“A lot of the market wants a physical touchpoint before buying, say, a couch,” said Karen McGibbin, Wayfair’s global head of physical retail. “The goal is to come first in all furnishings.”
The storefront of the open-air MarketStreet mall mimics a traditional furniture store separated by “vignettes.” At the front is casual living: velvet sofas, white chairs, and wooden coffee tables — all in keeping with AllModern’s mid-century Californian aesthetic. It meanders around dining and bedroom offerings, as well as a back wall lined with rugs and mirrors befitting the entire home. Scattered throughout are cash-and-carry items that customers often buy on the spur of the moment in person but ignore online: tableware, candles, and aromatherapy diffusers made by Wayfair’s physical retail team — a hodgepodge of former employees from companies like Walmart and Restoration Hardware has the room comfortable. It has a signature scent (“Tomatoes on the Vine”) and an array of entrance blocks painted a seasonal hue (a sunny yellow called “Pablo Honey”). Walls of fabric patterns and carpet cutouts surround the central design bar staffed by style-savvy staff.
Despite the tangible elements, the AllModern location is designed to match Wayfair’s online roots – not the other way around.
Only 8 percent of AllModern stock is displayed in-store, and transactions are ultimately conducted on shoppers’ personal devices or tablets carried by employees. Homeowners can’t leave home with a couch; You have to wait a few days for home delivery like online customers. And in person or online, the prices are the same.
McGibbin said Wayfair targets all customers: those entering AllModern and those arriving on purpose after browsing the site.
“We don’t care where people are from or why they are here,” she added. “We don’t care if they actually shop later in the store or at home.”
It’s not the first time Wayfair has attempted this. In 2018, the company launched a series of pop-ups before opening its first 3,700 square foot store at Natick Mall in 2019. There, customers could put on virtual reality headsets or use augmented reality to see how furniture would fit into a space. But the branch closed a year and a half later in the middle of the pandemic.
Earlier this month, Wayfair froze hiring of companies following a 2021 sales slump and a plummeting share price. The company’s shares are down 69 percent since the beginning of 2022. However, the retail team is shooting forward. Wayfair plans to open a Dedham AllModern location and a Joss & Main store in Burlington this fall. In 2023, it will open a 150,000 square foot furniture showroom in Chicago.
And inevitably, other retailers will follow suit.
The manufacturer of luxury mattresses Satva recently opened a “Viewing Room” on Newbury Street. At 4,531 square feet, it’s outfitted with memory foam, adjustable foam, and latex mattresses, plus padded bed frames and linen linens.
CEO Rod Rudzin said the company is using the pull of urban areas to lure customers into Saatva stores so they can shop and eat after testing a mattress. To date, he has opened locations in six cities, including Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In Manhattan, the store had sales of over $8.5 million in 2021.
“You have to be in great areas where people want to do more than just buy your mattress,” added Rudzin. “We have created a tight retail presence on the best streets of the best cities in the country.”
Saatva hopes to open 70 locations nationwide within the next four years, five of them by the end of 2022.
Just a few miles further in the seaport, frame bridge adopted a similar model.
The startup frames customer photos, diplomas, jerseys and more online platform. Users can select the design elements – frames, mats and engravings – and ship the item, which will be returned about a week later. Framebridge opened a few years ago branches nationwide to personally provide the same framing expertise.
At Seaport’s Pier 4 Boulevard and at a location in Hingham that opened in August, associates measure customers’ items and help them choose from a selection of colored frames. (Final payment is again processed through the Framebridge website.)
“We want to make framing easy and affordable,” said CEO Susan Tynan, a former Boston native and Harvard Business School graduate. “For some people, simply means dropping it off at the store.”
The walls of the storefront are covered with framed Boston paraphernalia, including a Red Sox jersey, a 2013 marathon bib, a Northeastern University diploma, and a lobster painting.
“Basically, framing is an errand,” Tynan added. “It makes sense for us to perform wherever people live.”
Diti Kohli can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.