Category Archives: Merchandise

Room to Grow: The Current Status of the Home Furnishing Marketing Mix

Like every retail vertical, the onset of ecommerce has offered tremendous opportunities to home furnishing retailers. With the broadening range of audience touch points, digital and social channels have ushered in a new age of shopping for the home. No longer must consumers wait for a monthly or seasonal compilation of new products and home inspiration, instead, today’s consumers plan and shop regardless of time or location.

As an industry, the home furnishings market is achieving an annual growth rate of only 1.9%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Growth is stagnant for this industry, which puts pressure on these retailers to capture existing market share from the competition.  Major furnishing retailers are relatively on par with one another in terms of marketing mix but fall just short of meeting the evolving expectations of consumers.

Given today’s access to information, a customer’s path to purchase has become increasingly complex. Far from linear, it is filled with many diversions and detours along the way. This evolution requires that retailers become more sophisticated in their approach to winning customers. Ensuring presence throughout this journey is vital in accomplishing omnichannel goals.

Every major brand in this industry  delivers compelling content across each channel, but an overarching story is the missing piece to the complicated marketing puzzle. Today’s consumers move seamlessly between their apps, devices and social networks. Customers are not thinking of their behaviors as transitional, or from a stop and switch mode, so why should retailers? The technology that consumers rely on to power their daily lives – smartphones, tablets, desktops, and soon to be, wearables- are seamlessly integrated throughout the day.  Consumers do not necessarily stop and mull over which device to use for every instance, instead they fluidly transition from screen to screen.

Retailers’ marketing efforts are not quite as streamlined as the end users they are targeting.  There are still disconnects between on and offline,  and notably, email and social, that could be negatively affecting brand affinity.  The home furnishings sector does include retailers who provide strong content (Williams & Sonoma has a well oiled email machine, Ikea has strong mobile execution and is known for attention-grabbing promotions and strong use of social), but without an omnichannel foundation, even a strong channel execution will never be optimized to its full potential.

While home furnishers have room to grow, that is not say that the progress these brands have made is not impressive. Retailers have made the leap from a single marketing channel (catalogs) to every marketing channel. Transitioning and broadening in this sense, is no easy feat. Growing a marketing mix to include multiple channels demands significant investments of budgets and resources. But in this rapidly changing, consumer-first world, these achievements no longer suffice on their own. For brands to really command consumer attention and loyalty, they must find a way to bridge the gap between their offerings with a move toward a cohesive and consistent, omnichannel ecosystem.

omnichannel evolution

Achieving an omnichannel environment is not an impossible feat, in fact, many retailers, including Nordstrom and Target, already boast a successful omnichannel model.  These brands have opened customers’ eyes to what a holistic retail experience can be. . From relevant and prompt messaging, to compelling and channel-appropriate creative, the marketing power of Nordstrom and Target lies in their abilities to tell fluent, and continuously unfolding brand stories that facilitate their customer’s lifestyle behaviors without interruption.

To set the stage for long-term success, the conversation must be driven by the consumer. A primary goal is to find the exact mix of channels and technology that will enable a marketing program to scale and ultimately achieve the highest ROI in this omni-channel world.

Stay tuned for the final series of this three part segment as we uncover investments necessary to achieve omnichannel success.

Posted in Direct Mail, Direct Marketing, Merchandise, Merchandise Catalogs, Offline Marketing, Omnichannel, Online Marketing, Retail | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Back to the Future

A three part series exploring the marketing progression of home furnishings retailers

In a sea of digital content, a consumer’s path to purchase has become even more complex. Retailers are competing against, not only competitors, but also blogs, social media and lifestyle sites with inspirational and aspirational content. Having a presence throughout the customer journey is vital for any retailer to accomplish both revenue and brand goals and this especially holds true for the home market.

Across the board, home retail furnishers and providers are experiencing static sales growth.  With $30 billion in annual revenue and only a 1.9% annual growth rate, the need to evolve is essential as not one home retailer is standing above the crowd for all advertising touch points.

