December 2, 2003, 12:00 AM

Housewares and Home Furnishings:More than in the store

One of the most challenging categories for online sales is home furnishings. Celebrated furniture sites were among the first dot-com casualties. But housewares and home furnishings retailers have learned how to sell online.


Internet Retailer`s Best of the Web 2004

One of the most challenging categories for online sales is home furnishings. Celebrated furniture sites were among the first dot-com casualties. But housewares and home furnishings retailers have learned how to sell online and the lessons they’ve learned boil down to: provide at least as much information as the customer can get from a store sales clerk or provide an experience that the customer can’t get in a store. is a good example of providing at least as much information online as the customer can get in the store. In fact, it’s a good example of providing way more information. For instance, contains a recipe section twice as large as it was a year ago and provides online PDFs of all the tips and techniques brochures that Williams-Sonoma distributes through its stores and catalogs. “It’s not just about the individual product, it’s about serving customers’ cooking and entertaining needs,” says Paul Miller, Williams-Sonoma’s e-commerce vice president. is a good example of the second lessons: providing an experience that a customer won’t get in the store. For starters, offers a greater selection than any store could possibly stock. Also, the customer can quickly browse the entire collection by any number of criteria of the customers’ choosing, again an impossible feat in the store. And finally, customers can quickly and easily try out any combination of frames and mats and see how the entire poster looks in the frame. In the store, customers place a corner of a frame with a piece of mat on the poster and try to visualize the look around the entire print. At AllPosters, customers know instantly the cost of each frame-mat combination. All this takes advantage of the strides in online technology of the past few years and creates an experience that would have been cumbersome at best four years ago. “The depth of their catalog would be hard to duplicate in most stores,” says Retail Forward consultant Geoff Wissman, “yet the site has fast downloads.”

The key to the success of these sites and others in this category is organization, both online and offline, and across the two channels. Bed, Bath & Beyond, for instance, has good cross-channel policies that point to a well-coordinated effort, says Lauren Freedman, president of consultants The E-tailing Group Inc. Bridal registries that work across channels, buy-on-web-return-to-store policies and print circulars posted online are a few examples. “They do a great job in integrating their multi-channels so they reinforce each other,” Freedman says.
Pictures at a (web) exhibition 

One of the ironclad rules of Internet sales is not to load up on a lot of images if you don’t want to drag out download times and hamper customers” ability to move quickly through a selection.

But for a company like, limiting graphic images is hardly an option. The site offers hundreds of posters that consumers can purchase and potential buyers need a good view of each. Yet, manages to show off its wares without interfering with speed or functionality. “I really like this site,” says Geoff Wissman, vice president of Retail Forward Inc. “It is image heavy, but it has quick downloads.”

The way AllPosters is able to do this is that it provides thumbnail sketches of all its poster images so potential customers can scan them quickly. Then they can enlarge the ones they have serious interest in. By not giving larger images of all the posters, reduces download times. But at the same time, the image quality of the desired posters is not compromised.

Wissman also likes the search capabilities of AllPosters in that customers have a number of options of how they want to sort through the various selections. They can search by artist name, subject matter and even price. Within subject matter, they can go with a more general category-such as music posters-or go highly specific-i.e., jazz music posters.

Once a customer chooses a poster, there is even more functionality. The site lets them view the poster with various mats and frames so that they can select the desired combination. In viewing different frames, customers can ask for recommendations from the store as to what would look good with a particular poster or ask to see various options based on frame design or price.

Even more helpful to the customer, the total price of each selection-including the poster itself, the mat and the frame-is shown as consumers view it.

“You might be looking at a poster in a black metal frame and the total price is $97, but then you try the same poster with a black wood frame and the price suddenly goes down to $72. Not only can customers try out different frames to see how each looks with the poster, but they know immediately what the total cost differences are,” Wissman says.

This site is not tied to a chain. Its customers typically are people who want an extensive selection of posters. “The depth of their catalog would be hard to duplicate in most stores,” Wissman says.

Wissman notes that also is not afraid to promote itself. For example, is a sponsored site at Google. "It looks like they`ll pay for business when it makes sense," he says.
Unique Visitors (monthly)
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*As reported by comScore Networks Inc.

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