Omnichannel is a retail buzzword many pay lip service to, but few fully adopt. Williams-Sonoma is one of the anomalies: it has developed effective in-store and online purchase drivers among its West Elm, Pottery Barn and flagship properties without excessive reliance on discounts. According to EVP Patrick Connolly, who spoke at L2’s Clicks and Mortar Clinic, Williams-Sonoma’s success secret is a 20-year head start in omnichannel. The brand had started collecting home addresses for its catalogue business long before the existence of email marketing and display ads, and has adapted those techniques to digital. Here are a few omnichannel fundamentals in which Williams-Sonoma excels, taken from Connolly’s talk at the L2 Clinic.
Channel-Agnostic Compensation: Invested store employees who can direct consumers to the brand e-commerce page to order out-of-stock items are crucial to any omnichannel initiative getting off the ground. That’s unlikely to happen if they are only rewarded for sales that happen at the store. Connolly says Williams-Sonoma store employees are rewarded for online purchases they initiate, and returns are appropriated to the right channels to avoid penalizing them for returns of online merchandise. The channel-agnostic philosophy has roots at the enterprise, since stores were encouraged to distribute catalogues without fear of cannibalizing their segment.
Mining Data From Consumers: Williams-Sonoma brands can connect a name, email address, and physical addresses to 70% of purchases. That’s more than they typical retailer. Connolly says 50 million households have purchased from the retailer to date, and Williams-Sonoma tracks purchase histories across its seven brands. This large database of information is a gold mine of personalization opportunities, which the brand employs through cross-selling and email.
Personalized Email: Williams-Sonoma emails are a best-in-class example in personalization. In addition to a welcome email, Williams-Sonoma brands send emails showing items recently viewed on the brand site with the subject line “You’ve Got Great Taste”. Emails alert shoppers when a viewed item is discounted and provide recommendations based on browsing history. In short, Williams-Sonoma takes any opportunity for personalized email communication with the consumer, providing multiple paths to conversion.
Recognizing Mobile: Connolly works at Williams-Sonoma stores each holiday season and has noticed a trend of well-informed, mobile-savvy consumers. Consumers pull out their phone to compare prices, look up product reviews, and even verify if the item they are buying is the one requested. Connolly says close to half of Williams-Sonoma emails are opened on a mobile phone, which means emails should not just be functional on mobile but look as good as they do on desktop.
Flexible Inventory: Consumers have also become impatient, averse to standing in line or waiting for items to be backordered. When an item is out of stock online, Williams-Sonoma brands direct to nearby stores that have the item before listing it as back-ordered. Conversely, overstock store items are transferred to the online warehouse where they are more likely to be sold without markdowns.
Williams-Sonoma’s personalization and email tactics are innovative – and Genius – especially when compared to other retailers that have made discounts the forefront of their email marketing strategy. The home category is especially notorious for promoting discounts, as 88% of emails contain a discount in the subject or body.
A few of the biggest discounting offenders – J.Crew, Cole Haan, Tumi, Bloomingdales, and Ralph Lauren – can benefit from incorporating Williams-Sonoma’s personalization tactics into their marketing programs.
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