H&M Fast Forwarding Into Home
February 24, 2012,
The H&M Home store is located inside a regular H&M clothing store on Frankfurt’s main shopping pedestrian mall.
H&M - more formally Hennes & Mauritz AB, the Swedish-based retailer best known for helping to create the "fast retailing" merchandising style of fast turnarounds of fashion at a price - began selling home textiles and accessories online in Europe in 2009 but has now begun to open H&M Home stores as well.
While the company says it will begin selling its products online in the United States this fall, it has not announced any plans to open American stores.
But a visit to an H&M Home store here in the downtown shopping district of this financial center of Germany reveals a merchandising concept totally unique and apart from anything else being done in the home furnishings arena. Combining the display techniques of a wholesale showroom with the fulfillment process of a catalog operation, it is as distinctive a shopping experience as exists anywhere in the industry.
Designs mix brights with neutrals and this season showed a liberal use of words and phrases on towels, dec pillows and accessories.
The H&M Home store in Frankfurt features a showroom-like display with products shown on free-standing islands as well as on walls.
Shoppers take a miniature magnet with a picture of the item and product details when they want to make a selection. This panel displays products for the badezimmer, or bathroom.
Designs are clearly geared toward the existing H&M demographic, a younger customer with contemporary tastes and a ramen-noodle-for-lunch budget. The color story this winter is a mix of brights and neutrals accented by a liberal use of words and phrases, some in English and some in French, but as far as the casual shopper could see nothing in Swedish.
Prices are geared to the same target customer. Decorative pillow covers start at about $5.25, while bath towels range from $9.25 to $33. Bedding, due to different European sizes, is a little more difficult to compare, but the smallest duvet set, approximately equivalent to an American twin, retails for about $33. The prices are not as low as at American discounters, but compared to prices in traditional European department and specialty stores, they are quite low.
While the products are shown as if this was a to-the-trade showroom with single items, sometimes repeated around the store, there was little if any inventory on the selling floor.
The purchasing process is where H&M seems to be trying to reinvent the wheel. Every
Individual magnets are affixed to a home-shaped metal board and taken to the front desk where stock is pulled to match the shopper selections.
Finances are presented and the transaction is completed.
It is a purchasing process that can only be compared to that which once existed at the catalog showrooms of the 1980s but one that survives in some form today in high-end specialty stores. Curiously it is also how one buys most home textiles products at Crate & Barrel.
Staying true to its fast-fashion roots, H&M says it updates its home assortment four times a week, according to a recent article in the European magazine ISBN cited by the Apartment Therapy website. While the company does not own manufacturing, its strategy depends on a fast-to-market plan with multiple inventory turns and constant waves of new merchandise, some of which carries designers such as Karl Lagerfeld.
H&M currently operates about 2,500 stores in 43 countries, including more than 230 units in nearly 30 states in the United States. American annual sales were about $1.4 billion last year.