Like many of my fellow road warriors, we have become keenly aware when we get to stay in a hotel room that offers a superior experience. A clean room is the basic expectations; a comfortable room is what we expect but a stylish room on top…that is the ultimate customer experience. That is why it caught my attention this week when I saw a piece on West Elm, which is a brand under the Williams-Sonoma family, opening up hotels. A furniture store getting into hospitality? You must be crazy…next thing you will tell me is that Apple is looking to get into the luxury car business…oh wait, never mind.
So why is West Elm’s play in hospitality an example of how retail is being transformed right before our very eyes? It all comes down to the customer experience. Retail is truly transforming into a constant dance and balance between service, assortment and availability. We the consumer seek better experiences, enhanced services and unlimited access to a variety of inventory choices. That is why we see brands such as Urban Outfitters purchasing a pizza chain, click here for story. Or why giant book retailer Barnes and Nobles has so many Starbucks in their stores. Retailers are striving to find other ways to make their brick and mortar assets more attractive, to create an experience and services above and beyond their core product. When it comes to the furniture business, their stores are truly show rooms. It is a challenge for brands such as Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, West Elm or Crate & Barrel to carry massive amounts of inventory within their stores. Rather they want to use their real estate to allow customers to sit or lie on their products. The challenge is to ensure their network can fulfill any sale quickly and efficiently. While it is nice to walk into a West Elm to sit on a Hamilton sofa or lie on their Nash series beds, what if you could truly experience these pieces. In their true elements?
Enter the hotel idea. Think of this as taking the show room concept into the world of the car sales and allowing for a true test drive of the product. Yes, you can see how the furniture looks like in the West Elm store, but how much better to spend a few nights sleeping on that bed? We have already seen other hotel brands such as Marriott making their beddings and other products available to purchase. I have spent plenty of time in hotels where the high end soaps and lotions in the bathrooms can also be purchased in the store or online. But this is a new play, for a retailer to get into the hospitality space. To explore a new way of providing the customer with an experience built around their product.
The underlying challenge for West Elm will be integrating the demand signals that this new channel will produce. And ensuring that they have the systems in place and flexibility in place to manage their inventories to meet the new demands from this channel. There will not be the direct contact with in store sales associates, nor the ability to guide one through the online assets. Rather, the whims of the consumer will be taking place in the privacy of their hotel rooms. As each hotel manager creates their specific experience in their location, West Elm will need to be ready for sudden jumps in demand that come out of the blue.
A great example of a retailer finding new channels to create customer experience…that will also drive more sales. I wonder what kind of rewards program the West Elm hotel will have.