Private investment firm Comvest Partners acquires the financially troubled e-retailer, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March.
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The recipes and the pots
A hostess could pull Grandma’s recipe out of a card file to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner-or she could log onto Williams-Sonoma’s web site and find a dozen recipes, menu ideas, the perfect pot to cook each course in and stylish tableware to serve it on.
“It’s not just about the individual product,” says Williams-Sonoma’s e-commerce vice president Paul Miller. “It’s about solving customers’ cooking and entertaining needs.” Indeed, delivering solutions plus product is a basic tenet that stretches across not just the Williams-Sonoma brand but across the multiple channels of its various properties including Pottery Barn, West Elm and others.
The web site wraps extended information and deep content around products. Leveraging the web in just that way has helped the company sell more. Companywide Q2 online sales, for example, were up 55% over the previous year. The 4-year-old WilliamsSonoma.com enhances what was already a well-established brand through its catalog and stores, so ongoing improvements are subtle. “A lot of the focus has been on enriching the content we deliver,” Miller says. In the past year, Williams-Sonoma has not only made the site more than two times as fast as last year, but more than doubled its recipe database and added PDF versions of all brochures distributed through the brand, expanding tips and techniques on how to use the products to do everything from manufacture pasta to truss a turkey.
Part of what makes WilliamsSonoma.com a winner is its clean-looking aesthetic, a singular feat for an online marketer that must present not only product photos and text, but also lots of complementary content in different formats. The key is organizing the site so that different types of customers can be quickly identified and sent down the appropriate path, with the bridal registry customer, for example, taking a very different route from the catalog quick shopper, though they may wind up on the same product page.
As to the rest of Williams-Sonoma’s success online, the famously channel-agnostic brand has infused into the web experience much of the same experience customers have with its catalog or in the stores. “You walk into a Williams-Sonoma store, and it’s a lovely experience with the smell of cookies baking. It’s beautifully rich in its presentation, just like the catalog,” says Jupiter Research analyst Patti Freeman Evans. “The online experience tries to mirror that as much as possible with an assortment that is as big as, if not bigger, than the stores and catalog, and with contextual selling features that help bring to life both the product and the lifestyle they are selling.”
Unique Visitors (monthly)