HOW WE GOT HERE
Omnichannel means bringing all of your points of service and advertising together and build a strategy around the best way to move prospects through the buyer’s journey and improve customer experience. While the channels have changed, the customer experience has always involved multiple channels. But how omnichannel works has changed as customer expectations have changed. Modern marketing professionals may call it something different these days. People may define it a little differently. But it remains the bedrock of your success. Building an omnichannel furniture ecommerce retail strategy around this journey is how you reach more customers. It’s the way to provide an exceptional customer experience and earn more loyalty and referrals.
Omnichannel is not a new strategy, though. Wait – we’ll explain. The future of commerce in home furnishings is not a one-size-fits-all approach. But it does include one powerful, consistent strategy. Retailers in the home furnishings industry need more than just leads and conversions. They need an explosion of growth in the business–with less staff and inventory control. That’s where an Omnichannel furniture eCommerce strategy will separate those who will thrive from those who only survive.
It’s no secret that the retail industry has talked about Omnichannel for years. But omnichannel was more focused on marketing channels to get conversions. Maybe advanced retailers added a website presence to capture some leads. But it was surface-level interaction. Brick and mortar was the driver, and everything else was secondary. We like to call this “Omnichannel Lite.”
But after the pandemic of 2020, the consumer shopping journey changed dramatically. Now, Omnichannel means more than just your marketing strategy and your website’s presence. It’s about fully integrating your entire digital and traditional commerce experience for the retail consumer.
Omnichannel = Consumer-first Commerce
We’re going to walk through what an Omnichannel furniture eCommerce strategy looks like, how best to implement it, and what it looks like for the future of commerce.
The Changing Retail Consumer
The future of omnichannel furniture ecommerce is all about the consumer. Today the home furnishings consumer is demanding. Everyone wants a personalized shopping experience, and many of them like that to include some time spent on the website and some time spent in the retail showroom. According to research from groups like the National Retail Federation, the digital consumer uses an average of 4+ technologies per purchase and expect brands to support that buying journey no matter where it goes.
Think of the customer journey like an iceberg. The part you see above water is like the customer’s experience inside your brick and mortar. It represents their decision to walk in your store, pick a product to purchase and make the transaction. But just like an iceberg, the majority of this interaction happens below the surface—it starts and stays online. Everything that happens before they walk in your store is the online shopping journey. It is the bottom of the iceberg. And in the post-pandemic world of retail, that bottom of the iceberg represents about 90% of the shopping journey.
Some of your customers are looking for exclusively online shopping experiences like an online room planner. Others want to make a trip to the retail store—but only when they’re ready to spend very little time in the store. Which means they want to make the decision on the product before they ever walk into the store. No matter which type of customer makes it to your online store, you need to create an engaging experience to close the deal. That means close the deal on the website or close the deal in your store. Your online experience and how you engage retail shoppers online will be the deciding factor.
What We Have to Change
What has to change in our existing strategy is the focus primarily on either the website or the retail showroom. The future of furniture commerce is about one seamless experience. Both the website and the brick-and-mortar showroom are equal partners in the future of furniture commerce.
Changes to the retail landscape in 2020 brought the competition to life. Wayfair saw exponential growth, especially in home furnishings. Manufacturers put value in the retail channels that could drive the most sales when the volume was the biggest challenge. Many retailers had to close down brick and mortar showrooms and rely specifically on the website to generate sales. But now, in the wake of the new era of retail, a substantial brick and mortar strategy with an equally reliant website strategy is, quite frankly, the only way to do business well.
And that’s because consumers demand it.
THE FUTURE OF FURNITURE ECOMMERCE IS OMNICHANNEL
A common misconception about Omnichannel commerce and utilizing eCommerce is that it’s 100% online. While that’s partially true, there are benefits to furniture eCommerce that don’t require removing the personal interaction with clients.
If your website is set up with product data and a cart, you can use your website to collect potential buyers and use the shopping cart to secure appointments in the showroom. We’ve witnessed many retailers writing more business during the pandemic by utilizing Request a Quote features that close in the showroom.
Retail furniture shoppers want to discover products online, customize them in the comfort of their own home, visualize the end product and rely on the tangible touch and feel of the sofa in your showroom to make the final purchase. The right strategy is the Omnichannel ecommerce strategy, where these consumers can have their cake and eat it, too.
Because the more limitations you put on the consumer about how they find your product, how they interact with your product, and how they buy your product, the less likely you will acquire that consumer. And in a time when finding the right consumer is so critical, “no” is not an option.
