And in news that should please anyone who’s in the market for affordable yet stylish and functional house furnishings and accessories, online furniture retailer Wayfair is opening a brick-and-mortar store in the fall. Not only that, but it’s a permanent store — no pop-ups or temporary shopping experiences here. And if you’re located in the Boston area, the news is best of all: It’s coming to you. Wayfair’s first store will open at the Natick Mall in Natick, Mass. in Fall 2019.
Said Wayfair CEO, co-founder, and co-chairman Niraj Shah in a press release, “With the opening of our new retail store, we are offering our customers a new way to enjoy Wayfair’s exceptional shopping experience as we continue to transform the way people shop for their homes.” Shah continued, “We look forward to inviting our customers further into the world of Wayfair, welcoming them to step inside our newest shopping experience guided by the knowledgeable support and expertise of our in-store design team.”
The Natick Mall originally opened in an entirely different building than the one it occupies today way back in 1966. In the early ‘90s, though, the original building was demolished to make way for a larger, more updated facility anchored by Filene’s, Jordan Marsh, Sears, and Lord & Taylor. It was renovated and expanded again in the mid-2000s, and currently holds the title of largest mall in New England by number of tenants.
These days, the Natick Mall is frequently praised for having an appropriate balance of high-end stores and more affordable, classic mall staples. This fact actually took me somewhat by surprise; I grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and back then — more decades ago than I care to count at this point — it enjoyed a reputation as The Fancy Mall, particularly in comparison to the mall where I typically did my shopping (the Burlington Mall, for the curious). Then again, that mall seems to be more upscale now than it was back then, too — there’s a Nordstrom there now! And a Burberry! And a Kate Spade! And a Kiehl’s! — so apparently, malls in suburban Massachusetts have just been trending towards evening the playing field in the years since I left more generally. Good to know.
What isn’t surprising is that Wayfair would choose the Natick Mall as the location for their first permanent brick-and-mortar store: First, the company is currently headquartered in Boston; and second, the online furniture retailer had previously opened up a pop-up shop at the Natick Mall between November 2018 and early January 2019. The idea was for the online shopping experience and brick-and-mortar shopping experience to blend seamlessly together: Consumers could consult with interior designers live and in person, then order furniture with next-day or two-day delivery via tablets that could access Wayfair’s vast, online inventory.
Although Julie Cassetina, a spokesperson for Wayfair, told Metro West Daily News at the time that “so far, it’s been great,” the company was also “just seeing how people respond to the pop-ups” before moving ahead with further plans. (An additional pop-up shop set up shop at around the same time at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey.)
Clearly the response was positive — particularly in the Natick location. So, that’s where the brick-and-mortar store will open in the fall. According to the press release, it will operate similarly to how the pop-up stores did, albeit on a much larger scale: “Wayfair will invite shoppers into the store to explore the unlimited possibilities in home enabled by its flagship e-commerce site,” notes the press release. It continues:
“Shopping at the Wayfair store and online will be a seamless, connected experience for shoppers. Customer service and home design experts will be available to offer complimentary design consultations to customers, providing recommendations for everything from home improvement projects to décor. Shoppers will be able to immediately purchase an assortment of products in store and also have orders placed for delivery to their homes.”
I can’t deny that there’s appeal in the concept; Wayfair occupies a niche aimed squarely at millennials, particularly older ones. When you’re ready for something that’s a bit more advanced than IKEA — items made of solid wood rather than particle board or manufactured wood, for example, which will hopefully last a bit longer — but don’t have the budget to drop thousands on really nice furniture, Wayfair fits the bill nicely, even if you do still have to put them together once they arrive. Anecdotally, as an early-mid-30-something with a great deal of privilege, I currently have five pieces from Wayfair or Birch Lane (one of the company’s six branded online stores) — all solid wood and including a full dining set — among the furnishings in my own home; compared with the apartment full of IKEA I had in my early 20s, that’s quite a step up.
(Not that I'm knocking IKEA; I still have a deep and abiding love for the place, and I have managed to acquire a few solid wood items from it over the years. I just... haven't actually shopped there in quite some time. It's not you, IKEA. It's me.)
However, it’s also true that Wayfair’s online store — all six of their online stores, really — is huge. Like, in the words of Douglas Adams, vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big. And, as Mark Wilson points out at Fast Company, its sheer size brings to mind questions about how well a smaller format store will work. Comparing it to IKEA and Target, both of which have small-format stores in their rosters meant for cities and other places without a ton of real estate space, Wilson observes:
“But it’s easy to imagine a tiny Ikea, isn’t it? Ikea has an established aesthetic and product line. You could take any chunk of its inventory, throw it in a room, and have a store that, for the most part, makes sense. By contrast, I just did a search for ‘headboards’ on Wayfair and came up with 3,285 options, with an insane array of designs on the first page alone.”
This has also been my own experience shopping at Wayfair; typically I find I have to pick a few filters in order to narrow down the options to a number I find manageable, rather than terrifying. Wilson goes on to note that, “while there is nothing inherently wrong with that size or strategy, it does mean that Wayfair faces the incredible challenge of articulating its limitless options in a limited footprint — or of defining a new aesthetic that means Wayfair.” He’s not wrong, so it will be interesting to see how the whole thing plays out.
In any event, the Wayfair store will open at the Natick Mall in the fall of 2019; per the press release, more details about it will be available closer to the day. The company also plans to open four more pop-up shops during the summer of 2019, although the locations of these temporary stores have not yet been revealed. Stay tuned for more!