In-store for online retailers? Brick and mortar.


“A lot of the market wants a physical touchpoint before buying, say, a sofa,” said Karen McKibbin, global head of physical retail at Wayfair. “The goal is to be a priority for all home furnishings.”

The storefront of the MarketStreet outdoor mall mimics a traditional furniture store, separated by “vignettes”. Up front is laid-back living: velvet sofas, white chairs, and wooden coffee tables, all in keeping with AllModern’s mid-century California aesthetic. It winds around dining and bedroom offerings, as well as a back wall lined with area rugs and mirrors suitable for any home. Throughout the space are on-the-go items that customers often impulsively purchase in person but ignore online: tableware, candles and aromatherapy diffusers.

Wayfair’s physical retail team — a hodgepodge of ex-Walmart and Restoration Hardware employees — made the space cozy. It has a characteristic scent (“tomatoes on the vine”) and an arrangement of entrance blocks painted in a seasonal hue (a sunny yellow named “pablo miel”). Walls of fabric swatches and rug cutouts surround the central designer bar, which is staffed by knowledgeable staff.

Despite the tangibles, the AllModern location is designed to conform to Wayfair’s online roots – not the other way around.

Only 8% of AllModern’s inventory is displayed in-store, and transactions are ultimately conducted on shoppers’ personal devices or employee-worn tablets. Homeowners can’t hang out with a couch; they have to wait a few days for home delivery, just like online customers. And in person or online, the prices are the same.

The brand’s sign near the cash register with employee Allison Carter packing a sale item. Only 8% of AllModern stock is displayed in store.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
A display at the AllModern store. It has a characteristic scent (“tomatoes on the vine”) and an arrangement of entrance blocks painted in a seasonal hue (a sunny yellow named “pablo miel”).David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

McKibbin said Wayfair targets all customers: those who wander through AllModern and those who arrive intentionally after browsing the website.

“We don’t care where people are from or why they are here,” she added. “We don’t even care if they end up buying in store or at home later.”

This isn’t the first time Wayfair has tried it. In 2018, the company launched a series of pop-ups before opening its first store of 3,700 square feet at the Natick shopping center in 2019. There, customers could don virtual reality headsets or use augmented reality to see how furniture would fit into a room. But the outlet closed a year and a half later amid the pandemic.

Earlier this month, Wayfair froze corporate hiring after sales fell in 2021 and the stock price plummeted. Shares of the company are down 69% since the start of 2022. Still, the retail team is making progress. Wayfair plans to open a Dedham AllModern location and a Joss & Main store in Burlington this fall. In 2023, he will launch a 150,000 square foot furniture showroom in Chicago.

And inevitably, other retailers line up.

The luxury mattress manufacturer Saatva recently opened a Newbury Street ‘viewing room’. At 4,531 square feet, it’s outfitted with memory foam, adjustable foam, and latex mattresses, plus padded bed frames and linen bedding.

CEO Ron Rudzin said the company is capitalizing on the lure of urban areas to attract customers to Saatva stores, so they can shop and dine after testing out a mattress. So far, it has opened branches in six cities, including Washington, DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In Manhattan, the storefront topped $8.5 million in revenue in 2021.


“You need to be in big places where people want to do more than shop for your mattress,” Rudzin added. “We’ve created a tight commercial footprint on the best streets in the best cities across the country.”

Saatva hopes to open 70 locations nationwide over the next four years, including five by the end of 2022.

A few kilometers away, in the seaport, frame bridge adopted a similar model.

The startup frames photos, diplomas, jerseys, etc. customers on a online platform. It allows users to choose the design elements – frames, mats and prints – and ship the item, which is mailed back about a week later. A few years ago, Framebrige started to open stores nationwide to provide the same in-person coaching expertise.

On Seaport’s Pier 4 boulevard and at a Hingham store that opened in August, employees measure customers’ items and help them choose between a selection of colorful frames. (Final payment is, again, made through the Framebridge website.)

The Framebridge storeframe bridge

“We want to make coaching easy and affordable,” said CEO Susan Tynan, a former Boston resident and Harvard Business School graduate. “For some people, easy means dropping it off at the store.”

The walls of the display case are covered with framed Boston paraphernalia: a Red Sox jersey, a 2013 marathon bib, a diploma from Northeastern University and a lobster painting, among others.

“Basically, framing is a race,” Tynan added. “It makes sense for us to show up wherever people live.”

Diti Kohli can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.

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