Online’s Lessons & Threats

by Autumn McGarr

An intriguing new player is leaving a yet-to-be-determined imprint on the kitchen and bath retail landscape, posing both a competitive challenge to brick-and-mortar firms and a stark reminder of how everyone must raise their game in order to succeed in today’s fast-changing market.

Hausera, a newly created online kitchen and bath specialty retailer, recently announced a national launch, in an effort, the company said, “to fill the market gap between the endless sea of choice offered by big-box online retailers and homeowners’ desire for a more curated shopping experience” (see story, Page 15).

Created specifically for the home-remodeling market, Hausera’s stated mission is to assist both consumers and trade professionals in bringing design visions to life through an “intimate” online shopping experience created by the Pleasant Prairie, WI-based company.

Hausera’s website features a broad selection of kitchen and bath products in a wide spectrum of price points and styles. Carefully curated product collections – aimed at DIYers, kitchen/bath designers, contractors and homeowners working in conjunction with design pros – allow shoppers to visualize products within professionally designed spaces, consult with Hausera staff and purchase products and services online. Hausera said it will also be rolling out features aimed at design/build professionals, including dedicated account managers, price incentives, referral bonuses and a blog that will offer advice on design, style, color and product trends.

Hausera’s launch is yet another in an ongoing series of business initiatives mirroring a major trend – the steady, relentless surge in online shopping – that’s been reshaping the kitchen and bath industry for years now. The internet, it’s become abundantly clear, has revolutionized the way consumers shop for products and services, offering convenience, favorable pricing, ratings and reviews, minimal sales pressure and access to entirely new sources of supply.

But modern online shopping, as Hausera notes, has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. While it has radically expanded consumers’ knowledge base, and enabled shoppers to research product options, it has also, in Hausera’s words, created “a perfect storm of choice anxiety,” in which a virtually unlimited volume of choice often overwhelms consumers, resulting in poor decisions – or, worse, shopping paralysis.

Hausera’s business model is built on the premise that the company has essentially “reinvented” how online shoppers select and purchase kitchen/bath products, reducing potential “pain points” and simplifying buying decisions by offering a broad selection of curated products, along with support in managing consumer expectations, adhering to budgets, interacting with contractors and assisting with ordering, scheduling and deliveries – all while creating peace of mind, assuring that projects run smoothly and bringing design inspirations to life.

In other words, Hausera plans to achieve, online, precisely what traditional kitchen and bath design professionals have done, face-to-face, for decades.

So much for reinventing the wheel.

The key question for the traditional design businesses, of course, is who can accomplish the goal of serving kitchen and bath consumers – including the expected wave of digitally savvy Millennials – most effectively.

Regardless of how things play out, the Hausera launch is clearly an initiative that the kitchen and bath trade should take careful note of – yet another notable iteration in the evolution of a market that has seen a plethora of retail players emerge, with varying degrees of success.

Brick-and-mortar businesses of all types should go to school on online retail ventures like Hausera if they wish to sharpen their own skills and vie for a competitive edge.

Viability at retail will doubtless hinge on an age-old formula for success: offering design and product expertise and building a relationship based on talent, professionalism, experience and the ability to inspire confidence and deliver on promises.

It will be interesting to see if a major online retailer like Hausera can compete with knowledgeable, reputable, well-trained sales professionals across a retail landscape that has traditionally thrived largely on face-to-face human interaction. ▪

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