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The home and housewares category is driven by what consumers need to equip a household, yes, but it`s as much about their dreams and aspirations of lifestyle as it is about just towels in the bathroom and chairs at the table. This category`s most successful retailers are some of retail`s merchandising geniuses.
Style to apsire to and how to pull it off at home
Internet Retailer`s Best of the Web 2005
The home and housewares category is driven by what consumers need for products to equip a household, yes, but it`s as much about their dreams and aspirations regarding how they would like to live as it is about simply making sure there are towels in the bathroom and chairs to tuck under the dining room table. This category`s most successful retailers know that, so it`s no surprise to find among those named to Internet Retailer`s Best of the Web for 2005 some of retail`s merchandising geniuses.
By and large, these marketers have nailed the back end of their online efforts. While continuously monitoring site and support operations to drive improvements, they`ve reached a level at which further enhancements in that arena are incremental rather than radical. That moves the competition onto the field of merchandising, where they`re equipped to shine.
Take Crate & Barrel. It`s successfully translated online its in-store ability to romance even objects as mundane as kitchen knives into must-haves. "Like other major retailers they`ve focused a lot on operations to make sure things didn`t go wrong. Now they`re able to showcase their core skills, which are in merchandising," says Jim Okamura, Chicago-based senior partner with retail consultants J.C. Williams Group. "That`s finding the right product and presenting it in a way that entices people to buy. That`s what separates great from good retailers."
So does the wisdom of further leveraging what you`re already good at. These lifestyle merchants are tweaking successful formulas to pursue consumers at different price points and with different concepts as they move among life stages. Crate & Barrel launched its younger, edgier and less expensive sub-brand CB2 online this year, after experimenting with the concept in one store over a number of years.
Williams-Sonoma Corp. puts its marketing mission to "Own the Home" into play with a whole series of brands targeting its shoppers by age segments. Its Pottery Barn Kids brand, which it launched online three years ago after its stores and catalog, has since helped spark similar niche market concepts at other retailers.
These retailers also use the web for what the web does best in its ability to communicate extended product information. Product information on Bombaycompany.com, for instance, features more details on dimensions, construction materials, instructions for how to care for furniture and other items, and has links to furniture assembly instructions. Williams-Sonoma.com`s Thanksgiving line-up featured holiday-geared products, recipes, and table setting tips, as well as a reminder that shoppers could see chefs put it all together in the week before Thanksgiving in live broadcasts from a Williams-Sonoma store on the CBS morning show.
With photography, content and merchandising that showcase a lifestyle that shoppers dream about, these category leaders use their online channels to inspire the confidence that consumers can create the looks and the experiences depicted online at home. And it`s that confidence which makes shoppers not just look, but buy.
21st Century vintage shopping
With its roots in selling replicas of 18th and 19th Century English furniture, The Bombay Company strives to live up to its reputation as a retailer that offers an unusual shopping experience. "95% of our products are designed and manufactured by Bombay, so that in and of itself gives us a unique position in the marketplace," says Stacey Gross, director of Internet operations. It`s a distinction that Bombay promotes on its web site, Bombaycompany.com, as well as in its stores and catalogs. "We try to make the web a unique experience, and our site reflects that," Gross says.
It does that by playing to the strengths of the web. In addition to extensive use of photography to present online the images found in its stores and catalog, Bombay recently introduced as part of a site redesign on an Amazon e-commerce platform new features that assist shoppers with the kind of service they`d be more likely to expect in a store. Product pages now include more details on dimensions, construction materials, and instructions for how to care for furniture and other items. "If a product is noted as vintage mahogany, the customer can learn that it goes with certain other products," Gross says.
One of the biggest potential headaches furniture buyers face, she adds, is taking on a difficult assembly project for products delivered in pieces. So the new Bombaycompany.com now lets customers click on detailed assembly instructions. "Customers can see how difficult or easy it is to assemble a product before buying it," Gross says.
The recent site improvements add to Bombay`s reputation for providing a helpful shopping experience, says Anne Brouwer, senior partner with retail consultants McMillan/Doolittle. "I give them high marks for being easy to navigate and find information," she says.
Bombay says it will continue to improve its sites, which include BombayKids.com and BombayOutlet.com, with product presentation and navigation features.
That could play to its strength in offering product collections, the many items that go into decorating a room, for instance, Brouwer says. "An opportunity for them going forward," she says, "is to be more proactive in building the market basket from cross-selling and upselling."
The Bombay Co. Inc.
550 Bailey Ave. Forth Worth, TX 76107
Unique visitors (monthly)
Annual Web-Based Sales
$22,900,000 (est. `04)
Amazon Services, Seller Central
Amazon Services, Pulver Technologies, In-house
Paymentech through Amazon Services
Affiliate Marketing Management
Search Engine Management
Content Delivery Network
Amazon Services, Pulver Technologies, In-house
CrateandBarrel.com / CB2.com