A digital future for an analogue industry

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furniture digital marketing

Times are changing

The furniture industry has a reputation for being an Ol’ Boys club with a lot of face-to-face interactions and many industry trade shows to attend every year. My own experience from the industry more or less supports this reputation, as with most reputations they are often founded on at least some degree of truth, as they say “where there is smoke there is usually fire”.

Many industries have undergone great transformations over the past ten years, as they have had to adapt to new buyer behaviours with the shift from bricks to clicks retail. I have previously touched on the subject of e-commerce evolution, where we ten years ago found it unlikely that online retail of things like shoes or clothing would ever become popular, today we love it and most of us have at least at some point shopped online for these items.

I wanted to find out more about the general attitudes towards the use of digital tools as part of sales and marketing among the furniture retailers where I live; in Denmark. I wasn’t able to dig this information out from the corners of the internet, so I set out to conduct a survey on my own, and although it has to be said that my survey carries zilch statistical validity, it does give a good indication of certain trends and attitudes prevalent in the furniture industry.

 

So where is the furniture industry heading?

It is doubtful that the furniture retailers can remain behind their fortified arguments about their products being unsuited for online retail, due to their bulky nature and relatively large price-points, for very much longer.

Although the vast majority of sales still takes place in a physical store; roughly 3% happen purely online (USA & Europe combined data), it would be very unwise to ignore the impact the web has on the industry today. According to a study done in the UK by the Javelin Group the web has a direct impact on 42% of sales and this number is expected to increase to 69% by the year 2020.

So even though you might conduct the actual transaction within the four walls of your showroom, whether or not the customer will even venture into your store in the first place is very much influenced by what they experience online.

Furniture could be one of the last remaining online retail frontiers – so when will they conquer it ?

Probably sooner than many furniture retailers are prepared for. I spoke with many retailers during my survey and I got a clear feeling that most are aware that e-commerce is something they need to include in their business strategy, but they are very unsure of what exactly they should do to make it a success.

I understand where they are coming from; when you venture into uncharted territory where there are very limited established best practices to follow, you must have the guts to set the rules on your own. And that’s scary stuff when you have existed in an analogue world for donkey’s years.

Many fear that online trade will cannibalize in-store sales. This is my advice to them; with limited growth predicted for the industry at large over the next 5 years, and the only discernible growth is taking place on the web, online trade might very well eat away at in-store sales, but if you don’t cannibalize your own store someone else is sure to do it.

How can you make Showrooming work for you

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??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Basically Showrooming means that consumers browse physical stores in order to gather information only to turn around and purchase the products online. This practice is not likely to become a favorite with retailers anytime soon, as it in 33% of the cases[1] means a lost sale for the brick and mortar store. 90% of smartphone owners who used their mobile while in a store to research products were looking at somebody else’s site. That’s not good news for the pure brick and mortar operations as they have very limited means to fight it. As for multichannel retailers, they better do everything in their power to make sure the consumer is encouraged to surf their site.

If you can’t beat it – join it!

According to an IBM study, Showrooming drives 50% of online sales[2] perhaps not surprising considering one in five American consumers actively practice Showrooming.

The main reason consumers showroom is to compare prices between retailers, so the obvious answer to combat Showrooming would be to be the cheapest. This approach however is gravely flawed, as that would catapult every retailer into the reddest of red oceans, leaving everyone on the brink of extinction.

A much better approach would be to recognize that not all consumers are created equal. Not everyone is driven purely on price. Offering your customers an engaging and satisfying shopping experience will go a long way to retain them in your store. Good old fashion customer service would be a good place to start. A study done by Zendesk shows that the two main factors in creating loyal customers are quality and service, price only makes it to third place[3].

But since 20% of your customers will likely reach for their mobiles while in store anyway, the second place to focus attention is on the online experience you present them with .

Ready – Set – Engage!

Engagement is the keyword here; make the experience interesting and useful. Personalize the journey as much as possible by allowing customers to interact with your brand, make it suit their specific needs and let them share their findings with the world through social media. The more time a consumer spends online with your brand, the more engaged they become and the more likely they are to close the sale with you.

In addition the transition between the online and offline store should be seamless and coherent; the offering, look and feel should be equal across all channels, leaving the customer with the feeling that it is one integrated experience. The use of responsive design when building websites, where the pages will adapt automatically to the medium being used to view them, will go a long way in creating a consistent impression when using a digital medium.

Use data driven marketing and take advantage of what technology makes possible, offer free wi-fi in store and include smart sensors and QR codes offering personally tailored specials and information in real time. A global survey done by Cisco reveal that 75% of consumers want a personalized experience, once they have opted in[4].

By making it more advantageous to be on your site while in store, you actually make Showrooming work for you.