Wal-Mart promotes exclusive products with color mail catalog, part of specialty retail push

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 490 views 

Better Homes & Gardens is one of the first Wal-Mart vendors to respond to the retailer’s request for suppliers to open up their entire product catalogs regardless of how many items they have in stores.

This week the retailer mailed out to a 32-page color catalog of home furnishings under the proprietary brand Better Homes & Gardens manufactured by Meredith Corp. The private label supplier has an entire line of home furnishings including furniture, linens for bed, kitchen, dining and bathrooms, as well as dishes, rugs, lamps and other accessories offered online, some of which are also sold in stores.

Through this catalog mailer Wal-Mart is touting an exclusive brand of home furnishings, trying to win over consumers who might not realize the retailer carries a wide array of trendy home furnishing online.

Meggan Kring, Wal-Mart senior director of corporate affairs, said the mailer is another way to make public what is available in the stores.

“We are proud of the Better Homes and Gardens products we have in our stores. This mailer is another way for us to share the on-trend, quality items Walmart shoppers can find in our stores every day,” she said in a note to Talk Business & Politics.

Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran has said the retailer will use private label to help fill in the gaps where brands fall short. With the category expertise being provided by Wal-Mart’s recent online acquisitions and the expansion of marketplace items online customers can expect to see a wider range of merchandise across the category, according to Walmart U.S. e-Commerce CEO Marc Lore.

This is another indication of Wal-Mart’s focus on private label, said Joyce Grippi, senior account services at WhyteSpyder. She said Wal-Mart is going big into private label in its effort to offer good, better and best within the home furnishings category, where quality is important and profits margins are higher.

“With the Hayneedle acquisition this gives Wal-Mart access to the higher-end of the home furnishing category and they seem to be investing more into the “better” and “good” levels through private label offerings like Better Homes & Garden and Mainstay,” Grippi said.

She said it will be interesting to see if the products are grouped and represented equally online as they are in the catalog which depicts lifestyle. Too often, she said, there is a gap when it comes to online presentation. The products shown in the catalog can be ordered online and then picked-up in stores, according to Wal-Mart, but Grippi said how the items appear online will matter to shoppers.

For example, the image of the solid ruffle quilt set in the catalog depicts a soft, billowy quilt where the ruffles are accentuated. The online image is a photo taken from further away and doesn’t accentuate the texture of the quilt. There were no reviews and no ratings, perhaps an indication this is a new product. The supplier has barely identified the product in the description using only three sentences. The supplier has space for 4,000 characters, which is a lot of unused real estate on the page.

Colorful beach towels displayed in the catalog were barely recognizable when viewed online. These are also new items, but they did have a few reviews, and the information description was brief, with just three sentences about the towels. There was only one photo of of the item on the page and there was no grouping presentation online.

Grippi recently completed a two-day session with suppliers on the importance of item merchandising online and its importance in driving in-store sales. She said too often suppliers don’t use all the free online real estate Wal-Mart gives them, which is a wasted opportunity. She also warns brands that Wal-Mart’s focus on private label can be a threat if they don’t actively manage and promote their entire product catalogs online with the retail giant.

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