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Williams-Sonoma opens doors to home furnishings site

Disregarding the recent tide of dot-com wreckage, the retail conglomerate quietly launches an e-commerce store for its home furnishings division, Pottery Barn.

Disregarding the recent tide of dot-com wreckage, retail conglomerate Williams-Sonoma quietly launched an e-commerce store today for its home furnishings division, Pottery Barn.

The opening comes as e-commerce has fallen out of favor among investors because of weak business models and steep spending early on. The furniture business, in particular, has faced other problems as well: Beleaguered online store Furniture.com, for example, has been beset with executive departures in the last several months because of its ailing business.

Little more than a year ago, analysts decried traditional retailers that lacked an online presence. But since then, some pundits have decided it was strategically smart to wait until now to open online because the competition is tapering off.

"The cost of launching an (e-commerce store) will become more affordable as the competitive landscape thins and rivals are seeing their advertising budgets dry up," said Mike May, digital commerce analyst at Jupiter Communications, a New York-based Internet research company.

Taking a more cautious approach to the Internet than most, Williams-Sonoma slowly launched shopping sites over the past year. In June 1999, the company opened a wedding and gift registry site, followed by a kitchen store in November. Together, they sold nearly $4.6 million worth of goods in the first quarter of 2000.

"This is a company that already has the infrastructure in place to sell remotely, and they have an offline brand that people can identify," May said.

Representatives of Williams-Sonoma were not immediately reached for comment.

The company operates about 300 stores in 37 states under the names Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and Hold Everything.