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Word Play

Word PlayWoody Allen once said that 80% of success is just showing up. It’s amazing what did — and did not — show up when we combed some 800 basic textiles and housewares products across the ecommerce sites of 10 top home furnishings retailers to determine to what extent quality figures into their product pitches.

It must be noted that this was largely an evaluation of marketing. How much effort was put into romancing the product?

Among the textiles collection, the most misapplied word was “luxury” (and its variants). I’m talking about you, Amazon, with your “luxurious,” “1,500-count,” “Egyptian,” microfiber sheets. (Note to the new kids on the block: microfiber = polyester, and there are no thread counts in this construction. Plus, if that poly comes from Egypt, I’ll eat my hat.) And you, Walmart, with your “luxurious brushed microfiber” sheets at the decidedly proletariat price point of $26.66.

The must under-used word across the textiles assortment: quality. Among 400 product descriptions, the word came up just nine times. The leaders here were Amazon (two sheet sets and a black-out curtain) and Bed Bath and Beyond (two sheet sets and a towel). Target, Kohl’s and Sears each used the word once (a comforter set, a comforter set and a bath towel, respectively).

Comforter sets received surprisingly little hype on the quality scale. Most often, that’s because the copy lavished attention on the design motif. “Decked out in a bold black and white chevron design and a scaled-down grey and white chevron reverse, the bedding is a fun and funky addition to any bedroom.” You’d think they could toss in a “cotton-rich” or “satiny” here or there.

The retailers that put the most effort into crafting quality messages for their top 10 comforter sets were — are you sitting down? — Kmart and Sears. Each had four comforters that were given the royal treatment. The key words for Kmart: “delicate scroll work,” “ultimate softness,” “luxurious,” and “plush.” The key words for Sears: “elegant,” “plush,” “beautiful details,” and “fabric will hold its color for years to come.” That’s not a whole lot, but it bests all the others in our survey.

If you think comforter sets are under-served … turn your attention to curtains. Almost all the points scored there were for performance (most often, black-outs) and for durability. It should come as no surprise that the only retailer that scored quality points on every one of its top 10 window panels was JCPenney. A few examples: “naturally cascading drape,” “lined for enhanced weight and feel,” “antique satin-like appearance,” “lustrous touch.”

The runner-up was Macy’s, which glitzed up the appeal for six of its top 10 panels, with “exquisite texture,” “sumptuous,” “heirloom appeal” among the descriptions.

There’s a message here not just for retailers but for manufacturers, too — especially since many of them supply the copy for their online merchandise. Hire an English major for a week. Have her look at how your product descriptions stack up to the competition online. Then hand her a thesaurus.

And I’m not just saying that because I was an English major.

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