Pier 1 shelves catalog

Maybe Pier 1 isn’t meant to be in the direct business. The home furnishings and decor retailer announced in June it was shuttering its three-year-old catalog and its seven-year-old e-commerce site by the end of this month.

The struggling Pier 1 wants to focus on its stores, though it is planning to close 100 stores by the end of this year. The company says it will continue to operate a Website for marketing purposes.

Pier 1 began testing the print catalog in fall 2004. It rolled out with a nationwide drop of 2 million copies of an 80-page book in September 2005. The merchant had mailed a catalog for two years in the mid-1980s, but stopped it in 1986 to focus on growing its store chain.

Why can’t Pier 1 seem to make a go of its e-commerce and catalog businesses? Jon Schreibfeder, president of retail consultancy Effective Inventory Management, thinks the retailer’s product line is not a fit with the Web. “I am seeing a lot of people having problems with Internet sales across the board,” he says.

“I’m not sure demand is as high over the Internet as people might think.”

Pier 1 carries a lot of impulse items, Schreibfeder notes, “but it’s hard to sell that over the Internet because these are physical items that need to be felt and touched.”

More important, customers just aren’t responding to Pier 1’s offerings. For the fiscal first quarter ended June 2, it posted a loss of $56.4 million, compared with a loss of $23.2 million for the period last year. Pier 1’s sales for the quarter fell 5.2% to $356.4 million.

The company may one day take another crack at the catalog business, however.

“With business the way it is, we really have to focus on our core business in stores,” says Pier 1 spokesperson Misty Otto. “Once business improves and gets back on track, we’d look at another e-commerce site in the future and catalogs would be a possibility.”

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