CSN Stores (now known as Wayfair) is a company that knows quite a bit about descriptive domain names. The company runs a number of businesses on domain names like Bedrooms.com, BedroomFurniture.com, Luggage.com, Upholstery.com, Strollers.com, and many others. One issue the company has as a result of using so many domain names is that there is no main brand recognition. Consumers may have done business with more than one related website, but they probably wouldn’t know.
According to a recent article in Inc. Magazine and posted on Yahoo Small Business Advisor, the company is pivoting away from operating on many different descriptive domain names and uniting under one brand called Wayfair.
There are some very interesting tidbits in the article, which I think anyone investing in domain names should read. Some bits I found particularly interesting include:
- “The company pulled in sales of more than $500 million in 2011. Its head count is approaching 1,000.“
- “Part of the reason you don’t know about Wayfair is that the company doesn’t quite know itself yet. For the first nine years of its existence, it was known—if it was known at all—as CSN Stores. Rather than one brand, CSN Stores was a collection of more than 200 almost absurdly narrow niche sites, with names such as HotPlates.com and EveryGrandfatherClock.com.”
- “The 200 sites are gone; in their place is Wayfair.com, which Shah and Conine hope to make synonymous with all things home-related. The idea is that Wayfair will be a destination, not a site you stumble upon while searching for a new chaise longue.”
- “This was a big move, perhaps the biggest the company could make. For years, CSN Stores had been intentionally mysterious. Anonymity, after all, has its benefits: There’s no risk of damaging the brand if there isn’t a brand to damage. Even the biggest customer service screwup on one site was unlikely to affect customer loyalty on any of the other sites.“
In June of 2011, I wrote about the company’s $165 million funding round, which had been identified as being for “acquisitions.” At the time, I surmised that the company might look to acquire great descriptive domain names, but I am not sure if that’s really what happened considering the re-branding effort.
The Inc Magazine article is a great read with quite a bit of detailed information about the founding of CSN Stores and how it’s grown, thrived, and adapted, and I think it’s an article well worth reading when you have an opportunity.
Thanks to Steven Kennedy of SK Creations, Inc. for telling me about the article.
I first learned about CSN a few years ago when I got curious about an advertiser kept showing up on one of my affiliate website via google ads…and I learn that it had tons of good descriptive product domain names. At the time, I was wondering how they were able to manage all these websites, brands, which I imagine goes beyond just domain names, and websites.
Now we know….at some point you have to consolidate everything under one roof, one brand….unless, you are Mr. Warren Buffett – who is in the business of making money – not products, not services, not sales – Just Money!
I noted that some international groups now ensure there brands promote the group brand as well as part of the trust in us message. An example is shown by Unilever at the end of the PG tips TV advertisement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyeh60gYdPQ
Jonston & Jonston have use Baby.com & BabyCentre.com plus country codes for some years now to promote the J&J trust in us message, another is http://ask.unum.co.uk/ using BackUpPlan as the generic to establish the brand. IMO it is the way to use TLD’s as the only way to compete with deep pockets with sunstainable long term marketing budgets
If they are making 500 million/yr just leave it.. why fix something that ain’t broken.
Why didn’t they simply co-brand each generic?
“Luggage.com presented by Wayfair!” etc, etc…
I think this is great. We get to see how well the strategy will work.
What we have to remember is how they got to where they are now; It was not Wayfair. They may have the momentum to where it just makes sense to increase sales this way now under one brand.
It’s probably not an either/or equation, but more where you are in the growth cycle as to if it makes sense.
Let’s follow them and see what happens, it’ll be a very interesting case study.
HotPlates.com redirects to WayFair.com. I’m quite sure all of CSN’s other niche domains will redirect to WayFair.com as well.
Thanks for this story Elliot. I had never even heard of CSN or any of its affiliated properties.
@castello… was gonna say the exact same thing. but as usual i’m an hour late and ten cents short of a buck.
I’ve been watching them for a while. They are the manifestation of every domainer’s minisite dream.
I have to wonder, though, if the switch to Mayfair will work. Their business was built entirely on keyword domains and SEO. And now they are tossing that to get into branding wars with major competitors. It’s like a successful band of guerilla fighters getting too confident and thinking they will try a head on assault to beat the big guys on their own terms. Good luck with that.
What separates Mayfair from all the other brands out there? What’s their USP that will have customers leaving JC Penny’s and Amazon in droves? Maybe they have a brand strategy, but it wasn’t mentioned in the article.
