November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Housewares/Home Furnishings E-commerce sites as diverse as decorating...

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Lillian Vernon online customers also can use the retailer`s holiday "Build a Stocking" gift selector to create and personalize entire collections of gifts for each recipient on their list.

The web site targets basically anyone who wants to make their life easier and wants great value, Montella says.

But the focus on price may not appeal to many consumers, especially those shopping for special gifts for the holidays, says Roseanne Morrison, fashion director, Doneger Consulting.

"Everything is by price range and under what price, and that`s a turn off," Morrison says.

Nevertheless, the web site is expected to account for well over 50% of Lillian Vernon sales. Back to Top

Cutting edge
The redesigned launched in May 2006 and sales and visits are up 50% this year, says Amy Gebhardt, director of web marketing at Oneida Ltd., based in Oneida, N.Y. The visits are as important as the sales because is designed to encourage consumers to buy Oneida dishes, silverware and glassware, whether directly from the site or through stores that sell Oneida.

"How we manage our brands is as important, if not more important, than the commerce piece," Gebhardt says. "If someone can find something on the Oneida site and go into a retail store and purchase it, great."

To help customers decide what they want, has created an interactive tool called Virtual Table Setting that lets a visitor see different combinations of dishes and silverware on a variety of table backgrounds. That`s especially useful for brides trying to decide which patterns to register for, Gebhardt says.

Another tool, Pattern Identifier, helps customers identify their silverware pattern, a big help to anyone who has inherited a treasured set of cutlery that`s missing pieces. Since few consumers know the name of the pattern, the tool provides menus that narrow the search by the name stamped on the back of the flatware, the type of metal and design (floral/plain/other), where it was purchased and finish.

To make the tool more useful, Oneida photographed all 650 of its styles, of which 150 are current, so visitors can see pictures of forks, knives and spoons that fit the criteria they select. If a style is discontinued, the site suggests similar patterns and presents a link to a partner,, which may have the item.

The Virtual Table Setting and Pattern Identifier tools are both useful and intuitive, says Steve Rowen, a partner at research firm RSR Research. He also likes the way both the Flatware and Dinnerware categories can be sorted by the same three basic styles: classic, decorative and modern. "If someone doesn`t have a lot of time and knows they`re only interested in modern or classic, it`s neat that it stays homogenous across products," he says. Back to Top

Focus on furnishings
Selling home furnishings on the Internet requires a great deal of flair and panache to recreate the presentation of the in-store experience. Hence, e-retailers need to strike the delicate balance of putting the item in the context of the room where it will be placed without allowing the room setting to divert the shopper`s attention, which can nix the sale. meets this challenge head on by creating a homey and inviting site that brings to life the traditional basics of home furnishings. "There`s no foo-foo stuff in the product photos that distract the shopper," says Lanae Paaverud, a board member of the Internet Merchants Association, a Wellington, Fla.-based non-profit trade association for e-commerce companies. "The focus is on the item, not the room setting and that allows the item to be beautifully displayed."

Corte Madera, Calif.-based Restoration Hardware Inc. applies the same uncluttered approach to product descriptions, which appear as bullet points, thereby allowing the product photo to speak more loudly.

Where appropriate, products change colors when shoppers click on a color swatch and shoppers can order color swatches on select items to aid with the purchasing decision at a later date. "It`s a very clean, lifestyle design," says Mark Lee, founder of The Mark Lee Group, a Charlottesville, Va.-based retail consulting firm. "They let the photos do the talking."

Navigation is made simple as customers can shop by category, collection, purpose, and in the case of lampshades, by shape. "Restoration Hardware has thought out where each product fits into the bigger picture and has even included breadcrumb navigation," adds Lee.

While the site has little Web 2.0 technology, which is fast becoming a favorite of site designers, it does include one interactive feature, an interactive catalog. Shoppers can flip the pages and apply sticky notes to bookmark pages and include comments on the items on the page.

Despite its uncluttered, back-to-basics design, elegantly serves up the stylish in-store experience that consumers seek when shopping online for home furnishings. Back to Top

Stacking it on
Housewares e-retailer Stacks and Stacks has made several compelling changes to its utilitarian, easy-to-navigate web site. Reviews not only give customer product ratings, they now allow reviewers to describe their persona (bargain hunter, value-oriented, stylish) so other customers can easily find reviews most relevant to them. And a special "green" section spotlights environment-friendly products, ranging from items that help customers recycle ("The Ultimate Mulcher") to energy-savers and non-toxic cleaning products.

The e-retailer`s Clutter Control Freak blog includes an assortment of regular contributors, many who are professional organizers. It also solicits tips from customers and invites them to upload before-and-after videos or photos of their newly organized spaces. Tipsters vie for prizes. "The blog has given us a lot of credibility with people who are into organizing," says Stacks and Stacks founder Mel Ronick.

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