• Susan Dickenson

Bricks to Clicks: Home Furnishings Retailers

For brick-and-mortar retailers, online is a place to shine

U.S. ONLINE SALES IN THE FURNITURE and home furnishings category grew 15.7% in 2015 to $26.92 billion, a rate slightly higher than the 15% average across all retail categories, according to Department of Commerce statistics.

Many industry analysts expect to see similar gains through 2016 year-end once the numbers are in.

Carl Prindle, president and CEO of Blueport Commerce, a Boston-based provider of online technology and services for home furnishings retailers, gives reason to be even more optimistic.

“This past Thanksgiving/Black Friday/ Cyber Monday holiday weekend felt like an omnichannel landmark in furniture,” Prindle told Home Accents Today. “We saw brick-andmortar retailers on our platform transact as much as 18% of chain sales online during this critical selling weekend, with top-selling items being sectional sofas. Moreover, close to 90% of in-store purchases appear to have been influenced online.”

Despite the growth of online shopping in the category, though, Prindle estimates that roughly 75% of brick-and-mortar furniture retailers don’t have an e-commerce shop. “As retailers recognize the chain-wide benefits of a great online presence, including letting shoppers purchase when and where they want to, we believe this is a category that looks like other big ticket categories where 20%-25% of transactions occur online – and close to 100% of store purchases are online-influenced.”

In addition to opening up a new sales channel, a strong online presence can also help promote and position smaller and midsized retailers competitively.CarlPrindle

“Brick-and-mortar retailers have tremendous advantages online, including trust, local knowledge of their market, unique merchandise, stores to touch and feel, and the ability to offer high service levels before and after the sale,” Prindle said. “Onlineonly players – even the giants – have to spend enormous amounts online to replicate these advantages. If you are a successful independent, you’re already doing something that differentiates you from big box players. The role of your website is to effectively bring these advantages to light online.”

For brick-and-mortar retailers looking to expand into the online shopping space, Prindle offers several words of advice:

- Look at online as the front door to your brand. Today, online is the first impression your shopper will have of your business. If that’s not good news, it’s time to get to work.

- At one time, building an online store was looked at as opening a new location. Today, it’s about opening your flagship store, one through which effectively all of your shoppers will travel on their path to purchase.

- Shoppers will visit you online before, after and sometimes instead of visiting your store. Each of these interactions is an opportunity to build your relationship with that shopper.

Bricks to Clicks

- Whatever makes your brick-and-mortar store successful needs to be fully reflected in your online presence. That can include your style, merchandise, prices, service, even your personality. Whatever makes you unique, make sure it’s amplified online

For this year’s Bricks to Clicks report, we interviewed six brick-and-mortar retailers who are successful at selling in both the physical and online marketplaces, some for years and some just getting started. Their stories are shared here, but we invite you to visit their websites to see how beautifully these unique retail personalities are reflected and amplified online.

FINE LINENS, New York, N.Y.

Product categories: Bedding, bath, tabletop, home décor, lamps/lighting

Luxury linens and home goods retailer Fine Linens was founded by Steven Hirsch in 1975. Since then, the Hirsch family’s customer service and expertise in custom bedding, towels and tabletop have earned the business a reputation as one of Manhattan’s leading destinations for linens.

In addition to an extensive selection of premium brands, the retailer also sells home décor, tabletop and bath accessories in store and online, offering a wedding registry, price match guarantee and rewards program for customers. Steven was joined in the business by his son David Hirsch, the company’s president and chief technology officer, in 2005.

When and why did you begin selling online? We began selling online 10 years ago. My father had been running the business for over 25 years when I joined Fine Linens and I felt like there was a need to bring the internet to the store since online shopping was beginning to take off. We were able to bring people outside of Manhattan’s Upper East Side the luxury of Fine Linens.

