Furniture e-commerce giant Wayfair to return to brick and mortar

Wayfair is trying its luck in bricks-and-mortar retail again.

The Boston-based e-commerce giant announced Tuesday that it will open three storefronts in Greater Boston over the coming year, showcasing the designs of two of its in-house brands. An AllModern store will open at MarketStreet Lynnfield and Legacy Place in Dedham. And a Joss & Main store will open in the Burlington Mall. The company said it plans to open stores for its five brands over the next two years.

“With our first-ever AllModern and Joss & Main retail stores, we are introducing a new kind of omnichannel shopping experience powered by the Wayfair platform,” said Karen McKibbin, Head of Physical Retail at Wayfair. The company, she added, “invites our customers to engage with the brands they know and love in an innovative format that blends the best of in-store and online shopping.”

McKibbin said the stores will offer tableware, as well as bedding, bath and seasonal products. Customers will be able to buy things from the store or place orders for home delivery. The company plans to open larger format stores for its Perigold and Wayfair brands in the coming years. (Wayfair also operates an outlet store in Florence, Ken., near its in-state distribution center, though it was temporarily closed due to the pandemic.)

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with Wayfair and see this forward-thinking, digital-native brand come to life with the opening of AllModern at MarketStreet Lynnfield and Legacy Place,” said Micah Norton, Vice President rental for WS Development, said in a statement. “Our outdoor destinations are known for bringing the community together and we intend to work closely together to create unique experiences for Wayfair customers.”

Wayfair has dabbled in brick and mortar in the past. In 2018, the company launched a series of pop-ups to test the waters before opening its first retail store at the Natick shopping center in 2019. This store was a showcase not only for sofas and cutlery, but also for the brand’s technology. Customers could don virtual reality headsets or use augmented reality to see how furniture could fit into a room and work with staff to digitally design spaces for their homes.

This store closed in December 2020, citing a pandemic-induced drop in foot traffic in malls. It also proved difficult to display a representative selection of inventory in a 3,700 square foot space, the company said at the time.

Exploring its AllModern and Joss & Main brands when opening new stores clearly reflects lessons learned from the Natick store, said Lauren Beitelspacher, a marketing professor at Babson University. And she said it was a relatively low-risk move for the business, as property managers were offering deep discounts on retail rents to keep storefronts filled.

Pushing bricks and mortar is also a good way to collect customer data and attract younger customers, she added. “Believe it or not, Gen Z really loves the in-store experience,” she said, and Wayfair has the digital bells and whistles to make it an experience they’ll enjoy.

Wayfair saw sales skyrocket in the first year of the pandemic as people curled up and reassessed their surroundings, ultimately spending billions on desks, patio furniture and other household items. But this year, as things have reopened, that spending has shifted to restaurants and travel. Then came the supply chain issues that hampered trade around the world. The company relies on 16,000 suppliers worldwide to manufacture its products.

Ultimately, in last month’s third-quarter earnings report, Wayfair said its sales fell to $3.1 billion, down 19% from a year earlier.

But in that call, chief executive Niraj Shah hinted that brick-and-mortar retail would be part of the company’s future. “The pandemic has only underscored the fluidity between the online and offline worlds when shopping for the home,” Shah said. He promised “a new kind of omnichannel shopping experience that blurs the lines.”

Janelle Nanos can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.

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