Pier pressure to be multichannel

I was surprised to get a catalog from Pier 1 Imports in the mail in early October. The home furnishings and decor retailer had dropped its three-year-old catalog (and its seven-year-old e-commerce site) in August 2007. Was it giving direct another go?

Nope. It turns out the 40-page slim-jim catalog is solely a retail traffic builder. That’s too bad, because the catalog had some nice things. And even though there is a Pier 1 in my town, I’d much rather pick up the phone to order, or go online.

I checked the Pier 1 Website and became even more frustrated. You can flip through the catalog online, you can click on “What’s in store” to get closeup shots of products and read descriptive copy, you can check prices — but you can’t make a purchase.

I also found it very strange that the site says, “We can’t show it all! See lots more at your local Pier 1 store.” Uh, why can’t they show it all? Don’t most retailers say that they can’t fit it all in the store or in the print catalog, so customers should go to the Website to view everything?

What’s more, I did visit my local Pier 1 — largely because it’s near a Costco store that I frequent — and it didn’t have many of the fabulous things promised in the mailer and on the site.

I don’t mean to dump on Pier 1 — the merchant has definitely had its struggles, and it’s a miserable time for decor and furniture mailers. (See our cover story, “Penny pinchers,” for more.)

But the company may have been too quick to ditch its direct channels. I’m not sure most consumers will understand why they can’t order from the catalog and Website — they both still look like direct-response vehicles.

What’s really a shame is that Pier 1’s merchants have found some unique products at good price points — not easy to do these days. (See “Make it your own” on page 36 for more on product development.) The retailer just makes it too hard to find and buy its goods in the multichannel age.

Hey, I probably would have bought something if I could have purchased direct.

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