Laura Alber, Williams-Sonoma's CEO - Finance and Markets

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Williams-Sonoma (WSM: NYSE) is not afraid of Amazon and the retail apocalypse. It’s not even scared of the coronavirus. While other retail giants are going bankrupt, WSM is growing both their online and in-store sales. The company became a Fortune 500 company for the first time in 2019.

Since becoming CEO in 2010, Laura Alber has led WSM forward with visionary leadership and a focus on service and innovation.

Alber has a strong vision for WSM. She sees WSM expanding online with stores and new brands. She considers service as WSM’s strength and safeguards against competitors.

“We win because we have the best service online, in our stores, and in your homes. [] I don’t believe Amazon is killing retailers, bad service is killing retailers.”

She is implementing her vision through a culture of innovation.

“We start with a creative idea, test it, prove that it works, and then roll it out.”

When Alber became CEO in 2010, WSM already had a strong marketing tradition. It had been using catalogs since 1970 and had gone online in 2000. But Alber pushed these to new levels with innovation. The goal is a multichannel customer experience. Alongside the print catalog, Alber also introduced eCatalogs and the popular Taste blog. The websites and eCommerce have become a clear focus for growth and now represent 57 percent of sales.

She also remodeled stores and introduced new brands such as West Elm and Rejuvenation to attract new demographics. Instore events have been emphasized. Artisan markets and cooking demonstrations have made WSM’s stores a destination.

Alber has also introduced the Design Crews and other personal consulting services. This has expanded sales from stores and online into people’s homes. It also provides a new level of personal service that can’t be replicated by online competitors.

On the technical front, Alber has been investing in 3D design and augmented reality. WSM worked with Google, and, in 2017, they acquired a 3D and AR company for $112m. Alber also has an investment in machine learning for marketing and inventory.

Alber’s vision and innovation have kept WSM at the cutting edge of retail and delivered good numbers. Both stores and online sales have been growing. Ecommerce revenue has increased by 8 percent compounded annually between 2014 and 2019. While in-store revenue grew 3 percent. Since 2010, total revenue has increased by 68 percent to $5.9b in 2020.

Over the same period, the share price has increased by 232 percent. So far this year, it is up 41 percent and has reached an all-time high of $99.10. The price was hit by the coronavirus in March, but since May, momentum has been upward. The latest rally looks to continue with five green soldiers in recent weeks. Alber’s eCommerce strategy has paid off. Of course, the Q2 earning result this week will either feed into this or see momentum stall.
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