March 14, 2014, 3:35 PM

Williams-Sonoma eyes more overseas expansion online

With nearly $2 billion in 2013 web sales, Williams-Sonoma is heading online in Australia, the U.K. and elsewhere.

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The web now accounts for nearly all direct-to-consumer sales and 44% of all sales at Williams-Sonoma Inc., and the key to even faster e-commerce growth is going global, says CEO Laura Alber.

Williams-Sonoma, No. 22 in the 2013 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide already offers international shipping to about 100 countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America. But in 2013 the housewares retailer began opening more full-scale e-commerce sites overseas and has plans to launch even more, starting with English-speaking countries, Alber told Wall Street analysts on the company’s year-end earnings call.

“In 2013, we reached a significant milestone by setting up the global infrastructure for our geographic expansion,” she told analysts. “We entered Australia and United Kingdom with company-owned retail stores and fully-enabled e-commerce and distribution.”

Albers didn’t release details on where Williams-Sonoma may next launch an international e-commerce site. But globally and in its core market of the U.S., Williams-Sonoma can develop a new e-commerce market faster than other retailers because the company has invested heavily in the Internet all along, Alber said. “The global investments we made included capital expenditures to build out our stores, new stores systems capable of handling international currencies and payment types, and our new fully integrated e-commerce platform that will allow us to have native sites in all the countries in which we will operate in-store,” she said. “These are both capital and expense-related investments that we are incurring ahead of the revenues that they will generate.”

Williams-Sonoma also can build a bigger business online overseas because it recognized several years ago the trend of consumers doing less store shopping and more shopping online, Alber said. “Consumers have embraced the convenience and flexibility of shopping online,” she said. “And the investments we have made in our brands and our user interface and our fulfillment infrastructure have enabled us to be one of the few retailers in our category to benefit from this shift online.”

For the fiscal year ended Feb. 2, Williams-Sonoma reported:

  • Web sales increased 18.2% to $1.95 billion from $1.65 billion in 2012.
  • Total sales increased 8.4% to $4.38 billion from $4.04 billion
  • Retail sales increased 4.6% to $2.27 billion from $2.17 billion
  • Direct-to-consumer sales increased 13.4% to $2.11 billion from $1.86 billion
  • Net earnings grew 8.6% to $278.9 million from $256.7 million.
  • The web accounted for 44.5% and 92.4%, respectively, of total and direct-to-consumer sales in 2013, compared with 40.8% of all sales and 88.7% of all direct sales in 2012.

“We will be investing in our global expansion, constructing new stores predominantly in West Elm and the Pottery Barn brands, supporting our supply chain initiatives, and further developing our e-commerce platform,” Alber told analysts.

Williams-Sonoma didn’t break out e-commerce for the fourth quarter, but did report:

  • Total sales increased 4.3% to $1.46 billion from $1.40 billion
  • Retail sales decreased 1.7% to $759.9 million from $772.9 million
  • Direct-to-consumer sales increased 11.5% to $706.4 million from $633.5 million
  • Net earnings grew 0.1% to $133.8 million from $133.7 million.
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