Buy a Sofa Online? Wayfair Is Counting on It – New York Times

So the two men started, a website selling, well, stands and racks for televisions. In its first four months, the site amassed $400,000 in sales.

By 2010, the company was an incongruous collection of 270 websites, from to to So Mr. Shah and Mr. Conine consolidated the sites under one digital umbrella, and ultimately called it Wayfair.

Today, sitting under that umbrella is a dizzying array of more than eight million products. The company offers 7,328 types of coffee tables, 106,430 different area rugs (20,073 of them blue) and 759 different standing coat racks.

To help customers wade through its virtual bazaar, Wayfair has some of its 1,000 software engineers constantly developing new features for its app. One allows consumers to snap a photo of an item, a couch or chair, that Wayfair then matches with products on its website. Another recently released feature produces a 3-D image of the Wayfair product, allowing consumers to see how a piece looks in a room and, perhaps more important, whether it will fit the room’s dimensions.

But many traditional retailers argue that furniture remains a category where consumers will be reluctant to buy solely online.

“Having a real-world presence, we believe, is a competitive advantage,” said Marta Benson, the president of Pottery Barn.

While about half of the revenues for Williams-Sonoma come from online sales, Ms. Benson noted that plenty of customers “want to sit, touch and feel some categories before they purchase.”

Still, investors have rewarded Wayfair’s explosive growth since the company went public in 2014. With its soaring share price, Wayfair has a market capitalization of $6.2 billion. That’s $2 billion more than Williams-Sonoma’s valuation.

But a big difference is that Williams-Sonoma is profitable, making $300 million last year.

In an effort to bring down some of its costs, Wayfair has spent much of the past year changing its shipping and delivery models.

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