Plow & Hearth Plants New Online Strategy

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Furniture cataloger and retailer Plow & Hearth wants to better tie its online strategy with its catalogs and three retail stores when it relaunches its Web site in September.

"The Internet strategy at the end of the day here is to provide a logical online version of the offline catalog [that] conveys the brand image but [allows] the online customer to leverage it," said Bruce Goodman, chief Web architect at Plow & Hearth agency Digital Pulp Inc., New York. now accounts for 20 percent of sales across all channels, including the retail stores and monthly Plow & Hearth Country Home and Plow & Hearth Products for Country Living catalogs. All properties target homeowners and women ages 35 to 54.

"Catalogs sell product very well, but they have a pretty short shelf life," said Pete Rice, vice president of marketing at Plow & Hearth, Madison, VA, a company. "The Internet, with catalog and e-mail support, will allow customers to transact with us more often because our Web site is always there."

Visitors to now find products listed under sections such as Top Sellers and Featured Shopping. The range includes gardening books, fencing and edging items, dining accessories, bird feeders, hammocks and swings, outdoor lighting, containers and arbors and trellises.

But the site has done little to better acknowledge events and seasons or capitalize on its content, which includes sections on gardening, home decorating and outdoor living.

"A lot of people are going through some of the content on the site," Goodman said. "What that says is that they're coming here for content."

The questions, then, he said, are "do we bring seasonality into content and you base your marketing strategy on seasonality, and how much of that do you bring to the home page and how much of that is tied back to the catalog?"

Changes planned for include easier navigation, better product display reflecting the entire offering and a simplified buying and checkout process.

The site has not evolved with the online shopper, Goodman said, nor has it kept pace with the company's catalogs.

"Right now, the [Plow & Hearth] catalogs are becoming much more playful and much more event-focused," Goodman said, "and the site needs to help convey that, which it is not currently doing."

The checkout process is getting special attention.

"The original checkout design was not done with the customer enough in mind," Rice said. "It's so many subtle things, but anything from a pre-checked box to what happens when you click on an item to add to your cart. Certain people expect certain things to happen, and when those things don't happen, they get nervous. Our customer is an older customer base, and I think the combination of new technology and putting your credit card online raises anxiety levels."

The company also hopes to improve its use of upsells and cross-sells.

"There's more potential for upselling and cross-selling on the Internet because there's more time than the average phone call that lasts three minutes," Rice said.

Equally important to this effort is raising the site's visibility. To this end, Plow & Hearth will run targeted banner ads and keyword banners, plug the site in its catalogs and package inserts, send e-mails to its house files and look to enter affiliate relationships.

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