Getting physical

Successful catalogers know what makes a print layout work, and many have also mastered the layout or navigation of a Website. But laying out a brick-and-mortar store is a brave new world for many multichannel merchants. Just as a play needs to be adapted before it can become a successful movie, the creative and merchandising tactics that work so well in print or online may need to be translated for retail success.

Yet when adapting to a different marketing and sales channel, one goal should remain constant: “to present a unified and clear picture of your brand that speaks with one voice — even though you are talking to different consumers with different needs,” says Jed Pogran, CEO of San Francisco-based Gump’s, a cataloger/retailer of upscale gifts and home furnishings.

Consistency across channels is the best way for customers to learn where things are. Try to keep customers from having to guess,” says Carol Worthington-Levy, a creative services partner for San Rafael, CA-based catalog consultancy Lenser.

Worthington-Levy uses kitchen products cataloger/retailer Williams-Sonoma as an example. Just as the San Francisco-based merchant’s print catalogs and Website offer recipes and cross-selling suggestions, the stores often have product demonstrations and samplings. “Customers are looking for the whole package when they go to stores like Williams-Sonoma,” says Worthington-Levy. “They know that if they are looking for a certain piece of cookware, the store will provide ancillary items and suggestions to go along with the piece they are planning to buy.”

Similarly, Williams-Sonoma’s catalogs are paginated in direct line with the retail channel, says Worthington-Levy. Items featured in catalog hot spots such as the upper-right corner of an opening spread are also displayed in store windows and near cash registers. “Some companies like to paginate catalogs randomly, but people are generally too time-impoverished to hunt around a retail store,” Worthington-Levy says. “So you need to utilize hot spots such as point-of-purchase areas and display windows in your store and prominent pages in your catalog that will tell customers where to look.”

Seattle-based Filson, a manufacturer/marketer of outdoor apparel, will sometimes use retail hot spots to feature products that aren’t necessarily on the front or back cover but rather those that feature the most detail, says president/CEO Doug Williams. Filson’s Oil Finish Shelter Cloth Duster Coat, for instance, may demand a full spread in the print catalog with inset photos of its “handwarmer pockets,” storm flap, and other features. The equivalent in a store may be the center display, even if the coat didn’t appear on the most recent cover.

On the other hand, Worthington-Levy believes that most successful multichannel operations start with a catalog cover and a storefront that look essentially the same. For instance, the fall edition of home furnishings cataloger/retailer Restoration Hardware featured a Halloween display on the front cover. And in October the principal display area of each store was a near-replica of the catalog cover.

Hingham, MA-based clothing cataloger/retailer Talbots also employs this strategy. “Catalog covers are generally the focus of store windows as well as our advertising,” says spokesperson Margery Meyers. “And with every catalog we make an effort to ensure synergy of both the store and catalog product.” Items are segmented throughout the stores by lifestyle — all the dressy apparel is in one area, all the casual sportswear in another — and the catalog pagination reflects this organization.

The value of flexibility

Not all multichannel merchants feel obliged to stick to that sort of rigid template, however. At apparel, sporting goods, and home decor merchant Orvis Co., “we don’t have any set approach when it comes to store layouts,” says vice president of retail Joel Gardner. “Because we have more than 40 retail locations, there is no absolute formula for how we arrange the items in each of our stores.” Manchester, VT-based Orvis has 28 stores across the U.S. and 14 stores in the U.K.

Orvis’s corporate offices do dictate most store layout decisions. “While we don’t subscribe to any cookie-cutter philosophies, we generally try to take a cross-channel approach when we lay things out in our stores as compared to our catalog or Website,” Gardner explains. “You want your customers to feel like you understand their general shopping habits, and they do come to expect some symmetry with certain items such as luggage or a specific outfit they may have spotted.”

But because Orvis wants its retail customers to feel catered to, each store manager has some degree of autonomy when it comes to the layout.“Our store managers have specific information about their respective customers and can structure each store per those individual needs,” Gardner says. “They often can best determine what items can go on the front tables of the store based on customer trends and habits.” The store managers also have quantitative data based on retail customer profiles on which to base store layout decisions, he notes.