So, their initial strategy was to leverage whatever type-in traffic advantages may be offered by exact matching keyword domains, in the face of 300 years of marketing/branding wisdom.
Now, they’re changing that strategy, presumably hauling along whatever consumer goodwill they’ve built up with the old platforms and trying to roll it into an upstart brand?
Not that it’s absolutely impossible, but good luck.
There’s some economy of scale- in terms of centralizing CS and management across all the operations- but there’s NOOOOOOOOOOOOO product synergy whatsoever and they don’t have near enough buying power to compete with the full-scalers for the markets they’re operating in.
The strength of retailing from the dead-on .com is in consumer confidence, being able to provide superior customer service and much better specialty information than a general merchandiser.
No guarantee this is on the level of o.co, but I’d bet on it being a huge strategic error.
They are taking a huge gamble- high risk (epic fail) or possibly high reward (establish big name brand). I agree with the other posters, though, and say FAIL similar to the o.co move. They are getting rid of their 1 competitive advantage- descriptive .COM domains. But I guess only time will tell……
Must have taken a hit on SEO making this change. But then again, maybe they got killed in Panda 🙂
I would have kept all as is with a big banner link down the bottom advising visitors they can see all the other products at WayFair at the main product site
It’s worth noting the type in traffic dont wish to be messed around with other stuff ………..unluss they decide to click on the wayfair banner to explore a bit more
I’ve read some smart and interesting comments, I like the domaining community here.
The question remains, why did they decide to toss their biggest competetive advantage? It’s great article though, we’ll wait and see if that was a smart decision.
I wonder if they are doing something besides this…
Wayfair isn’t the only or even the first multi-niche ecommerce business to do this. Another one is Hayneedle, formerly Netshops. Just like Wayfair, they were a bunch of disparate niche sites with extremely focused niche website names, all under a company named Netshops. Then they re-branded the whole thing into Hayneedle. Hayneedle is funded by Sequioa, one of the major VC firms, so the idea of bringing all the disparate niches under one single brand may be viable.
I think the goal of these companies is to keep the old focused domain names, but just make it where they redirect now to a website under the central brand name now.
It sounds to me like a strategic move to build brand recognition and consolidate operational cost. Hopefully, they have reassured their existing customer base that it is still the same company, service, and product, simply changing its name. Their customers know where to find them, via their generic domain names. Wayfair would be making a huge mistake to eliminate the generic domains from their portfolio. Strategically, their best bet would be to redirect the keyword to the relevant product page within their branded website. They can reconsider their position after a couple years.
Panda got them and they pivoted. Dozens of sites still dont redirect. Racksandstands.com, bedroomfurniture.com, luggage.com, etc.l. claiming to have redirected all sites when they havent is misleading.
I am not sure they claimed to redirect all of them. It might make sense to keep some separate but to use some of the Wayfair branding. Above the logo on Luggage.com, there’s a Wayfair link.
Last year at Microsoft’s research lab in Boston I had the chance to do UI/UX testing on CSN Stores site to help improve the user experience…Steve Krug lead the session and it was set up sort of like speed dating where there were 15 companies websites being tested(Zipcar was one as well I tested), one user who was give certain tasks to accomplish and three people taking notes to help improve their sites…CSN is implementing a lot of changes as a result of our feedback…If you haven’t read Steve book “Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability…It’s a must read for anyone wanting to improve the user experience…
I think this is a good move by CSN. They are one of the nation’s largest home goods retailers so I’m sure they did their due-diligence to ensure this would be a profitable change. I’m excited to see how they do and learn from their success.
Can’t quite let go of this: Noted some further info & comment on http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/01/online-retail-giant-csn-stores-rolls-its-200-shopping-sites-into-one-brand-wayfair-com/
IMO it seems that that the circle turns back to the reasons why the TDL’s opened the categories up the markets in the first place, sku tags without multiple windows. Do not think they will sell the TDL’s at all.
Product selection and price is not a defensible position in the market. It works for Amazon because they own most of the supply chain so customer experience is fantastic and predictable. CSN/Wayfair relies almost totally on the drop ship model in which customer experience is compromised on the order of 10x more than Amazons prototypical customer.
I hate to say it but this branding issue was brought up in the 2006-7 area quite a bit and was ignored in favor of adding more micro sites and product.
They have no voice, no discernible brand. I’m sure the IPO drought will make the owners dreams come true much to the peril of their new equity partners…
Moving away from hundreds of domains to one brand seems to have been a successful move.