This blog series will explore guiding trends of the home market and uncover the essential opportunities that face this competitive marketplace. But before we can analyze the present, and predict the future, we need to take a step back and look at where the home market advertising started and how it engaged with consumers.

Retro:  What is old is new again?

The foundation for many home retailers started with catalogs – and for good reason. Home catalogs are a powerful way to engage a target audience and provide the visual real estate to tell a unique brand story.  Recipients open catalogs showcasing perfect floor layouts and decorative touches.  This forces consumers to reexamine their own surroundings and perhaps opt to upgrade to products featured within those glossy pages.  When mailed to the right audience with the right content and frequency, the catalog is a forceful way to represent a brand while also generating sales.  Nearly every consumer has a mailing address, which has allowed home retailers an expansive reach to uncover the right audiences for their offer.  Along with data enhancements, a catalog provides a one-two punch for dynamic audience-to-format targeting.

For home retailers, catalogs or source books, are still just as integral to brand marketing and sales strategies as they were 10 years ago; however the science has evolved. As consumers, we now expect to see regular mailers from the likes of Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, West Elm and Restoration Hardware. However, despite consumers’ preconceived expectations of these catalog offerings, retailers are still finding that they can infuse an element of surprise within traditional direct mail strategies.

In early June, targeted consumers across the country found a hefty shrink wrapped delivery of source books ranging from 13-17 pounds.  While most of the industry was reducing page counts and cadence, Restoration Hardware introduced one sourcebook mailing to serve as the authoritative voice for an entire calendar year. Restoration Hardware customers are familiar with supersized books from the brand, with some of their past books weighing in at 8 pounds. But this year, the furnishing company pushed their tried and true mailing tactics to the extreme. The brand initiated a bold direct mail play that incorporated the brand’s style and identity while igniting mass customer response.  While some recipients were too baffled or annoyed to even bother cutting through the shrink wrap, those whose curiosities were piqued found an introduction or explanation of the new and enlarged annual source books. Recognizing the need for reinvigoration, Restoration Hardware is initiating a new brand model of less frequency and higher impact. Now, selected consumers will receive deliveries from the brand once a year. The annual source books encompass every piece and collection Restoration has to offer for the year, allowing recipients to collect and maintain a vast library of everything they could possibly want or need in home design.

This direct mail shakeup reinvigorated word of mouth marketing buzz for the home furnishings vertical, proving that there continues to be a place for direct mail traditions to cultivate engagement and inspiration despite this increasingly digital and mobile-first age. However, the challenge for these retailers will be to constantly innovate within a tried and true practice by further aligning marketing channels and efforts.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series, where I will expand upon the current media mix challenges facing home retailers today.


Posted in Consumer Publishing, Direct Mail, Direct Marketing, Merchandise, Merchandise Catalogs, Offline Marketing, Omnichannel, Retail | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

Ecommerce to Retail: The Next Act

Ecommerce has transformed every aspect of the retail industry. For retailers, the benefits of an ecommerce system are endless – increased customer touch points, money saved on real estate, efficiency and so on. Retail has also opened the gateway for newcomers to make their mark. No longer do designers, artisans and entrepreneurs have to depend on location to drive traffic and build brand awareness. Yet, as many retailers are coming to agree upon – ecommerce cannot do it all.

Yes, brands can invest in UX, rich media and immersive experiences to create an encompassing web portal that commands users’ attention spans and interests. But deploying engaging, socially-driven initiatives can only take you so far when you’re separated from your customers by a screen.  Sure, some retail sites implement customized tools for more personal shopping experiences– allowing users to upload pictures of themselves to virtually try on glasses and accessories.  While this is an enchanting feature for users, nothing beats the reality of physically touching a product, trying it on and studying yourself in a mirror. On a fundamental level, retailers are in the business of appealing to consumers’ senses, and through desktop and mobile screens, they are stilted by a lack of physical engagement.

