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Pottery Barn Builds Its Online Home

Williams-Sonoma Inc. yesterday entered the next phase in its e-commerce strategy by introducing its Pottery Barn brand online.

The new site at www.potterybarn.com will feature 2,000 items, mirroring the retailer's catalog and featuring a selection from the stores. The online store will be strong on tabletop items such as plates and tableware, and decorative accessories. The company is also betting big on furniture, said Shelley Nandkeolyar, vice president of e-commerce at Williams-Sonoma Inc., San Francisco.

“The reason I'm very big on furniture is because, at the end of the day, furniture is a considered purchase,” he said. “Something that you buy over a couple of visits.”

Nandkeolyar feels that once Pottery Barn consumers check the furniture in stores, take measurements at home and choose colors and fabrics, they will opt for the convenience of buying online.

While current in-store customers will make up the majority of shoppers at the new site, Nandkeolyar thinks it also will develop plenty of first-time Pottery Barn shoppers.

“Probably what we're finding out with the other business that we have online, Williams-Sonoma.com, is that almost 25 percent of our customers are new to the franchise,” Nandkeolyar said. “So, I think, we'll end up acquiring 25 percent to 30 percent [of] customers who'll be new to the Pottery Barn franchise.”

Online players in the home furnishings market include Internet-only e-tailers such as furniture.com and living.com, and traditional retailers such as Crate & Barrel, Bombay Co. and Restoration Hardware. Cataloger Hanover Direct also has an online presence through sites for Kitchen & Home, Domestications and Company Store.

“But really there isn't a solid player online today as in a branded player,” Williams-Sonoma's Nandkeolyar said.

Potterybarn.com went live with fall home furniture, tableware and accessories collections. Consumers can shop by category, collection or room, with a design studio section that offers ideas and tips. The Catalog Quick Order function allows visitors to enter the item number from the catalog and make the purchase online.

The marketer is enthused about the seasonal home tour feature, which will get refreshed four times a year. The feature takes an entire house and furnishes it with Pottery Barn products in the season's colors and look. This feature is restricted to potterybarn.com.

“The interesting thing is that our site is fully linked into the back-order inventory management and the order-processing systems,” Nandkeolyar said, “so when you're online it gives in-the-moment knowledge of whether the item is in stock or not.”

Potterybarn.com is Williams-Sonoma's second e-commerce venture after the flagship brand was launched last year at www.williams-sonoma.com. Other brands in the family that are not yet online are Pottery Barn Kids, Hold Everything and Chambers.

Williams-Sonoma also has affiliate relationships with CondeNet's epicurious.com and WeddingChannel.com.

Nandkeolyar said his company will marshal resources and vehicles behind potterybarn.com. This will include the Web address on collateral such as bags and counter cards across the more than 100 Pottery Barn stores in 30 states, and print ads in major dailies nationwide.

Also, the catalog will feature a gatefold ad that informs readers of the new online shopping option. The retailer mails over 80 million catalogs each year to potential and existing customers in the United States and its territories.

“We haven't done a real accurate media value of it but I would hazard that [the ad and marketing budget] is in excess of $3 million to $5 million,” Nandkeolyar said.

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