Wondersign’s endless aisle detour

TAMPA, Fla. — For years, a Wondersign endless aisle solution made all the sense in the world for furniture stores looking to play in the e-commerce space or just better compete digitally with Wayfair, Amazon and the rest. With just a couple of clicks, a retailer could “select all” from a manufacturer’s digital catalog and load it into the in-store kiosk or website and instantly offer a much deeper selection than anything it could contain within its showroom walls.

It was a good plan, at least up until around March 2020, when pandemic-induced shutdowns and then materials shortages and the boom in consumer demand got the ball rolling on the industry’s present-day supply chain nightmare. “Now things have shifted dramatically,” said Casper Fopp, Wondersign’s chief revenue officer. Both retailers and Wondersign are pivoting to make sure they keep front and center the goods that are in-stock or on their way — and, in that way, keep consumers from disappointment.

For months now (the work actually started pre-Covid) Wondersign has been improving its inventory system to allow retailers to show consumers only what’s in store or “coming soon,” Fopp told Home News Now. What’s more, it has empowered the retailer to define what these words mean for each vendor in the Wondersign system.

“In essence, we’ve moved from being an endless aisle to an extended aisle,” he said, referring to the overall industry’s shift. “And the extended aisle only makes sense to a degree because you don’t want to showcase something that realistically isn’t going to be available for, say, eight or nine months.”

Casper Fopp

For this reason, Wondersign, he said, has been putting a lot of emphasis and development focus on the inventory features of its platform. And it’s attacking this on both the manufacturer and retailer inventory levels.

On the manufacturers side, Fopp said whenever Wondersign onboards a new brand, it’s asking for that inventory availability data to feed into its platform. Not every vendor has the infrastructure in place to supply it, but it’s a constant push by the technology company.

Now, when a retailer — Wondersign’s paying customer — signs into its dashboard, it can click through to the icons for its vendors linked to the system, and most importantly the inventory status. They’re listed as what’s in stock, what’s in transit, what’s out of stock or “NA,” which means the supplier isn’t currently sharing its inventory availability with Wondersign. If the supplier has more than one warehouse, the retailer can see the quantities in each — say, eight of that king bed in Houston, zero in Chicago (but expected back in stock on Dec. 20) and 16 in Phoenix.

This, Fopp said, is helping retailers make better decisions and create catalogs and promotions based on that availability. Something else he said retailers are excited about is their new ability to define exactly what “in stock” means. For instance, if a certain vendor is showing two of a particular item are left in its distribution center, that could very well mean “out of stock,” especially for a small independent retailer vying for the same goods as bigger national and regional chains. 

But with a few clicks, the independent can set a rule or define “in-stock,” as, say, 10 or more available in a particular vendor’s warehouse or warehouses. And it can change that quantity rule by vendor. So in stock could mean 10 or more for one supplier, 20 or more for the next.

Retailers also can define the maximum lead times on back orders for anything they want to show on their kiosk or website as “coming soon,” which is a positive spin on the negative sounding “out of stock.” Now, if a retailer chooses to define the reasonable amount of time from order to delivery as 45 days or less, only those items that fit in that window will show up in the consumer’s search for what’s coming soon. 

The other piece to this that has changed is how the retailer’s own inventory is displayed to consumers. Not only are they seeing what’s available or coming from the supplier, but they also see what the retailer has in stock at each store. If it’s one available in the store that the consumer is visiting, two more at the outlet and two “coming soon” from the vendor, this not only gives consumers some needed transparency, but can actually “create a little FOMO,” Fopp, said, or “fear of missing out,” when the quantities are on the low side like this. Creating that sense of urgency is an added benefit to the changes. 

A promotion video on Wondersign’s global inventory visualization initiatives

Retailers can also set their displays (and website if it’s integrated) to allow consumers to refine searches by these in stock or coming soon filters, further helping the consumer narrow things down.

None of this is brand new. Wondersign has been releasing pieces of these improvements for some time now, pushing out new updates to the platform every two weeks. But it’s all starting to come together nicely and none too soon for retailers constantly balancing rising prices and the need to keep the customer experience from becoming a lesson in frustration. One of Wondersign’s latest updates featured a tool that alerts retailers when the wholesale prices from a particular brand spike by a certain percentage so they can adjust prices accordingly. 

Some furniture vendors have been nudging retailers down this path of “show what’s available” for quite awhile, too. Check out the efforts of Coaster here. (It also works with Wondersign). The industry’s ongoing supply chain troubles, however, are making this detour from the endless aisle a vital consideration for all stores who want to keep their customers happy.

“Consumers have changed,” Fopp said. They’ve seen empty shelves and faced delays across all retail categories, so they’re more understanding than they would have been pre-pandemic.  “But I still believe if somebody needs a piece of furniture for their house, they’re not going to wait 10 months. They’re just going to go somewhere else, and maybe settle for something that’s not the ideal style they were looking for, but something that’s available.”

So Wondersign is changing, too, to become that reliable source for what’s available, at least from the vendors it connects to, he said. The company has roughly 3,000 retailer accounts and offers the catalogs for about 60 brands from 33 vendor/data providers with “more coming onboard each month,” Fopp said. Some 22 vendors are currently feeding inventory availability data to Wondersign, including Acme, Coaster, Elements International, Homestyles by Flexsteel, Furniture Classics, Furniture of America, Hooker, International Furniture Direct, Lexington Home Brands and Liberty Furniture.

The Tampa, Fla.-based company got its start in the furniture space in 2014, providing an Ashley Furniture digital catalog for dealers. Over time, other vendors joined the platform, pressured in part by their retailers requesting more catalogs from more vendors and more endless aisle opportunities.

But things have changed, Fopp said. “Everyone agrees that with the situation we’re in today, the endless aisle is detrimental.” Displaying anything and everything was never the ideal use for the Wondersign platform, though he concedes that this was often how it was used. 

Now, however, the pivot is to “hyper curation,” showing what realistically is available, so the retailer can go on to make better merchandising decisions.

“The overall objective for us is to give the retailer and retail sales associate the best possible tools to avoid chargebacks and having to refund money four months down the road to (angry) customers, who then go back and give the store a one-star review,” he said.

Yes, a vendor’s in-stock position may not be all that rosey and may not look good today, but all parties should be saying that perception is not what is important at this critical time, Fopp said. It’s the transparency that’s important. It’s that transparency that will help the manufacturer from disappointing the retailer and the retailer from disappointing the customer. It helps everyone make better educated decisions. 

Clint Engel

Clint Engel is a veteran home furnishings industry journalist and executive editor of Home News Now. Please share your feedback with him at clint@homenewsnow.com

View all posts by Clint Engel →

One thought on “Wondersign’s endless aisle detour

  1. HA, good luck with getting “real-time” inventory updates. I tried that 5 years ago, and 85% of manufacturers had NO CLUE how to do that … “Deer in The Headlights” defined. I even offered to do it for FREE, and they still wouldn’t do it.

    I’ve written about “The Arrogance of Ignorance” for years, and what makes me laugh, is what we wrote about 5+_ years ago, are considered “brilliant” today. Read more here: https://www.social4retail.com/my-retail-rants-blog.html

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