As ecommerce came to fruition in the 90s, there was a vast movement to traverse from bricks to clicks; if retailers weren’t seen online then they were behind the times. Today, it’s more uncommon to find a brand without a digital presence than not. But those that are natively digital, are increasingly dissatisfied with the finite dimension of ecommerce, and as a result, more online brands are making the jump to traditional retail stores. From Rent the Runway to Warby Parker, Bonobos, and, most notably, Amazon, implementing an offline presence has the power to transform brand identities much like an online store did 15-20 years ago.  However, there is one, distinguishing factor separating these movements – today’s offline push is not necessarily driven by sales. Rather, the decision to go from clicks to bricks stems from brands’ desires to forge deeper, long-term customer relationships.

When Birchbox, the monthly makeup subscription box, first announced that they were developing a bricks and mortar location in SoHo, many could not possibly fathom what a physical store could realistically do for a retail business model decidedly steeped in ecommerce. Could the sales that they could possibly generate from one store location really keep up with their online subscription rates? Probably not.  However, a permanent store is the perfect vehicle for Birchbox, the brand, to flourish. As a monthly delivery makeup brand, Birchbox was able to resonate with legions of women craving new beauty product insights and inspiration. Subscribers received boxes filled with monthly samples of the latest products makeup and skincare brands have to offer – granting them the opportunity to test products out before investing in them. With a store presence, Birchbox is able to further flesh out this try-before you buy mentality. Their SoHo New York store allows shoppers a place to see smell and touch the products within Birchbox’s inventory to build their own boxes. The brand is also using the store as a means of aligning themselves more closely within their target audience’s overall lifestyle interests by offering non beauty products that assimilate with the brand’s aesthetic. While an offline store for an online brand certainly generate word of mouth buzz, even more so, it generates valuable customer data.

Big data is an inescapable term for every retailer today, and the challenge now lies within turning big data into actionable data. Sure, brands like Birchbox and Warby Parker can monitor their customers’ behaviors and clicks on their sites and social properties. But the ability to actually observe how customers interact with your products in real life is exceedingly valuable. Brands that make the jump from clicks to bricks are not satisfied with the status quo; they know that customers are fickle and competition is high, and the only way to carve out a lasting brand identity is to continuously create experiences that acquiesce to every facet of customers’ increasing needs and wants. We all know that retail needs ecommerce.  But, ecommerce needing retail… who would have thought?

Posted in Apparel, Merchandise, Offline Marketing, Omnichannel, Online Marketing, Retail | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Seasonal Retail Disorder

After what many have described as the worst winter ever, signs of spring have finally arrived. While that may not mean lasting sunshine and balmy temperatures for a few more weeks, it certainly means that we are finally moving beyond hearing the words “polar vortex.”

Just as seasonal temperatures can easily influence our moods, they can also easily sway our spending habits. Retailers including Walmart and Kohls have reported soft 2014 Q1 figures and many are attributing the decline to Mother Nature. Inclement conditions obviously affect consumers’ willingness to travel but also decrease the desire to shop as mostly all revenue channels are down for Q1.

Now that the worst (hopefully) is behind us, retail marketers must find ways to drive traffic again to accommodate the waning winter numbers.  Inventory levels are the highest concern specifically with seasonal merchandise.

It is essential to view short term merchandise strategies while keeping an eye on overall profitability.  Before retailers move to liquidation, there are strategic methods to better maintain margin. Product-driven messaging, offers and media mix will be vital in the upcoming weeks to generate revenue.

