Bombay Alters Internet Strategy

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The Bombay Company Inc., a retailer of traditional and colonial furniture and accessories, is changing its approach to the Internet.


The goal will be to use the Internet to drive sales to the catalog, 420-plus stores or online as part of a more aggressive multichannel retail strategy.


No longer will its three Web sites -- bombaycompany.com, bombaykids.com and bombayoutlet.com with a common checkout -- be silos unto themselves.


"I don't care where consumers buy," said Matt Corey, operating vice president of Internet at Bombay, Fort Worth, TX. "I want to leverage the power of the Web to allow them to research the products and buy in whatever channel they want."


The new approach coincides with Bombay's decision to rebrand itself after the August resignation of chairman/CEO Carmie Mehrlander. Under her watch, the company last fall replaced catalogs, Bombay's primary advertising vehicle, with newspaper ads and postcards. That strategy bombed at a time the furnishing category was growing.


Online, changes began in April when Corey moved to Bombay from a senior Internet position at The Home Depot Inc.


Though the lack of multichannel integration was one issue, so were things like product images, search, page design and a small database. Most stemmed from a lack of budget.


Take images, for instance. Shots zoom in only to a part of the product. Also, the images are not full-screen. An equally big problem is that most of the products were shot in silhouette against a white background.


"It's like showing a wine rack without wine bottles," Corey said. "We're going to leverage the images that we have in our catalogs for our Web sites because they just sell the product better."


Bombay's catalog imaging technology will be used to transfer images to bombaycompany.com.


"God knows we don't need to be redoing all of these images in three or four different sizes manually, and we'll be leveraging some imaging technology," he said.


In another reverse, Bombay sites will display products that may be out of stock in warehouses. A listed product that is unavailable online now carries a store locator link so consumers can see whether the item is available in a nearby Bombay store.


"Basically, the bottom line for me is making sure that anything you see in the store, you can find on the Web, even if it's not available for sale online," Corey said. "Eventually, if we're dramatically overstocked or we want to move certain clearance, we may be able to use Internet-based technologies like auctioning to sell those products."


Though Bombay is much smaller than Home Depot, Corey sees a transfer of lessons. At Home Depot, he was part of a team working to push 45,000 SKUs online. At Bombay, he inherited 1,200 SKUs. The three sites now boast 2,300 SKUs and are inching toward 3,000, matching offline inventory with online.


"It's easier to manage Internet operations when you've got 3,000 SKUs vs. 45,000," Corey said. "[Also,] Home Depot's tough because they don't have national pricing." By contrast, Bombay has introduced uniform pricing across all channels.


One element Corey borrowed from Home Depot is an idea center. Here, consumers get tips on how to decorate a room and accessorize. Home Depot also uses that tactic to lure people to stores, with its kitchen and bath design center on homedepot.com.


Bombay also upgraded search capabilities. For a long time, it used an out-of-the-box solution from IBM WebSphere, "canned search that isn't necessarily the smartest solution," Corey said.


The old search capability was not intuitive enough to find relevant results and often too liberal in retrieving items. New search technology from EasyAsk Inc., Littleton, MA, addresses that issue. Talbot's and Lands' End use the company's search, navigation and merchandising tools. EasyAsk's platform allows search results to be configured by product line, new introductions or highest-margin products.


"We think they've got a good solution for us," Corey said, "and certainly it's going to bring back very accurate search results, which will result in a higher conversion for us."


Entwined with that whole issue is page design. Previous Bombay sites made it difficult for consumers to look at a Web page and call a listed number for customer service. Now, each page has toll-free numbers for English and French dialogue, customer service hours, shipping and returns policies, store locator and e-mail contact. These details are mentioned at the bottom of each page.


Building a relationship with consumers is top of mind for Corey. To attract online business, the company has deals with MSN and Yahoo Shopping, an advertising partnership with CatalogCity.com, blurbs in its own catalogs and store signage. The retailer also sends e-mail, mostly once a month, sometimes twice.


"We haven't gotten into the affiliate programs or a whole lot of search engine optimization-type of work," Corey said. "But that'll start sometime next year. We'll look at all kinds of different programs. The programs that we look at from an Internet marketing standpoint will be programs that focus on pay-for-performance and a solid ROI."


When Corey arrived at Bombay, the company had only 25,000 names in its online database. A promotion offering a 10 percent discount on the next online order for registering for a free catalog or the e-mail newsletter has boosted the database to more than 100,000.


"Little things like that get people more involved," he said, "and they begin to realize that 'Oh, Bombay's newsletter is not spam.'"


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