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Inside Wayfair’s First-Ever Retail Store

By Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, ARC

We knew parking would be trouble when we saw the man in the orange vest and a neon wand waving people toward open spots and we weren’t within 500 feet of where we wanted to go.

Were we at Disney World, you ask?

Not quite.

We were headed to Wayfair’s new store in Wilmette, Ill., the online home furnishings giant’s first-ever physical location for shoppers.

And the shoppers? There were hundreds of them on this Friday morning when we visited after finally finding a parking spot not roped off for other businesses who no doubt don’t mind all the new foot traffic to the Edens Plaza but also need, you know, places for their clientele to put their vehicles.

Here’s a recap of what we observed in our hour-plus at the new, 150,000-sq. ft Wayfair, browsing just as curious shoppers, with an eye on what might interest you, the retail space planning professional.

Shopper / Market Profile

It’s clear Wayfair did its homework on where to put its first-ever store.

Wilmette is part of Chicago’s affluent North Shore. Its median household income of $183,750 is 234% greater than the state average, per U.S. Census data. The Wayfair sits right off Interstate 94, and it figures to be a draw both for both Chicago residents just 15 miles away as well as suburbanites.

Wayfair’s arrival in Edens Plaza comes a year after the Bed Bath & Beyond in the shopping center closed. A former Bed Bath & Beyond employee whom we just happened to chat with told us she would see the same people every three to six months, buying new furnishings for redesigned rooms. So here comes Wayfair to fill that need, and beyond the opening-week glow, no doubt.

Floor Plan

Wayfair has two floors. The first floor is devoted to Dining Room, Living Room, Home Office, Rugs, Organization, and Tableware. There’s also a little coffee shop on the first floor, of which we made use — we needed a Red Bull (cost: $4 for 12 oz.) to power through.

The second floor is the “B” floor — Baby & Kids, Bedding, Bathroom Fixtures. This is also where Flooring, Kitchen, Lighting, Major Appliances, Outdoor and Window Treatments, among others, are located.

In contrast to IKEA, Wayfair is not a forced-path concept, which a couple of shoppers mentioned that they liked.

Store Fixtures / Shelving

The most common shelving we saw was four feet wide and two feet deep, as you see above. Shoppers we talked to generally had high marks for the way items were displayed throughout the store. One shopper particularly gave high marks to the “cubby-style” shelving seen at various points in the store, with the next photo below a good example. The store was well-lit and pleasantly lit throughout.

Shopping Experience / What People Were Buying

As one employee told us, Wayfair is embracing “experiential” shopping at this location. For the bigger-ticket items that don’t fit in carts and bags (furniture, etc.), shoppers can scan QR codes and have them delivered to their homes or explore more options online. We didn’t see many people go home empty-handed from Wayfair, but what we saw were a lot of soft goods at checkouts — bed sheets, bathmats. Pillows are a particularly hot-seller.

“That pillow wall is becoming a nightmare to replenish,” the employee said with a smile before wishing me a happy shopping trip.

Order Fulfillment

There is considerable space on the first floor devoted to in-store order pickups, with instructions clearly marked on pillars in the store.

Employee Engagement

You never had to look far for a smiling Wayfair employee with a tablet, ready to help you. There were also product demos, as seen here.

There is a real friendly, consultative, non-pushy vibe at Wayfair. For a first retail store, we were impressed, and it is very clear a lot of real planning and thought has gone into how the Wayfair team enhances the guest experience.

How Shoppers Engaged With Store & Merchandise

This is a store made for browsing and for imagining. We were particularly taken by the sink and shower displays where shoppers could actually test them out and see how the water flows.

Most Wayfair customers whom we chatted up around the store told us they came to see what the hype was all about and were making their way around the two floors. There is A LOT to take in.

“It’s overwhelming,” a woman told us as she looked at shower fixtures. She’s set to re-do her bathroom, and she will do the work herself. She was also considering visiting Home Depot.

Other shoppers we talked to were posed that question — was it overwhelming? No one quite echoed that, with one shopper looking at gas ranges saying the experience was a lot like IKEA. (The Space Planning Community, from experience, knows that weekend trips to the Schaumburg, Ill. IKEA can find huge crowds and a hive of activity unlike any other store trip.)

A few hundred feet away was the Outdoor section, including a hot tub. A woman in a pink dress chased after a little boy in a Superman shirt who was smiling and laughing and carrying a silver balloon animal.

“Wayfair, you’re just what I need,” she sang, quoting the company’s jingle.

To the left, children surrounded a man making those in-demand balloon creatures — a nice family-friendly perk for shoppers with kids.

Other Observations

— One of the most spacious sections of Wayfair is “The Dream Center,” a room full of mattresses. It was also one of the least crowded. It’s a good deal of floor space devoted to this product, and we have a note to go back in a year or so and see if it’s the same size, or something else altogether.

— There is a “Pet” furnishings section, which we would have never anticipated, but it had a few browsers. Considering The Space Planning Community Content Team’s cat is doing his best to scratch all of our furniture, perhaps we should have looked around longer for something just for him. Next time.

— In our observation, 80-90% of shoppers were female. There were a good number of families shopping, too, on the Friday before a holiday.

— We also caught this little call-out below for Wayfair professional/business buyers.

Closing Thoughts

We exited Wayfair with a giant purple-branded bag ($4.95) and a wine opener ($13.95), both impulse purchases at checkout. Our way of saying thanks for having us walk around and take it all in.

As we found our car, out by the Starbucks and away from the crowds, we had one big conclusion: Wayfair’s first retail store will likely make it big here, and the company probably figures to build others. The full parking lot signals a lot of interest, but the word on the ground says another big thing: pent-up demand being met, in just the right place.

We’re sure they’ll figure out the parking thing, too.


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About the Author: Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, for the Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals (ARC).

Mike brings more than two decades of communications experience to the CMA/SIMA. He began his career in journalism, spending more than 10 years covering the National Football League for Pro Football Weekly and NBC’s Pro Football Talk. His bylines have also appeared in CBS MarketWatch, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, NBC New York, and ESPN.com. More recently, he has pivoted to corporate communications, including strategy and messaging experience for a Fortune 500 company. Mike holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois.

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