Below are strategic marketing initiatives that can be utilized to move excess merchandise without moving directly to liquidation:

  • Closely evaluate inventory trends and performance daily.  With the change in the weather, deep discounts and giveaways may not be necessary as performance may significantly increase with warmer days.
  • Add marketing events to provide additional exposure in early Q2.
    • Evaluate those media programs that are more flexible in flight times and spend to offset slower Q1 curves.
    • Utilize your customer data for high touch, customized messaging.
      • Personalized emails provide agility to feature product based messaging and to cross sell complementary items (“if you like pillows, you may also like our selection of throws”) as well as increase overall units.
      • Emphasize drive to web or drive to retail messaging to provide consumers quick and efficient ways to your store.
      • Utilize alternative promotions, such as BOGO, tiered offers, $ or % off specific product lines. There will be a hit to the overall margin but these promotions tend to yield stronger margin than liquidation or close out prices.
        • Create urgency to shop now (i.e. “Today Only”).
        • J. Crew recently utilized the urgency in their messaging  and applied discounts on selected merchandise as well.
  • Build incremental keyword campaigns with different budgetary thresholds for those product lines with high inventory levels.
  • Evaluate and test additional media that provides scale and agility like display, affiliates and remarketing where messaging and creative can be customized and product based.
  • And last but not least, utilize customized landing pages that directly are tied to the product pages with excess inventory.

These are a few tactics to aid with the declines that Mother Nature has generated for retailers this spring.  These short term solutions yield stronger margins than close outs or liquidation.  Let’s say farewell to winter and welcome spring new “short term” opportunities.


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Pop Goes the Retailer

Shopping today is not what it was even a year ago as consumers expect an interactive, round-the-clock experience with retailers.  A retailer’s challenge now is in creating a 3D environment where a consumer can shop as well as build a personal connection to the brand. Whether through Kindle’s Mayday button or the latest social media phenomenon, retailers are searching for ways to bring their brand to life with consumers.

One of the vehicles used to solve this problem is the use of the newly designed pop up shops.

Historically, pop up shops were a logical solution for brands featuring products with a short shelf life while gaining visibility at the right time and place.  Pop ups were used to create interest, exposure and engage customers in a unique way differing from traditional brick and mortar.

As with any life cycle, these temporary shopping locations went through a transformative period in the past few years and now serve many diverse purposes. No longer relegated to one-time use merchandise, brands are recognizing the inherent value in temporary locations and shoppers are responding. Pop ups provide an enriched playground to gain customer insights, reach new audiences, move inventory, enhance brand visibility, test new markets and improve market knowledge with minimal commitment and reduced risk. 

Pop-up shops today are capable of bridging the gap between traditional retail and digital etail, and communicate the brand story. Both brick and mortar and etailers are looking for a physical space to attract crowds, take advantage of existing foot traffic, expand brand presence and a build connection with consumers. Pop ups can be used to establish a brand story through interactive technology and one-to-one assistance, which also drives shoppers to share and explore products online and through social media after their visit.  

Even brands as authoritative as Google are using pop-up shops for testing before fully investing. While Google has refocused much of its attention around retail product development, it still lacks face-to-face interaction with consumers. While the brand could easily utilize any retail space in the world, it has recently chosen to experiment with the pop up concept while promoting the Nexus 7, Chromecast and Chromebooks before the 2013 holiday season. These temporary locations, dubbed Winter Wonderland Labs, offer experiential engagement. Google’s products do not necessarily need aggressive publicity but users are unaccustomed to engaging with the brand outside of their own homes, and these temporary retail experiences offer innovative engagement that not only has the potential of increasing product awareness, but also the potential of redefining consumer ideas about one of the biggest companies in the world.











As I mentioned in my previous post, Sweaty Betty is one brand who utilized pop ups to establish relationships with foreign customers as they embarked on a new market. Their pop-up experience resonated so well with shoppers that the UK brand was inspired to open a set of permanent doors in New York.

Kate Spade is another brand who utilizes pop-up shops to their full extent. The well-known brand boasts permanent retail locations throughout the world; however a temporary shop offers the brand the freedom to experiment with new formats while launching new collaborations and product lines.  Their recent interactive window with eBay helped ignite excitement around the company’s new endeavor, Kate Spade Saturday. This window, although novel to passersby on New York’s crowded streets this past summer, may have also presented the window into the future of pop-ups and retail as a whole.  Taking the form of a giant tablet, this window allowed interested shoppers to tap on products to read reviews, see outfit combinations and even order using their PayPal account for same day delivery all without the brand having to rack up the costs of maintaining on-site inventory and staff.