For example, if a given Orvis location does particularly strong numbers in women’s apparel, Gardner says, the store will likely relocate the women’s clothing department to feature the merchandise more prominently — placing it closer to the register, perhaps, or including top-selling items from the line in the storefront display.

Most Orvis stores measure about 5,000 sq. ft., but not all the merchandise lines can be rearranged at will. “In our stores a specialty department like fishing can’t really be relocated,” Gardner says. “Given the size of the fishing poles and all the accessories, there just isn’t enough room elsewhere in the store.”

Corte Madra, CA-based home furnishings cataloger/retailer Restoration Hardware carries about 60% of its catalog items in its 105 stores, says director of marketing Dave Glassman. “Obviously it’s often a question of space given the size of some of the items we sell, but the catalog layout generally mirrors the store layout,” he says.

Restoration Hardware’s stores are organized by six major categories: furniture, lighting, bedding, bath, window and floor coverings, and textiles. The layouts allow for cross-merchandising: A display in the bedding department, for example, might feature a bed, a chair, a sofa, pillows, and linens serving as a model for how each item might look in the customer’s home.

Presenting this mix of offerings requires some uniformity, however. For example, Glassman says, “all of our stores have one room solely dedicated to bath products. This way customers know that anything they want in that category will be contained in the same area of the store.” The only thing nearly as important as time to most retail customers is consistency, he says.

Filson’s Williams agrees. While you should constantly analyze your store layout, he advises establishing what you think are prime positions for each item and trying to remain consistent. “Time is the most valuable commodity to today’s consumer,” Williams says. “So keep the store as familiar and consistent as possible — especially for returning customers.”

Merchandising matters

Just as some actors are better suited to the stage than to film, some products sell better in stores than in catalogs. San Francisco-based Gump’s, for instance, has found that customers need to see and feel some of its upscale furniture and gifts before making a purchase.

Certain items are simply “nonphotogenic,” says Gump’s CEO Jed Pogran. For instance, it can be tough to show the detail on drinking glasses in a catalog environment. A photograph and brief copy may not be enough to get a sale of such an item — especially at higher price points. “Some items just communicate better in person,” says Pogran. He advises limiting products that are highly tactile or have a lot of detail to the retail arm. You’ll also be able to market them as “special” items not available online or by mail.

Pogran has found that In general, catalog buyers are more price-sensitive than store shoppers. “You can’t sell too many items at very expensive rates in the direct channel,” he contends.

But while less expensive merchandise sells well via catalog, “the cost of fulfillment on lower-priced items generally isn’t worth it,” says Pogran. “It’s much easier to sell lower-priced items in a retail environment where you have salespeople.” Gump’s does not offer many items priced at less than $10 unless they are packaged as a set of, say, three units.


Indeed, says San Rafael, CA-based consultant Carol Worthington-Levy, companies such as kitchen products cataloger/retailer Williams-Sonoma often bundle products to boost order values. It will also cross-merchandise products: The customer who’s buying a peony wreath may also want pewter wreath hangers.

The strategy works just as well with store displays as with catalog layouts — hence the mannequins presented in complete ensembles or beds propped with copious pillows and bed trays topped with place settings and vases. “It allows the customer to look at a potentially satisfying bunch of ‘stuff’ that is visually appealing,” says Worthington-Levy, “and helps them see how those items might look in their own home while they are still in the store.”

Encourage impulsiveness

Just as catalogs encourage add-on purchases by featuring relatively inexpensive items on the spread surrounding the order form, retailers have long placed smaller items near the counters to stimulate impulse buys.“You need to experiment,” says Doug Williams, president/CEO of apparel manufacturer/marketer Filsons. “For detail-oriented items like accessories, try placing them next to your cash register. Since most people may come into your store to buy only one item, give them a reason to buy something else.”

A typical Restoration Hardware store display might feature a large-ticket item such as a patio table topped with decorative Victorian tin plates, says Dave Glassman, director of marketing for the home furnishings cataloger/retailer. “But we often will keep items like the Victorian plates near our cash registers as well to prompt impulse buys.”

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