Big Interview, Martin Reiter, Head of Europe, Wayfair

Martin Reiter, head of Europe at US furniture & home goods retailer Wayfair, speaks to Retail Gazette about how the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a rapid shift to online shopping and how the business was "well-positioned" to endure the spending frenzy in homewares amid the crisis.

Wayfair Martin Reiter homewares covid-19 lockdown pandemic
Martin Reiter.

Martin Reiter is optimistic. As head of Europe for online homewares and furniture retailer Wayfair, he believes it’s “well-positioned” to succeed amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

Although a US-based business, Wayfair has increased its brand awareness by 70 per cent in the UK, and Reiter hopes to amplify the retailer by adding new ranges in the run up to the Christmas trading period.

“We’ve seen an increase in revenues, as have most furniture and homeware businesses during the pandemic,” he told Retail Gazette.

Wayfair Martin Reiter
Wayfair is a US retailer but has increased its brand awareness by 70% in the UK.

“When I recently spoke with our competitors to exchange perspectives, they told me they had also noticed a gain in their business.

“During the height of the pandemic, there was a shift in the way people spent money. People couldn’t go out to restaurants and they couldn’t travel.

“We were very well-positioned to endure the spending frenzy when people decided to focus on their homes.”

Reiter said Wayfair offers an unprecedented selection that resonates with customers, and “isn’t easily found anywhere else”.

“People don’t want to be told what they should like – which is what we see in more traditional players – they want to choose themselves,” he said.

“We talk with our customers over the phone, we have a very ample marketing and advertising toolbox.”

Wayfair Martin Reiter
Wayfair noticed a shift to online spending & a rise in homeware sales during the pandemic.

Reiter said he leads a “very complex and plain business” which houses its own products and conducts its own marketing.

His work ethic undoubtedly comes from a vast experience within a number of roles. Although Reiter started off his career as an engagement manager at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, he went on to hold executive roles at Groupon, Airbnb, and Rare Produce.

“I’ve worked my way up through the years and learnt how to help a company grow. We now rake in billons worth of revenue,” he said.

Wayfair Martin Reiter homewares covid-19 lockdown pandemic
Wayfair still sends catalogues to customers as a strategy to reach more consumers.

Reiter launched Rare Produce, his own food production company, in 2016, while simultaneously serving as Wayfair’s head of Europe. This increased his experience and skills in overseeing the growth and operation of a business.

Reiter said he was now interested in seeing Wayfair grow even further thanks to its “distinct proposition of bringing the best of the selection from all over the world to the UK consumer”. He said he was not focused on Wayfair’s competitors because “there is no one who really does what we do”.

“We bring in products from dozens of different categories, and frankly, nobody really does that,” he said.

“There’s other people who sell furniture and home goods, but there’s nobody who has this. There is no real direct competitor to us.”

Wayfair Martin Reiter homewares covid-19 lockdown pandemic
Wayfair is facing logistical challenges like spending more on resources to avoid breakage.

However, Reiter conceded that Wayfair was facing logistical challenges such as having to spend a lot more on resources due to frequent breakage.

“The bigger our supply chain gets, the more complex,” he reflected.

“We are getting products that break, it’s not like we sell t-shirts. So we’re spending a lot on resources to figure out how to get a Polish wardrobe to the UK consumer in the cheapest, fastest and most reliable way.

“The flip side is that we invest a lot in building sustainable partnerships.”

Nevertheless, with many retailers deciding to scrap catalogues and remain online – such as Argos – Wayfair has taken an opposite approach. The retailer still sends out catalogues to its customers, as Reiter believes it is a way to reach more consumers.

“When we send out catalogues, we’re thinking about our consumer groups and we consider which regions would be most interested in a print catalogues rather than online,” he explained.

As with any retailer, Reiter said Wayfair was looking forward to the Christmas season – often dubbed the most crucial, busiest part of the annual retail calendar.

“The holidays are coming. In any retail, the fourth quarter is a big season. So we’re very much immersed into making sure our service teams are prepared our supply chain,” he said.

And with a brand awareness of 70 per cent in the UK, Reiter was banking on Wayfair becoming a household brand.

“We’re not quite far away from a brand that people blindly know in the UK,” he said.

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