As evidenced by recent brand forays into the world of temporary shops, pop ups will continue to be an essential component to both on and offline retail as they allow brands the freedom to experiment with their product, sales plan and audience interactions.

In these changing times, shopping vehicles will improve to provide a comprehensive role that will only benefit the consumer by blurring the lines of offline and online through a different and more personal experience.





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Sightings: Valentine’s Day 2011

While traditional Valentine’s Day presents like gourmet chocolates, jewelry and roses remain ever popular, here are some marketers we’ve tracked promoting unique, and often customizable, gift options.

Note: Click on any promotion graphic for a more complete view.

Assuring the gift giver that the recipient will “fall in love again and again,” an email from Apple promoted its iPad as a truly memorable gift this Valentine’s Day. Romantic images appear on three iPads, highlighting the wide selection of apps, games, movies, books and more available via the tablet. Free personalization for the iPad (“Write your own romance”) and free shipping were offered with online orders.  Options in the Apple Store’s Engraving Gallery include the upcoming holiday (e.g. “Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m all yours. And so is this.”) as well as other occasions like birthdays, congratulations and thanks.

Vitals: email, delivered 1/30/11

An email from modern decor retailer West Elm encouraged recipients to “Give from the heart” and shop for gifts “you’re sure to fall for.”  The email featured several products that all incorporate a Valentine’s Day sentiment, including frames (“Now 20% off”), eGift Cards and handmade papier-mâché heart ornaments.  The hearts for Haiti are designed in coordination with the Hand/Eye Fund which is the philanthropic outlet of Hand/Eye magazine supporting an artisans collaborative in Port au Prince, Haiti.

Vitals: email, delivered 2/2/11

Ralph Lauren took a unique approach for Valentine’s by featuring dog polos in an email with the subject: “Puppy Love & Perfect Gifts: Valentine’s Day 2011.”  Shoppers were encouraged to “Find something special for your Valentine” by clicking through to categories like Men, Women, Boys, Girls, Baby, Pup.  Deadlines were given for holiday delivery and the email offered free shipping with $195+ orders and $8 flat-rate shipping on orders under $195.

Vitals: email, delivered 2/2/11

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Sightings: Black Friday 2010 Promotions

Given all the press “Black Friday creep” has been getting, it’s not surprising how many Black Friday-themed promotions MarketRelevance has been seeing already this fall.  Originally reserved for the Friday following Thanksgiving, (and referring to when a retailer typically sees the accounting switch from red ink to black), “Black Friday” now clearly has been recast to refer broadly to sales and discount shopping. Beyond calling for “Black Friday Now,” most of the retailers we’ve rounded up below are also offering savings to consumers through membership clubs, layaway, in-house credit cards and discounted shipping. Notable MarketRelevance promotions covered below include Collections Etc., Woman Within, Tiger Direct, Sears and Kmart.

Note: Click on any promotion graphic for a more complete view.

Collections Etc.
Collections Etc. asks “Why fight the crowds and long lines next month, when you can get in on the action Now and Save Up to 65% + $1 Shipping. No minimum order quantity required… Shop Now!” The discount gift, home and general merchandiser sells most products for $14.99 or less. The email also promotes the marketer’s Green & Gold Savings Club, which qualifies the member for 10% savings on every purchase for a year.

Vitals: email, delivered 10/27/10

Woman Within
Redcats’ plus size women’s apparel marketer Woman Within sent an email announcing “Black Friday Now! Extra 30% off all orders, 48 hrs only.” The festive red and green creative includes a woman dressed in Santa gear and the text: “Holiday shop preview from $9.99.” Several product categories like “little black dress shop,” “50% off shop” and “national bra brands from $14” are highlighted. The promotion also features a catalog request link and allows recipients to click through to apply for the marketer’s affinity credit card, teasing, “save up to $300 annually when you open a Woman Within credit card account.”

