Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Slow but Steady, Williams-Sonoma Goes Online

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Slow but Steady, Williams-Sonoma Goes Online

Article excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO (NYT) -- The preparation of Williams-Sonoma's Web site has been more like that of a slow-cooking roast than a three- minute egg. Depending on who you ask, the kitchenware retailer's late entry to e-commerce -- its first major site was launched last week -- could be a benefit or a disadvantage. But if the gambit proves successful, it could debunk the conventional wisdom that the earliest e-commerce entrants will shut out the arrivistes.

The early reviews are positive. By waiting, Williams-Sonoma got its site right the first time rather than starting with a primitive storefront and improving it through successive overhauls, said Kate Delhagen, an analyst with Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass.

"No. 1, I'd say better late than never and No. 2, I'd say maybe it's better because they're late," said Delhagen. Back in 1994 and 1995, when pioneering retailers like Land's End were launching first-generation sites, San Francisco-based Williams- Sonoma was battling bugs in the computer systems that support its brick-and-mortar stores and catalogs. Because of glitches at a new distribution center in Tennessee, stock outages were common and holiday catalog shoppers were finding the wrong gifts on their doorsteps. The most serious problems were corrected by mid-1996, but the company's stock and profits had taken a beating. On top of that, a Williams-Sonoma home page on Time-Warner's ill-fated Pathfinder mall was a disappointment and was dropped quickly in 1995. Williams-Sonoma's management is inherently conservative, particularly in contrast with wild and woolly Web-only companies. Couple that tendency with the mid-1990s computer headaches, and the result was predictable: Executives moved cautiously in setting up their first full-scale e-commerce site. Last week, Williams-Sonoma launched a bridal registry with some 43,000 registrants at www. …

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