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2019
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Holiday Retail Walkthrough: Williams Sonoma

Holiday Retail Walkthrough: Williams Sonoma

Recently I conducted a walkthrough of a Williams Sonoma store in a fairly affluent suburb of San Francisco. Williams Sonoma is a specialty multichannel retailer of higher-end products for the home. Specifically, their focus is on the kitchen through the Williams Sonoma brand and the rest of the home through its affiliated Pottery Barn and West Elm brands.

Williams Sonoma has 579 stores in the US, another 36 internationally, and an additional 108 franchise stores internationally. Based in San Francisco, the company produces $5.7 billion in revenue annually. Let’s look at how they are doing.

Layout and Presentation

Williams Sonoma clearly wants to “own” Thanksgiving. You walk in the front door and are greeted by a large and loaded table set for Thanksgiving dinner. Fine china, a covered turkey dish, and behind that, a display that is over seven feet tall featuring turkey brining mix.

The entire first fifteen feet of the store is devoted to Thanksgiving-themed products for the home. But the display is not overpowering, and nothing—that’s right, nothing—is on sale. It’s all regular price, and the display gives you the feeling of being at someone’s home. A home ready for the holiday and a host who is perhaps a little overprepared.

One other thing WS does so well: The store smells right. There is a pot of mulling spices on the in-store cooktop stove, and the citrus and cinnamon aromas fill the store. So the presentation and layout say, “Warmth and good food presented beautifully.”

Customer Engagement:

As customers walk in, someone at the entry offers a platter filled with samples of chocolate peppermint bark. That’s a good start. I think I was approached about three times in the first fifteen minutes by different people asking conversation starters like, “Are you finding what you want?” “Is there something in particular we can help you with?” “Have you tried our new stuffing mix?” All asked with a cheerful, noninvasive attitude.

So for customer engagement and presentation, Williams Sonoma is hitting the 100 percent mark.

Assortment Content

Remembering that Williams Sonoma does not sell fresh food, a customer can purchase everything else they need to prepare and present a Thanksgiving holiday dinner . What they do so well is make many of the assortment decisions for you, including prepackaged food products.

They do not have a “good, better, best strategy” for any product line. That is, you won’t find choices at different price points and levels of quality.

If you want a turkey gravy base, they carry one. A cranberry relish? Again, one of the best. You’ll only find one brining blend: their own, and the best. So it is easy for you to shop with confidence.

Williams Sonoma gets the highest marks on all counts. A visit to the store is an immersive experience in the sights and smells of the Thanksgiving holiday. In my opinion, it’s worth a stop even if you aren’t cooking this holiday.

And just to top it off, their channels of distribution are completely integrated. What you see when you walk in the door of a brick-and-mortar store is the same as what you find featured on the website. You can order online and then pick it up in the store the same day. This is especially useful if you leave some of the planning to the last minute. But who would ever do that—right?

This is the second of a series of Holiday Walkthroughs of some of the best (and worst) retailers in the US and globally; Part I features Waterstones bookstore on Piccadilly in London.

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