H&M Fast Forwarding Into Home
Warren Shoulberg -- Home Textiles Today, 2/13/2012 2:00:00 AM
FRANKFURT, GERMANY - If you think H&M shook up the apparel retailing world, you should see what they are trying to do in home furnishings.
H&M - more formally Hennes & Mauritz AB, the Swedish-based retailer best known for helping to create the "fast retailing" merchandising style of fast turnarounds of fashion at a price - began selling home textiles and accessories online in Europe in 2009 but has now begun to open H&M Home stores as well.
While the company says it will begin selling its products online in the United States this fall, it has not announced any plans to open American stores.
But a visit to an H&M Home store here in the downtown shopping district of this financial center of Germany reveals a merchandising concept totally unique and apart from anything else being done in the home furnishings arena. Combining the display techniques of a wholesale showroom with the fulfillment process of a catalog operation, it is as distinctive a shopping experience as exists anywhere in the industry.
The relatively small store - less than 1,000 square feet - is housed inside a regular, multistory H&M clothing store here with its own signage and display at the street level. Once inside the department, shoppers are greeted with a series of wall-mounted and free-standing displays showcasing individual products. The assortment skews heavily toward decorative pillows, towels and bath accessories as well as bedding primarily focused on the top-of-the-bed classification.
Designs are clearly geared toward the existing H&M demographic, a younger customer with contemporary tastes and a ramen-noodle-for-lunch budget. The color story this winter is a mix of brights and neutrals accented by a liberal use of words and phrases, some in English and some in French, but as far as the casual shopper could see nothing in Swedish.
Prices are geared to the same target customer. Decorative pillow covers start at about $5.25, while bath towels range from $9.25 to $33. Bedding, due to different European sizes, is a little more difficult to compare, but the smallest duvet set, approximately equivalent to an American twin, retails for about $33. The prices are not as low as at American discounters, but compared to prices in traditional European department and specialty stores, they are quite low.
While the products are shown as if this was a to-the-trade showroom with single items, sometimes repeated around the store, there was little if any inventory on the selling floor.
The purchasing process is where H&M seems to be trying to reinvent the wheel. Every item is replicated in miniature on a small magnet affixed to a magnetic panel. The small, 1-by-2-inch magnet contains an image of the product, some details about construction and/or size and the price. Shoppers take the magnet and stick it on a home-shaped board, collecting all of their intended purchases. This is then brought to the front desk where a clerk takes it and retreats to the stock room to gather all the items.
Finances are presented and the transaction is completed.
It is a purchasing process that can only be compared to that which once existed at the catalog showrooms of the 1980s but one that survives in some form today in high-end specialty stores. Curiously it is also how one buys most home textiles products at Crate & Barrel.
Staying true to its fast-fashion roots, H&M says it updates its home assortment four times a week, according to a recent article in the European magazine ISBN cited by the Apartment Therapy website. While the company does not own manufacturing, its strategy depends on a fast-to-market plan with multiple inventory turns and constant waves of new merchandise, some of which carries designers such as Karl Lagerfeld.
H&M currently operates about 2,500 stores in 43 countries, including more than 230 units in nearly 30 states in the United States. American annual sales were about $1.4 billion last year.
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