There’s no denying it: The design industry is starting to embrace e-commerce in earnest. But it’s early—so early, in fact, that it’s often hard to understand what exactly is going on. While a showroom is always just a showroom (you walk in, place an order and walk out), to-the-trade online shopping is far more complicated. A variety of sites and software tools have sprung up in recent years that all take different approaches, and for a designer looking to shop smart online, it can be tricky to even know where to start.
However, amid a somewhat chaotic landscape, a genre of platforms is starting to emerge. For lack of a better term, we’re calling them “digital multilines.” These sites, ranging from SideDoor and DesignerInc to Bellvine and Daniel House Club (see a full breakdown below) all take slightly different approaches to the same basic idea. Their goal is to replicate the convenience and scale of e-commerce marketplaces, add some trade-specific features, then wall off the whole thing from the general public. Basically: Amazon, but built for designers.
Not to be confused with boutique digital-first showrooms like Somerselle or Denvir Enterprises, these are volume businesses, aggregating dozens if not hundreds of brands. They tend to make money the same way showrooms do: by buying the product at the equivalent of a “stocking dealer” price and offering it to designers at net pricing. From there, designers are free to set their own markup when selling to clients (or not take one at all, depending on their business model).
For designers, the upsides are clear. Instead of setting up individual trade accounts with dozens of brands, they need only create one with the platform. Digital multilines also dispense with minimum order requirements, making it easier to shop for individual pieces. Finally, many offer a kind of concierge service that helps deal with custom orders and facilitate logistics.
There are risks, of course—mainly the centralization of risk itself. When designers order from 35 different vendors, it’s a hassle, but it’s extremely unlikely that all 35 companies will mess up simultaneously. Many of these digital multilines are only a few years old, and it might make some designers nervous to place the bulk of purchasing for a big project in the hands of a single platform. Other designers may inherently distrust tech platforms altogether and prefer the (occasionally messy) directness of a one-on-one relationship with vendors.
However, the potential conveniences are real. And given the rapid rate at which new digital multilines seem to be springing up, it’s hard to imagine that they won’t play a significant role in the industry in the years ahead. Interestingly, the surge of new …….