Wayfair is trying its hand again at brick and mortar retail.
The Boston-based e-commerce giant announced on Tuesday that it will open three storefronts in Greater Boston in the coming year, showcasing designs from two of its in-house brands. An AllModern store will open at MarketStreet Lynnfield and Legacy Place in Dedham. And a Joss & Main shop will open in the Burlington Mall. The company says it plans to open stores for all five of its brands in 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, Wayfair’s head of physical retail. The company, she added, is “inviting 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 that the stores will feature items for the tabletop, plus bedding, bath, and seasonal products. Customers will be able to purchase things in the store or place orders for home delivery. The company plans to open larger-format stores for its Perigold and Wayfair brands in the years ahead. (Wayfair also operates an outlet store in Florence, Ken., near its distribution center in the state, though it has been temporarily closed due to the pandemic.)
“We could not be more thrilled to partner with Wayfair and see how this forward-thinking, digitally-native brand comes to life with the opening of AllModern at MarketStreet Lynnfield and Legacy Place,” Micah Norton, vice president of leasing for WS Development, said in a statement. “Our open-air destinations are known for bringing together community and we intend to work closely together to create one-of-a-kind experiences for Wayfair’s 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 in the Natick Mall in 2019. That store was a showcase not only for couches and flatware 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.
That store closed in December 2020, citing a pandemic-induced dip in foot traffic at malls. It also proved challenging to display a representative selection of inventory in a 3,700-square-foot space, the company said at the time.
Drilling down into its AllModern and Joss & Main brands as they open new stores is clearly a reflection of lessons learned from the Natick store, said Lauren Beitelspacher, a marketing professor at Babson University. And she said it was a relatively low-risk decision for the company, as property managers have been offering steep discounts on retail rents to keep storefronts filled.
Pushing into brick and mortar is also a good way to collect data on customers and appeal to younger customers, she added. “Believe it or not, Generation Z really likes the in-store experience,” she said, and Wayfair has the digital bells and whistles to make it an experience they’ll appreciate.
Wayfair saw sales soar during the first year of the pandemic, as people hunkered down and reassessed their surroundings, ultimately spending billions on desks, patio furniture, and other housewares. But this year, as things have reopened, that spending shifted back toward restaurants and travel. Then came supply chain issues that snarled commerce around the globe. The company relies on 16,000 suppliers worldwide to manufacture its products.
Ultimately, in third quarter earnings report last month, Wayfair reported its sales dropped to $3.1 billion, down 19 percent 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 while shopping for the home,” Shah said. He promised “a new kind of omnichannel shopping experience that blurs the lines.”