What are the biggest challenges to selling home décor online? The biggest challenge is for the consumer to see the colors online since everyone’s monitor shows the colors differently. Many customers still like to call us and hear about the product, and request swatches to make sure the colors work with their rooms. Customers like to touch and feel home décor. Our online business built up because customers would walk into larger department stores and see the linens, then search online for the best price and free shipping – which we offer.

Other than sales, does e-commerce offer other advantages? E-commerce gives us the opportunity to reach customers all over the country and world. Because we value the importance of customer service, our customers can continue to shop with us from all over and use online reviews to let others know about their satisfaction with our products.

Who built and maintains your site? We work with a small boutique website company that is building our new website to launch in 2017.Bricks to Clicks Fine Linens

Are there vendors and products that sell online better than others? Our most popular products are in bedding and bath. Brands like Sferra, Matouk, Abyss, Peacock Alley, SDH and Yves Delorme are staples in the industry. Consumers who know and buy them will search for those products and buy them again and again.

Do one-of-a-kind and custom pieces sell online better than mass-produced items? The items that people know and have trusted for years – their “basics” – are what sell best compared to one-of-a-kind products.

About what percentage of your annual sales are online vs. in-store? Approximately 70% of sales come from the internet now versus instore. Many of our in-store customers actually find us from the internet and then come in to purchase items in person.

How is this portion of your business performing? Online sales grow each year by about 10%. How is merchandise shipped? Most merchandise is shipped directly from our warehouse.

Who provides most of the photography and content – your or your vendors? Vendors provide beautiful imagery and content for our website. Is there a certain time of day/week/year that more customers seem to shop online? Early in the week tends to be stronger. Holiday time is always very active for home décor and online shopping. We also typically see surges in online shopping when the seasons change and people want to update or change their home décor for the winter or summer months ahead.

Do you do anything special to drive customers to your site and encourage them to shop? We send out email blasts, offer promotional sales to new and current customers, offer rewards points for current customers, use social media, and conduct search optimizations that help drive customers to the website. We’ve found that all marketing efforts have proven to be successful – keeping Fine Linens top-of-mind for current customers and encouraging new customers to buy on our site.

COTTAGE FURNISHINGS Laguna Beach, Calif. 

Product categories: Furniture, home accessories, lamps/lighting, bedding, kitchen

Cottage Furnishings, established in 1997, is owned and operated by the Tarter family. Over the years, the store’s merchandise offering has evolved from beach cottage furniture – including its own line of custom Adirondack chairs – into a wide range of furniture, lighting, accessories, bedding and gifts.Bricks to Clicks Cottage Furnishings

Lewis Tarter, the shop’s creative force and visionary, is joined in the business by his wife Jo Ann and their children, all of whom contribute to fostering the relationships the store has enjoyed with loyal customers for years.

Aviella Tarter, Lewis and Jo Ann’s daughter, brings a fresh, modern eye and creative design sense to the business, and assists in the buying and selecting of the store’s product assortment.

When did you begin selling online? September 2016.

What are the biggest challenges to selling home décor online? One of the biggest challenges is figuring out logistics on shipping large pieces of furniture across the country while trying to keep costs low.

Other than sales, does e-commerce offer other advantages? It’s a great tool for customers. They can see our inventory at their convenience, show their designer an item or idea they like, and simply reach out to more people.

Who built and maintains your site? We hired Kerry Welton, owner of Zynk Designs, to create our website. The online store is hosted through Magento.

Are there vendors and products that sell better online than others? We seem to sell wall art and signs quicker than other items.

About what percentage of your annual sales are online vs. in-store? Too early to tell yet, since we just launched it in September. Do customers spend more when shopping in the store, or online? Customers are spending more money in the store at this time.

How is merchandise shipped? We ship via Fed Ex, UPS, USPS or blanket-wrap. If we have it in stock, it is shipped from our store. If it can be drop shipped, than we like to ship that way as well.

Who provides most of the photography and content – your or your vendors? Most vendors have been able to provide us with professional photos for our site. It keeps our site looking more uniform and pulled together.

