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I visited Wayfair's first physical store and got major Ikea vibes — with a few surprises thrown in

Dominick Reuter at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
I visited Wayfair's first store near Chicago.
  • After more than two decades as an online-only retailer, Wayfair is getting into brick-and-mortar.
  • In May, the housewares company opened its first-ever store outside Chicago.
  • I visited the store to take a look and preferred the experience to an Ikea run.

For all of its 22 years in business, housewares retailer Wayfair has been online only.

That all changed in May when the company opened its first-ever brick-and-mortar store in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Illinois.

The 150,000 square-foot, two-story store features furniture, decor, appliances, and much more.

It's not every day that a $7.25 billion e-commerce brand takes the plunge into physical retail, so I decided to visit the store to take a look.

I arrived expecting a stand-alone building, but Wayfair's store is in a suburban strip mall in a space once occupied by a department store.
Wayfair's first store in Chicago
The exterior of Wayfair's first store in Chicago.

The renovation is crisp and inviting, with a main entrance for shoppers and an online order pickup area around back.

Lots of companies say they're 'omni-channel,' but Wayfair really means it.
Shopping carts at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Shopping carts at the entrance.

Like an Ikea, this Wayfair is part showroom, part store, with a selection of items to take home directly, or scan QR codes in-store and have items delivered.

There were even Ikea-style shopping bags.
Shopping bags at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Ikea-sized shopping bags.

I'll be curious to see if these take over on college campuses as the de-facto laundry carrier.

The space was huge, but clear signage made it easy to navigate.
Maps and signage at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Maps and signage point the way.

The layout flowed very naturally, and I never had trouble getting oriented.

Like any furniture retailer, there were model rooms showcasing design themes.
A model living room at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
A model living room on the ground floor.

I was surprised to see some larger sectionals, since my impression of Wayfair has skewed more toward smaller pieces.

A cardboard cutout of brand ambassador Kelly Clarkson showed off a cozy living room setup.
A model living room at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Hello, Kelly Clarkson.

Wayfair describes the collection as "French-country looks designed for real life."

The eclectic collection of accent chairs...
A wall of accent chairs at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
A wall of accent chairs.

Something about this display felt eerily like an e-commerce site come to life.

... and the carpet selection struck me as peak Wayfair.
Accent chairs and carpets at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Accent chairs and carpets.

There was a time when I would have thought that Wayfair exclusively sold accent chairs and carpets. That's certainly not true now.

Several design studios were located around the store to help shoppers mix and match textures and finishes.
A design desk at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
One of several design service desks throughout the store.

The more I walked around, the more I got the sense that I would need someone to help me process the sheer volume and range of options available.

I definitely was not expecting to see a pool table or a shuffleboard.
A pool table and shuffleboard at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Billiards and shuffleboard.

Both games were playable, which will probably keep some kids happy while their parents talk about tile.

There was even a whole section for tidying up your garage.
Garage storage concepts at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Garage storage concepts.

I could have spent an hour fiddling with different storage options, but alas, time was limited.

The center atrium features everything you need for drinking and dining...
The atrium at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
The atrium.

Wayfair calls this area "Market Square."

... like glassware and dishes...
Shoppers browse at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Shoppers browse glassware.

There was stemware for every occasion.

... to cocktail shakers and wine chillers.
Home bar accessories at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Cocktail hour.

Shakers downstairs, bar carts upstairs.

Every once in a while something would catch me by surprise.
A feathered lamp at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
A feathered lamp.

I don't think I've ever considered the illuminating qualities of feathers.

A nearby sign offered instructions on how to order customized versions of this artwork.
Customizable artwork at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Customizable artwork.

Like many products in the store, scanning the QR code on an item would bring up a bunch of personalization options.

The children's furniture selection was bright and cheerful.
Children's room decor at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Children's room decor.

There were a few thoughtfully designed pieces that caught my eye, especially those with integrated storage, like the craft table.

Over in the 'Dream Center,' there were a plethora of mattresses to test out.
Mattresses for testing at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Mattresses for testing.

I don't know how many styles of mattresses exist, but I'm pretty sure they're all represented in this room.

There was even furniture for pets.
Pet furniture at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Pet furniture.

Fancy dog kennels, cat condos, even pet sofas.

Here you can find a bath tub, bath towels, and bath robes.
Standalone bathtubs at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Standalone bathtubs.

The scale of home improvement projects just kept ticking up.

There were also more budget-friendly options for sprucing up your space.
Peel and stick wallpaper at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Peel and stick wallpaper.

I saw some peel and stick tile too that would make for an easy kitchen backsplash project.

The 'Shower Experience' display was pretty clever — it allowed you to see how the water flowed.
A display of shower heads at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
A display of shower heads.

The shower head display reminded me more of a science museum than a home improvement store.

Similarly you could test out all sorts of faucets.
A display of kitchen faucets at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
A display of kitchen faucets.

Here you could really mess with the different settings.

There were doorknobs in every fit and finish...
A selection of doorknobs at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
A selection of doorknobs.

We don't usually think about the sheer variety of something so simple as a doorknob.

... a hall of appliances...
A selection of refrigerators at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
A selection of refrigerators.

Do you need the fancy ice or the flatscreen display? So many choices.

... and a section for designing custom cabinetry.
Custom cabinetry options at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Custom cabinetry options.

There really are too many choices to make sometimes.

But the end result can look pretty slick.
A kitchen design concept at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
A kitchen design concept.

I'm not sure people would believe you if you told them, "I got this kitchen from Wayfair."

These sorts of touch-and-feel displays definitely helped overcome my primary reservation about buying things online.
A laundry room concept at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
A laundry room concept.

Here's where I'll admit I've never bought anything from Wayfair. Texture and durability are important qualities in choosing housewares, and that can be hard to convey online.

Overall, this store does an effective job of inviting customers in to Wayfair's world.
Shoppers browse at Wayfair's first store in Chicago
Shoppers browsing.

The closest thing I can compare it to is Ikea, but I preferred this shopping experience.

Like Ikea, Wayfair has a restaurant to grab a bite to keep you going. There's even beer and wine available, and you can bring your beverage along as you shop.
The menu for The Porch restaurant at Wayfair's first store in Chicago.
The menu for The Porch restaurant.

If Ikea skews more toward urban renters, Wayfair is trying to be the store for suburban homeowners.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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