how Wayfair has embraced flexibility and employee creativity to launch new initiatives such as Joss & Main. He will also offer advice on how e-retailers of all sizes can build and sustain a flexible and entrepreneurial work environment. “We know that not everything we try will work, but we don’t want to create an environment of just being average,” Shah says. “We want to keep growing as much as we can by becoming the definitive destination for home furnishings.”

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