When you buy inventory, do you ever think about how it may appear on your site? We do take into consideration how our inventory will look on our site. Some items are very hard to photograph, with reflections or glare, etc.

Is there a certain time of day/week/year that more customers seem to shop online? We had some great online sales in September. Our busiest time of year is spring and summer. We’ve noticed that the online purchases were placed in the evening or early morning.

Do you do anything special to drive customers to your site and encourage them to shop? We sent out an e-blast to everyone on our list to announce the launch of our online store.

TENDER LAND HOME Phoenicia, N.Y.

Product categories: Home décor, gifts, jewelry/accessories, entertaining, kids

Located in the Catskill Mountains, Tender Land Home takes its name from the Aaron Copeland opera “The Tender Land.” Owner Dave Pillard offers “something for everyone” across a variety of price points in a relaxed Main Street shop. Home furnishings styles range from mountain rustic to city contemporary for the visiting city dweller, country home owner and everyone in between.Bricks to Clicks Tenderland Home

When and why did you begin selling online? I began selling online in mid-2015. I wanted to expand my customer reach to people not familiar with my store and also offer my merchandise to customers who were already familiar with my brick-and-mortar business.

What are the biggest challenges to selling home décor online? Selling home décor online can be challenging in that the merchandise is not physically present for the customer to explore. But a little imagination on the customer’s part coupled with a dynamic description of the online merchandise make for optimal circumstances for sales.  

Who built and maintains your site? My site was built and is maintained on Shopify by the steady experienced hand of Chris Bick and Pioneer Agency.

Do one-of-a-kind and custom pieces sell better online than mass-produced items? There is a mix on the site of one-of-a-kind pieces with products produced in larger quantities, and both sell equally well.

About what percentage of your annual sales are online vs. in-store? Current online sales account for less than 10% of overall sales, and with marketing we hope this number will grow.

How is merchandise shipped? We ship USPS.

Who provides most of the photography and content – your or your vendors? We photograph and write most of our own product stories, occasionally using images and/or copy supplied by a vendor.

When you buy inventory, do you ever think about how it may appear on your site? I definitely think about how prospective merchandise will photograph for online, and also consider the degree of difficulty in getting the item packed up and shipped to the customer. Sometimes the potential shipping costs prevent me from including an item on the site.

Do you do anything special to drive customers to your site and encourage them to shop? I’m constantly promoting the website on social media platforms – Facebook and Instagram – and with notices emailed to customers via Mailchimp to keep the site on my customers’ radars. I’m finding very often that a local customer will see something on my social media platforms or in an email and will make a trip to the store rather than purchasing it online.

SOUTHERN ELEVATION Fallon, Nev. 

Product categories: Furniture, home accessories, lamps/lighting, textiles, bath, fragrances

Home furnishings and design boutique Southern Elevation was founded in 2014 by spouses Jessica and William Walker. The Fallon, Nev. shop blends southern living and desert dwelling with an aesthetic inspired by Jessica’s travels, and her love for design, textiles and artisan goods.

In addition to running a successful retail operation, Jessica served as president of the Fallon Chamber of Commerce, and William flies fighter jets for the United States Navy as an active duty lieutenant. The couple’s customer base in Fallon includes a number of families stationed at or employed by Naval Air Station Fallon, home of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center.Bricks to Clicks Southern Elevation

When and why did you begin selling online? Online shopping has been part of our business model since the inception of Southern Elevation. We actually opened our doors online a month before our brick and mortar.

What are the biggest challenges to selling home décor online? Shipping! If not calculated down to the penny, a small business can easily lose money or barely break even on a sale. So many of our pieces of décor are unique in size, which can also be difficult as it may result in the item being deemed oversized by shipping companies. Another major challenge is building trust in your brand. As a new online business we have gone out of our way to gain our customers’ trust. From including a handwritten note in their package to always being accessible, we provide the same great customer service to our online customers.

