Wayfair Grows Furniture Scope With Eye On Consumer Needs

BOSTON— More attention may be paid to Wayfair’s growth in scope, as in the expansion in Europe, and assortment, with its forays into housewares, not to mention nascent efforts to establish a brick-and-mortar presence. But Ryan Fitzpatrick, Wayfair’s head general manager for furniture and décor, told HOMEWORLD BUSINESS® that development of the core operation, including an ongoing refinement of technology and a furnishings assortment expansion progressing from a dynamic private label program, remain critical to the basic mission of satisfying the home fashion shopper.

Fitzpatrick said Wayfair has been employing its research to determine what works across its e-tailing platform and to guide development of its curation and navigation functions. The conception is to give consumers more shopping options across a wider product range, providing more choice in how to shop its main and specialty websites, ultimately to help customers readily discover products that satisfy them.

The company’s navigation and curation expertise offer consumers convenient access to the 14 million SKUs available across Wayfair’s e-tailing platform and, the company intends, provides them a better chance to find what they want than might otherwise be the case in the virtual shopping universe, which, ultimately, is the basis of Wayfair’s market position.

At the same time, Wayfair is gathering, processing and using data to generate information consumers need in new and more useful ways so the shopping task becomes that much easier. In that way, Wayfair keeps increasing the odds that shoppers will have a satisfactory experience finding something that suits their specific preferences.

“We try to carry as much assortment across all home furnishings categories as possible because, at the end of the day, we work for the customer and want to give her what she wants,” Fitzpatrick said. “Whether those items are going live on Wayfair or one of our specialty brands, it’s really about the customer being able to find what resonates with her. We’re able to have such a wide catalog because of the navigation experience where we collect a lot of data about the products and information the customer needs in the purchasing process. We’re capturing that even before we add the item, so as a consumer, I’m able to go and be able to pick.”

Technology is key to Wayfair’s ability to serve the consumer, but, Fitzpatrick said, that’s only one way the company is working to make shopping with it better. He said the company’s private label strategy is critical to the company being able to provide consumers with a means of quickly reaching the kinds of products they are most interested in purchasing.

“We have over 80 house brands and those brands vary by pricepoint and aesthetic, so we have some brands that are lower pricepoint traditional and a higher pricepoint traditional. Or we have a coastal brand, something that is for people who favor rustic,” he said.

Wayfair is working to make its assortment of private label products more cohesive to establish them as convenient touchstones for consumers whether they want to focus on a specific brand or use a brand as the basis of navigation to explore products that share key characteristics. On the site, shoppers can stick with a private label collection across various product segments to put together a room based on its qualities, or they can check out stylistically or more generally visually similar products. Shoppers shopping a given private label product, say a sofa, even have the opportunity to browse beyond based on more general terms such as cheap couches, deep comfy couches, apartment size sofa, studio apartment couches and single sofa chairs that not only connect with other items but also suggest to the consumer how to use search terms to better customize shopping.

Wayfair regularly updates is private labels once or twice a year to keep them in line with relevant market trends, he said. Still, that’s not meant to indicate that new products push out old. Rather, the company continues to look at adding to the product assortment to extend the customer’s range of choice. In that context, Wayfair private label efforts function as a basis for helping the shopper find what satisfies.

“That initiative has really allowed us to aggressively add product,” he said. “I think it gives us the platform to continue to do that, where, if we were to double our SKU count over the next five years, I think we would still have an experience that’s enjoyable, and she would be able to find what she wants quite easily.”

Wayfair, in its evolution, also is using advancing consumer sophistication to its advantage, in part by adding merchandise in a way that helps customers with more particular determinations.

Yet, Fitzpatrick pointed out, finding isn’t buying. Curation, navigation and private label initiatives may get consumers to those products that best fit their demands. However, Wayfair is focusing on other elements to encourage consumers to become customers.

To that end, Wayfair continues to pursue image improvement, including better quality photography, lifestyle presentation and even more ambitious visual qualities. Consumers don’t always buy the things they initially sought. Part of merchandising is attracting a shopper to a product, then presenting them with attractive alternatives. After all, some shoppers browse trendy items, then buy something more conservative, while others see something they like but only are prompted to purchase by a related product that’s jazzier. With that as reality, image becomes everything for the e-tailer, at least at the point where the virtual cash register rings.

“We’re able to generate rich photography that allows you to understand what may be an item that’s beyond your comfort zone, what it could look like curated in your home,” he said. “We have to do that to ensure the customer is engaged and excited.”

At the same time, Fitzpatrick said, Wayfair’s ability to provide new ideas, services and technological enhancements can provide consumers who have grown more involved with home fashion personally meaningful ways of connecting with the business. In some cases, having room idea presentations can suffice in that consumers can view representations that reflect their tastes, but Wayfair also has incorporated designer service with pricing tiered to fall within a wide range of budgets as well as technologically advanced augmented reality and an automated room planner, now available on the main Wayfair site, as other ways to bring consumers along to where they can purchase comfortably.

Fitzpatrick said that even if the proportion of consumers who use more advanced Wayfair features is relatively small now, in the future, as they become easier to use and the consumer becomes more familiar with them, emerging retail technologies will become the means of making shopping online not only more practical but preferred. In the end, advanced retail technologies may push online shopping to a new dimension because they make the consumer’s life easier.

“Virtual reality, augmented reality, we have to be a leader in that space,” Fitzpatrick said. “I looked at some of the categories today in upholstery: One of the biggest returns we have had is because the consumer ordered a sectional that doesn’t fit. You imagine being able to have high adoption of augmented reality so customers can see if the sectional is too big or too small. For us, we’re prepared for customers to be using that type of technology on a constant basis. So we need to have high quality models, we need to make sure those models work very well with the different smartphone devices as well as virtual reality devices. So, then, how do we leverage those models across our platform? On the merchandising front, we’re unlocking new ways for our customers to shop the catalog. It’s just a matter of how do we get as much of our assortment plugged into those parts of the platform and making the tools intuitive and simple to use.”

Fitzpatrick emphasized that Wayfair keeps moving from 2D to 3D imaging as it is looking to become even more visual, with more dynamic presentation including more lifestyle and even seasonal product photography becoming a greater consideration. Yet, ultimately, Wayfair’s moves aren’t about being flashier or fancier but simply to make the shopper’s life easier.