Retail lessons from Williams-Sonoma


williams sonomaLast weekend I did some retail reconnaissance in Sydney’s Bondi Junction, where I checked out the new Dick Smith concept, Move.

I also ventured into US retailer, Williams-Sonoma’s adjoined four store Australian flagship, which encompasses the Williams-Sonoma, West Elm, Pottery Barn, and Pottery Barn Kids brands.

In all instances the fitouts were lush but, even more noticeably, the service was outstanding and a number of the stores offered post purchase services.

Below is an overview of what makes these concepts brilliant, as well as a few takeaway lessons for retailers and brands.


This is a gourmet cook’s paradise that sells primarily upmarket kitchenware.

The first thing you notice about the Williams-Sonoma store is that it is crawling with staff, because they proactively greet you and ask how they can help.

The staff members that I spoke to were extremely knowledgeable and friendly, and quick to enquire whether I was a professional chef in order to receive a discount.

They said Bondi Junction’s fastest selling items are the Cooks’ Tools.

Many of these are are unique to Williams-Sonoma and are attractively presented with workshop-style shadowboards on the wall.

williams sonoma cooks tools bondi

Point of sale is occasion and how-to focused and pricing is very subtle, with tags on each product rather than on the shelves.

The store goes one step further in providing an experience rather than just flogging merchandise.

For instance, The Williams-Sonoma Cooking School at the back of the store runs classes nearly every day of the month.

When I visited there were sold out stickers across many of these classes.


As a shopper, I wasn’t entirely clear on the difference between West Elm and Pottery Barn, as they both sell high end furniture and soft furnishings.

West Elm struck me as a sort of Bed Bath N’ Table on steroids, despite its small footprint.

Again, the staff were plentiful, knowledgeable, and friendly with proactive greetings, but there was a lot of merchandise primping going on, so the store looked perfect.

With both ground and subterranean levels the store feels warm and cosy. It was full of people browsing, but I did wonder whether the quality of the merchandise befitted the high prices.

What really differentiates West Elm is the full design service it offers.

Not only can West Elm design and style rooms of your home, it will assemble furniture on delivery and provide recommendations for other retailers to complete a room’s look. Fantastic.

I will be interested to see how many shoppers take up this end to end service.

West Elm signage Bondi Junction


This is where you go if you are in the market for sofas that start at $3000.

Selling more bedding and sofas than West Elm, Pottery Barn is all about the quality of the merchandise and attractiveness of the presentation.

Quality heavy fixtures and fittings lend a sense of luxury, as does the use of sensory cues which are noticed by shoppers whom I overheard remarking “smells nice in here”.

Natty products like battery operated tea lights were popular. Unlike Ikea, it’s not divided into room displays, rather more about components that go in rooms.

Again the service is proactive, friendly and attentive. As with West Elm, Pottery Barn offers custom design services.


This self described ‘lifestyle technology’ store sells portable technology and accessories and feels like it’s positioned itself a bit in no-man’s land.

This is despite an attractive fitout with nice use of colour and lighting on the walls spelling out “create, design, innovate”.

While Move sells mobile devices, such as phones and tablets, these can be procured cheaper elsewhere, as can accessories such as phone and tablet covers.

The accessories are quite unique and high end, however, and this might be its point of difference along with the selection of headphones and speakers.

Staff were very ready to talk about the performance of the business and were quick to say they have a high shopper browse but low buy ratio at the moment.

They surmise this to the store being new, having a novelty factor, and Australian shoppers being eager to research mobile phones before they buy.

Staff also mentioned shoppers often use the free wi-fi to get on Facebook and charge their phones via the battery stations.

If this is their natural behaviour, the opportunity for Move is now to monetise this behaviour or gain some other sort of purchase process participation while shoppers idle around.

Move coversNorrell Goldring is head of shopper insight and retail strategy at GfK, and has worked in category and channel planning for Coca-Cola, Goodman Fielder, and Vodafone. Contact her on 0437 335 686 or


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