Wayfair.com, a platform for furniture shopping
How does an platform eCommerce company compete in the age of Amazon? Offer more to the supply side.
Imagine the last time you shopped for furniture. Was it a good experience? Did you visit several stores before purchasing? Did you weigh the costs of furniture delivery vs renting your own U-Haul? Did you have to call your friend over to help move it?
For many Americans, this was the struggle. Furniture was hard to purchase. Considerations had to be made for comfort, style, price, and delivery method. There were few places that offered the perfect combination (and that let you do so while sitting at home in your pajamas). That was until 2002, when two entrepreneurs founded Wayfair.com, an e-commerce destination for home goods to cater to almost every taste, style, and budget.
Today, Wayfair is the largest online seller of furniture, home furnishings, décor and goods exceeding $2.25 B in annual revenue on 7 million products through a network of over 7,000 suppliers . Based in Boston, MA, Wayfair employs more than 3,000 people globally and continues to grow rapidly in the ecommerce space. So much, that for Black Friday 2015, Wayfair saw the greatest year over year sales of any online retailer . Which begs the question, how have they become so successful? What makes them different than a large player like Amazon?
At the core, Wayfair is a platform that serves furniture manufacturers and consumers. Although Wayfair owns and fulfills through 5 warehouses in the US, the majority of their orders are handled by suppliers who either ship direct to the customer or through a Wayfair-managed delivery network that includes partnerships with FedEx, UPS, and USPS. This differs from Amazon, which owns and fulfills through their own warehouses in the US . With Wayfair’s model, the cost of inventory management is dramatically reduced, but in order to make this work, Wayfair has to insert itself into the equation, and provide value for their suppliers, the furniture companies. This value is delivered through a suite of supplier management tools that not only encourage manufacturers to sell through Wayfair, but also provide real-time order and inventory management that especially helps smaller companies who lack such internal capabilities.
Not only are the supplier tools thoughtfully engineered to make selling via Wayfair easy, but they also ensure that Wayfair can continue to scale and onboard additional suppliers efficiently. This in turn allows them to lead the market in offering the widest selection possible (“a zillion things”) . With a few clicks, suppliers can upload their current inventory and within hours, and have it showcased live on the site for millions of customers to see.
Aside from the obvious benefit of riding on Wayfair as a means to market your inventory, Wayfair provides suppliers with tools to view order monitoring in real-time through proprietary analytics software . For many suppliers, these tools provide powerful and accurate insights into each sale, which equips them to continue to grow their numbers over time. In a sense, Wayfair acts as an enabler, providing the toolset and analytical knowledge to make decisions on what products to stock and what customers like. In turn, Wayfair benefits from the supplier’s improved business strategies.
As Wayfair makes strides in enabling suppliers to easily sell via Wayfair’s platform, the consumer sees a steady increase in product selection on the storefront. That, in turn, only entices new suppliers to join, and the cycle continues. These network effects are critical to maintain Wayfair’s position in the market in being ‘all things home’. On the site, each customer will experience the site differently. In the backend, the site is learning the preferences and interests of each shopper, and is displaying based on machine-learned preferences . While Joe may prefer beachy linens, Mary may prefer modern and bold. After a few searches, clicks, and purchases, both would be enjoying their own custom Wayfair.com experience. Ultimately Wayfair’s ability to match preferences to individual drives more sales for the company and reduces the effect of multihoming.
In the end, you have a very happy network of suppliers who, previously, did not have access to such a large population of online shoppers. Since 2008, Wayfair has retained 72% of its original suppliers . With suppliers as the focus and technology as an enabler, Wayfair uses its platform model to continue to develop partnerships with new suppliers and to foster long term relationships that help them efficiently drive sales, and at the same time, expand the capability and selection of Wayfair.com.
Student comments on Wayfair.com, a platform for furniture shopping
Interesting article Yi, nicely written. I am curious to understand what is stopping Amazon to build the same kind of supply chain management products for its suppliers – based on my understanding I think they already have that built as part of Amazon Marketplace offering. If that is the case do you think if Amazon intensely focuses on furniture Wayfair would be able to still grow? Or is it the case that the pie (furniture market) is big enough for everyone to take a bite?
Great article Yi. Interesting to see how they carved a place in the market. I definitely wonder how sustainable it is (why doesn’t Amazon for instance create a special ‘home’ edition to its website, so you get a similar customer experience, or enter the market aggressively by temporarily offering really competitive prices to the suppliers). My guess is that they didn’t expect Wayfair to be so successful, and that it is now too late to go into fierce competition (since it will just lead to multi-homing, and Wayfair is able to fight for a long time with their current size).