Other than sales, does e-commerce offer other advantages? Every online shopper tells a story. Through data analytics, our website allows us to see why and how a customer came to our site, how long they stayed, and gain insight into why they left. It is more of a guessing game at a brick-and-mortar location in a small town.

Who built and maintains your shopping site? We built our website using the Shopify platform. Shopify’s ease of use allows our regular store employees to keep the product listings fresh and up to date, while William handles the more advanced coding and integrations.

Are there vendors and products that sell online better than others? Absolutely! We can’t say enough about vendors who protect their brand, provide one- to two-day order processing, and allow us to leverage their reduced shipping rates in order to pass those savings on to our customers.

Do one-of-a-kind and custom pieces sell online better than mass-produced items? Original items and ideas that can be scaled to larger production tend to do the best. While one-of-a-kind items can do well, getting those website product pages ready for shoppers is time consuming; therefore, you want to be able to continue to sell the product more than just once or twice.

About what percentage of your annual sales are online vs. in-store? 50% split right now.

How is this portion of your business performing? Our online sales have grown tremendously. We have grown our footprint over time. We are thankful that we have strong customer reviews as well as return customers.

Do customers spend more when shopping in the store, or online? The ability to see and touch an item in person often leads to a much larger sale. Our largest sales have come from our physical store location, however we are seeing an increase in average order amount online. In order to get the higher average orders you must inspire trust through a detailed product description, high-res photos, and a clear and hassle-free return policy. Additionally all damaged items are replaced free of charge.

How is merchandise shipped? USPS, UPS and FedEx, and larger items by freight truck. We also leverage discounted rates offered by our suppliers.

Who provides most of the photography and content – your or your vendors? It’s very helpful to us as a small business to receive high quality photos from our vendors. We use a lot of our own photos for social media.

When you buy inventory, do you ever think about how it may appear on your site? Yes. If you can’t convey what it looks like and feels like online, it probably won’t sell.

Is there a certain time of day/week/year that more customers seem to shop online? Thursday through Sunday, and the first and fourth quarters.

Do you do anything special to drive customers to your site and encourage them to shop? SEO is key. In order to reach the most customers possible for the lowest cost your site must rank on Google and actually show up when people are searching for home décor. Shopify’s SEO integration has made this an effortless task. For advertising we primarily use Google Shopping, which allows us to target customers who are more committed and ready to buy. We have also found that product ads on Google tend to lead to more conversions when compared to other sources such as Facebook. In order to reach a broader base of customers for the lowest cost possible we sell through multiple sales channels including our website, Pinterest and Facebook.

THE GARDEN GATES and RELISH New Orleans, La.

Product categories: Home décor, luxury bedding, furniture, garden décor, outdoor furniture, clothing, jewelry, bath, tabletop

The history of The Garden Gates and Relish begins in 1990 when Chad and Beth Harris launched a landscaping business that grew into a successful home and garden center in Old Metairie, La.

In 2009 The Garden Gates added e-commerce and, not long after, landed a spot on Internet Retailer’s Hot 100 list, sharing the “Housewares/Home/Hardware” category with such names as Roomandboard.com, Rugsdirect.com, Surlatable.com, Tempurpedic. com and Williams-Sonoma.com.Bricks to Clicks Garden Gates Relish

Since then, the Harrises have moved The Garden Gates completely online and opened a new brick-and-mortar location called Relish. Their sons Aiden and Ashton, who grew up working in the store, have brought their technology and social marketing perspective to the table, launching Relish’s online channel, relishneworleans.com, as well as KendallandEverett.com (French inspired home decor, luxury linens and garden décor), and Life on Plum (planters, fountains, garden décor and casual furniture).

When and why did you begin selling online? We started selling online in 2000 but we weren’t very successful at it. We barely understood what was going on and how to make it work. After Katrina destroyed our three businesses, I knew that something had to change and began getting serious about it in 2008 and 2009.

