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Williams-Sonoma CEO Laura Alber: ‘I do not believe Amazon is killing retailers’

“I think retailers’ bad service is killing retailers,” Alber said.

Laura Alber, CEO of Williams-Sonoma on the Code Commerce stage in New York City Keith MacDonald

Williams-Sonoma CEO Laura Alber is still bullish about brick-and-mortar retail in spite of the looming threat of Amazon.

“I certainly don’t think we’re in the midst of a retail apocalypse,” Alber said. “I do not believe that and I do not believe that Amazon is killing retailers. I believe retailers’ bad service is killing retailers. And I think because of that you might not go to the malls as much as you used to.”

For that reason, Alber said Williams-Sonoma and its separate brands — including Pottery Barn and West Elm — are continuing to innovate around its service.

“We’re very focused on improving our customer service and not just in-store but also the delivery,” she said at Recode’s Code Commerce event in New York. “We just got done with a board meeting; we measured every single piece of our delivery to the customer [and] we’re now having customers rate at us at every single point.”

“Moving large-scale furniture is difficult, which is why it’s a huge differentiator,” she said. “If you can do something hard well that’s an advantage.”

Still, Alber said the companies have experimented with new digital experiences for e-commerce.

Pottery Barn has partnered with Google on an augmented reality app that lets consumers reimagine their home with furniture from the store.

“We want to lead on these things,” she said. “We knew the Tango phone, there’s not a lot of them out there. We’re great partners with Google [and] we do a lot of things with them. But we also did it because we wanted to be ready when it came on the Apple phone. The Tango phone had the depth perception that allowed this to happen.”

Now, the company has about 140,000 3-D models built for this AR/VR experience. However, Alber concedes that there are few Tango phones out there so the current application is used mostly in stores.

“What I’m focused on is putting our application on the Apple phone,” she said.

Watch her full interview below.

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