BOSTON— The furniture shopping experience as available to consumers today is changing radically, and Wayfair.com is contributing to that dynamic in a number of ways including, recently, the launch of an interior design service that makes professional help accessible to just about any consumer.
Blair Kenary, head of Wayfair Design Services, said the idea behind the program to is to help shoppers execute on their home décor ideas conveniently and without having to spend a fortune.
Design Services, available on the Wayfair website, arrived as two packages each of which covers a one-room project. The Lite Package, which costs $79, gives consumers access to a professional interior designer of their choice among those participating in the program. The designer creates a room concept based on consumer input with up to two revisions available. Design Services clients get up to 30 minutes of phone time with their designated designers and unlimited messaging communications. Once a Design Services customer picks out the furnishings that complete the design scheme created, Wayfair generates a customized shopping list from its assortment and provides styling tips.
The Classic Package, at $149, provides all the services included in the Lite Package plus double the designer phone time and a 2D room rendering of the room scheme created, with one revision available.
Consumers can work with Design Services via desktop or mobile device. To get started, they fill out a style survey that covers not only favorite looks but also specifics about the room that’s involved and budget parameters for the intended project. From there, consumers review the designers participating in the program, whose job includes making the most of customer time and budget. To back up the service, Wayfair provides a “happiness guarantee,” so Design Services users understand that they can reach out to the e-tailer with any concerns.
Design Services covers projects for living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms, guest rooms, home offices, nurseries and kids’ rooms, hallways and entryways, and outdoor spaces. It does not cover kitchens, bathrooms, installations, renovations and commercial or non-residential spaces, at least not at this time.
Kenary said that, in part, the Design Services program is an extension of the approach to the consumer Wayfair has been refining for years, which involves offering a vast selection while providing tools that customize the shopping process. In that manner, the e-tailer helps ensure that the time customers spend on the site is to their purposes.
Wayfair helped popularize the notion of curating product assortments to help consumers efficiently connect with those products that best satisfy their tastes. Lately, it has focused on ensuring that product selections not only suit individual style preferences but also work in the context of the rooms where consumers intend to place them. After all, just because a consumer likes a sofa doesn’t mean that, in placement, it won’t clash with other room elements, be they tables, lamps or even wallpaper. As such, Wayfair has added virtual reality features that allow consumers to get a sense of how a piece of furniture fits in a room in both style and scale terms.
Now, Design Services provides a new set of features and tools that can give shoppers even more confidence in selecting their home furnishings, Kenary said.
Although it is an extension of the core Wayfair approach to consumers, the Design Services program has a key group of shoppers in mind.
“We’re targeting the home enthusiast who needs some help bringing a vision to life,” Kenary told HOMEWORLD BUSINESS®.
Wayfair developed the program to provide flexibility in use so that consumers can budget and engage to their own priorities.
“Depending on the project, the same person could use both the Lite package, which is great for someone who knows how they want to arrange things but needs help picking products, and the Classic package, which is good when the customer needs some help with space planning,” Kenary said.
Of course, the designers participating in the Design Services program are the critical link between consumers and the room spaces that will constitute their ideal home. Wayfair already is engaged with interior designers through its Wayfair Professional business. Given that connection, the company has a familiarity that supports its Design Services recruitment and professional development.
“The designers we have are all third party,” Kenary said. “They go through an application and vetting process. As part of that process, we’ve been interviewing them, looking at past work, evaluating portfolios based on quality of work but not necessarily any specific credentials. Once accepted to the program, we have an onboarding experience where they test out the tools. Then we have a dedicated support team that works with the designers on an ongoing basis.”
Wayfair currently is communicating what Design Services is about to customers across its marketing channels and plans to follow up on what resonates. Promotion of the service will include all Wayfair retail brands. At the same time, as it ponders the evolution of Design Services, Wayfair is considering creating different program packages and tying in additional features such as 3D technology to give consumers an even better view to what they can do with their rooms.
“As we roll out new, innovative technologies, we want to make them broadly accessible, and we will incorporate that into Design Services. We want to make great innovation available to all Wayfair customers,” Kenary said.
Today, she noted, consumers may face more complex interior design challenges approaching small-space and open floor plan domestic spaces that they will functionally define through use of furnishings. Today, even homes being built with wall divisions are often designed for flexibility, so that the living room might be established in a room at the back or the front of the house rather than in a pre-designated location. In those circumstances, consumers can use furnishings to assemble their homes in unique ways.
Consumers may need to put more thought into how to make their non-traditional spaces livable.
“We can help with a great solution to that kind of challenge,” Kenary said.
At the same time, Wayfair has worked to make engaging with Design Services agreeable. The e-tailer has divided the program, essentially, into three steps from the initial survey through choosing a designer through putting together a room plan. In addition, it offers consumers options as to how they can engage the program.
“We want it to feel very simple, easy and extremely collaborative,” Kenary said. “With that in mind, we built a platform that is available for all devices. We know consumers are on the go. It’s easy for them to communicate with our designers. They can talk or message through the platform, so the designer and the customer have a great connection and a collaborative experience.”
She added, broadly, across Wayfair, “we are trying to meet consumers where they are. We make sure our tools work in mobile as well as desktop.”
As to what consumers are looking for as the Design Services program is breaking, Kenary said shoppers are focused on expressing personal style. Still, the nitty-gritty effort to get from a personal vision to purchasing furnishings that express that style can get complicated, and a little more so than consumers might want to tackle alone.
“There is a lot more mixing of styles,” she said. “We hear that a lot from our customers: ‘I’m not just into mid-century, I’m not just into farmhouse.’ So it’s hard on customers who are on their own to pull all that together. A huge value of the program is that we help with that.”
Both retailers and vendors have acknowledged that a new eclecticism has been driving the market, one that involves combining trending styles in unique ways, as in the combination of mid-century modern, transitional and farmhouse pieces, for example. Although taking the eclectic route can personalize a room look, the effort of finding individual furnishings that have enough in common to combine can be a fairly daunting proposition.
“In a variety of use cases, we hear they’ve tried to do it themselves but not been satisfied,” Kenary said. “To add to that, in the age of social media and home renovation television, consumers have this idea of perfection. They want to have that in their own homes. And it’s also a time when consumers are looking for ways to get some help in the process. Design Services can help people get that.”
Consumers who are determined to get the home of their dreams are likely to look for resources that are available and within their means. Through Design Services, Wayfair is providing consumers who are intent on fulfilling their dwelling dreams an affordable way to realize their visions.
“People want a home that is uniquely them,” Kenary said. “They want to get to a space they can love. We make it easy and simple to get something personalized and tailored to them.”