What are the biggest challenges to selling home décor online? How to enable a customer to touch and feel the product they see on the screen.

Other than sales, does e-commerce offer other advantages? Marketing to a larger customer base and finding customers that align with your beliefs is much easier online than in a traditional business.

Who built and maintains your shopping site? We manage it in-house with our own team.

Are there home décor vendors and products that sell online better than others? Selling products online requires something that everyone doesn’t have or sell. Also, it helps if the products are not inventoried on a local level; this allows for the playing field with local competitors.

Do one-of-a-kind and custom pieces sell online better than mass-produced items? One-of-a-kind, hard to find, is the way to go. About what percentage of your annual sales are online vs. in-store? Garden Gates is now 100% online, and for Relish it’s 10-12% online.

Do you think customers spend more when shopping in the store, or online? Customers spend more time online than in the store. Online drives in-store sales. Preorder exclusive products... that is where the magic happens.

How is merchandise shipped? LTL, FedEx Who provides most of the photography and content – your or your vendors? We write all of our content and use both vendor images and our own.

When you buy inventory, do you ever think about how it may appear on your site? That is the biggest argument. Sometimes things don’t photograph well making it impossible to sell. But – I am the guy that sells real Christmas trees online with hand-strung lights, sight unseen.

Is there a certain time of day/week/year that more customers seem to shop online? All of our business is seasonal. We have a strong spring, fall and holiday.

Do you do anything special to drive customers to your site and encourage them to shop? We spend an incredible amount of time tracking, hunting, targeting, capturing and stalking customers (yes, stalking). We find that if we approach each customer with a careful well thought-out plan, we can earn their business and get them to become loyal to our brands. We have several repeat customers who follow our advice on product selections in home décor, garden décor and women’s fashion, as well as gift and accessories.

HIGH FASHION HOME Houston, Texas 

Product categories: Furniture, home accessories, fabrics, drapery, bed and bath, lighting, gifts

Founded in 2005 by siblings William Levan and Dolley Frearson, High Fashion Home is a four-story, 125,000-sq.-ft. home furnishings emporium offering “an endless selection of the most exciting products in the home fashion world today… a sanctuary of inspired choices for the eclectic, modern lifestyle.”Bricks to Clicks High Fashion Home

High Fashion Home specializes in modern and contemporary furniture, fabrics, gifts and accessories, and offers a number of eco-friendly collections and products.

When and why did you begin selling online? We started selling online in 2008. Everyone’s lives have gotten increasingly busier. It was important for us to provide another medium where customers can engage our brand at their convenience.

Other than sales, does e-commerce offer other advantages? Decorating the home is such a personal journey. Our website serves as a very important channel for our customers to do their research before coming into the store and finalizing their purchase decision.

Do one-of-a-kind and custom pieces sell online better than mass-produced items? At the end of the day, the item that you are highlighting online needs to be a very good representation of what the customer will actually buy. So, custom one-of-a-kind pieces will be a hard sell.

Do your customers spend more when shopping in the store, or online? Our customers definitely spend more time shopping in the store.

Who provides most of the photography and content – your or your vendors? For most furniture products, we do our own photography.

When you buy inventory, do you ever think about how it may appear on your site? No. The primary consideration is always whether the product is a compelling enough offering for the customer to buy if they see it in person.

Do you do anything special to drive customers to your site and encourage them to shop? No.

Susan DickensonSusan Dickenson | Editor in Chief
sdickenson@homeaccentstoday.com

Susan Dickenson is the editor in chief of Home Accents Today, where she has spent more than a decade covering trending topics, best practices and news items pertaining to the manufacturing, retail and interior design segments of the home furnishings industry. A graduate of UNC, Dickenson spent 15 years in the Washington, D.C., area, writing and researching in both the public and private sector. After relocating to her native North Carolina in 2003, she freelanced as a writer of general interest, business, garden and home items for local and national publications before joining Home Accents Today in 2006 as retail editor.

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