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E-commerce Far From Mature

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, January 30, 2006

What a difference a decade makes!

It was just about then when a high-profile retail CEO from somewhere in the Midwest, as keynoter for the National Retail Federation's opening session, pooh-poohed the potential growth of the Internet. Funny thing. Many in the audience felt the same way.

Fast forward to 2006. It's January, and the expected announcement from JCPenney, that they hit the billion dollar mark in Internet business for the year, actually came to pass. But everyone knew it would.

Quite a different attitude from when Randy Ronning, now executive vice president of QVC, headed up the Penney Internet efforts and the old guard was still afraid of it.

Just a few months ago, Randy was given the charge for bringing together the disparate retail businesses of QVC, including its Internet activities.

And last week in a presentation at the NRF convention, Federated's Terry Lundgren was all praise for the potential of his Internet business — citing home as being ahead of apparel in online efforts.

A few days later, he announced a major capital investment in the company's Internet and direct businesses.

And of course, for good or bad, the Bentonville boys drew more attention to the potential the Internet affords retailing, regardless of how well the company actually performed in that segment.

In the home arena, Target has been especially adroit online in recent years, offering mainstream home furnishings from upholstered sofas to high end lamps and rugs, as well as products from its in-store assortments.

While these are some of the headlining — and very successful — efforts, the Internet still poses a challenge to many in the retail world.

Beyond its basic sales capacity, the Internet affords companies the unique ability to offer one-on-one merchandising — from customized sizes and selections in apparel to test-merchandising of new and trendy items across the board. But it's amazing how many retailers and suppliers today haven't figured out how to do pick and pack below the volume norms of their businesses.

All they have to do is search their archives, back a decade or two. Most were doing it then.

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