Vitals: email, delivered 11/5/10

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Sightings: Thanksgiving 2010 Email and Catalog Promotions

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, here’s a look at some promotions that cater to the Fall harvest tradition, and kick off the upcoming holiday season.  Noteworthy promotions tracked by MarketRelevance include efforts from Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, NapaStyle, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Harriet Carter.

Note: Click on any promotion graphic for a more complete view.

Pottery Barn Offers Thanks
The November 2010 print catalog from Williams-Sonoma’s home furnishings brand Pottery Barn reads “Give Thanks” and displays a festive turkey-themed table setting on the cover. Inside, all the items needed to outfit the Thanksgiving Day celebration are available, from the dining room table to napkins and decor. Specific products include the Toscana Dining Collection ($3,632), individual Windsor Dining Chairs ($159 – $199), and the Bellora Chandelier ($239). Looking ahead to upcoming holidays, Christmas decor is also offered, including an assortment of ornaments, stockings, and wreathes. A few versions of the November effort were tracked, with varying page counts and incentives, including 10% off all orders and a 10% affinity credit card reward.

Vitals: direct mail, delivered 10/9/10, 10/12/10, 10/13/10, 10½” x 8”

A Few Favorite Things from NapaStyle
NapaStyle also kicked off its annual holiday season with a print catalog featuring 75 new products for entertaining.  Founded by Food Network personality chef Michael Chiarello, NapaStyle specializes in food, furniture, home decor and kitchen items that embody Northern California. Copy (“Bright Cooper Tumblers and… Warm Golden Candles…”) plays on “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. A note from the founder lists some of Chiarello’s favorite products, including the Silverwood Bowls & Cheese Tray ($99 – $199), along with exclusives from the retailer like a Vintage Champagne Bucket ($249), and Vintage Bells by the Pound ($39 – $99).

Vitals: direct mail, delivered 10/5/10, 10½” x 8”

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Multichannel Snapshot: The Gardening Sector

Now that warmer weather is here, we decided to take a look at retailers that offer seeds, bulbs, plants and trees, along with gardening tools and gift items for those with a green thumb.  A quick review of both online and offline data shows that the sector has done well across channels — particularly in these more frugal, back-to-basics times.

Interest in vegetable gardens, for example, has increased in recent years, as many seek more control over their food sources and look for ways to save money in a lean economy.  Per a National Gardening Association survey, the reasons consumers give for growing their own food include better quality, better taste, food safety and money saved on food bills. The NGA survey reports a 19% increase in the number of U.S. households growing their own fruits, vegetables, berries, and herbs in 2009. Even First Lady Michelle Obama put in a vegetable garden at the White House in 2009, the first in over 50 years.

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Recent Trends in the Gifts Catalog Market

Last month I highlighted some of our MarketTrends findings for the Apparel catalog sector, noting that while list universes were down in 2009, things were looking up for the area in 2010.

On the flip side, one of our other recent studies covers the Gifts/Collectibles market, and while our findings show similar universe losses, signs of a speedy turnaround are not quite as obvious.  To be sure, the economy and unemployment have a significant impact on sales for non-essential gift items.  But equally important are changes within the category itself.  With the product expansion we’ve seen in larger gift titles, flat or discount pricing strategies, and the growth of smaller boutique books, the catalog gift market seems to be in the midst of its own unique transition.

For clarity, what we currently call the “Gifts/Collectibles” market is made up of marketers with a year-round product mix focused primarily on gift giving.  Mailers in this category include a variety of well-known titles like Potpourri, Red Envelope and Signals.  We do not include toy catalogers in this set.

To illustrate some of the challenges from the past two years, below is a look at the active 12 month buyer universe for over 100 gift catalogs.

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