Let’s start talking about what the specific areas of omnichannel should look like in the future of furniture Commerce.
Omnichannel and the Endless Aisle
Endless aisle is another term many retailers are familiar with, but once again, that definition continues to expand. Shoppers are looking for products everywhere. The aisle in your brick and mortar showroom creates a limit to the net you can bring in for new sales. An endless aisle brings the products that you can sell in the store into the digital space. It’s one of the most significant benefits of having a robust website platform with product data included. The more products you can show, the more customers can shop, the more sales you’ll see.
The Amazon Effect
Several years ago, the topic of the Amazon effect was front and center in the retail marketplace. Retailers and manufacturers both were competing with Amazon for product discovery. But now, with so many shoppers relying on local showrooms to provide a product discovery experience online, retailers have found the Amazon effect is easier to overcome with an Omnichannel furniture ecommerce strategy.
FASTEST-GROWING AMAZON GROUPS
- High-priced electronics
- Luxury beauty products
The willingness of a consumer to buy these types of products online makes it more imperative for competing retailers to focus more effort on improving their site’s online personalization. Your business can’t survive in today’s digital world without working to improve the web shopping experience of visitors.
In other words, you’re never going to beat Amazon at their own game, so beat them playing your game. Omnichannel furniture eCommerce takes the best of the brick and mortar experience and the best of the online experience and marries them together as one complete experience. Not just for generating leads, not just for closing deals. The omnichannel furniture eCommerce experience is an end-to-end consumer-first strategy.
THE NEW BUYER’S JOURNEY FOR RETAIL
Today’s furniture shoppers want anytime-anywhere access to product information, customer service and interactive experiences. Whether they are at home on their laptops or tablets, on the subway on their phones or in stores or malls, consumers expect to be able to engage with brands, manufacturers and retailers.
Customers want limitless choice, immediacy, and self-help; and they don’t want this process to take long in-store and online. Especially with the millennial consumer, efficiency is key.
If you can’t engage the shopper before they ask for an appointment, you’ll never get the appointment. From the minute they land on your homepage, your customer should understand what you sell and how to buy it.
Create a unique shopping experience that matches your in-store experience. You can find tools to make it feel like your website is staffed with a full set of furniture experts. From personal shopping tools to live chat software, you can build onto your strong website foundation to make the shoppers feel like they’re getting a customized VIP experience.
And when they’re ready to set the appointment to finish their VIP shopping experience, your website should handle that for you too.
Discovery and Awareness
The discovery phase of the buyer’s journey is the point when your potential customers are just that–potential. We call them prospects. They’re in the stage where research is the top activity. The goal: be the store they find during their research.
What is happening to buyers during the awareness stage in the product discovery process? A lot of research. Buyers are at the very beginning of researching products. In many cases, they may not be looking for anything. But still, want to consume content that inspires them. Think Instagram.
The goal of the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey is to attract the shopper to your store. They’re browsing social media, watching videos, and doing searches on Google when they see something that sparks a need.
Now, many retailers might say, “furniture isn’t an impulse purchase.” And you’re right. But the buyer’s journey—specifically the awareness stage isn’t about finding the right product. Not yet. We want customers to find your store online.
So how does product data on your website fuel the product discovery process in the awareness stage?
Here’s what it looked like:
Previously, someone may look up your business in the Yellow Pages. Remember that thick book from the phone company that held half of your advertising dollars in the year? Better known to your customers as a small adult’s booster seat or a less than sturdy TV tray. Customers see a TV commercial or drive past your store to become aware of your business. You run radio spots, printed flyers, host tent sales or sponsor events to get people into your store.
Awareness with an Omnichannel Retail Strategy:
You may still be doing these things to help you discover your store. They can still be effective in some capacity. But the Internet has changed where these discovery activities take place for most people. Now they see furniture advertisements while entertaining themselves on Facebook. They perform Google searches and they check local reviews. Your omnichannel retail strategy needs to cover all of the online channels where prospects are researching for solutions.
The consideration stage of the buyer’s journey is the point when they’re honestly comparing your store to others as a potential solution to their searching in the Discovery phase. Now, they’re weighing the value you bring compared to the others. This is the stage when they’re narrowing the decision to one provider. In some cases, they’re evaluating whether they really do need a solution at all.
The consideration stage is when buyers are aware of your store and some of what you’re about. But they don’t have loyalty to your store or know everything you can do for them. So the goal is to keep shoppers engaged. From social media channels to the website. Your product merchandising online should help this process of selling the customer. But what else can you do to show shoppers everything you can offer that they may be interested in? How do you keep them engaged and get them to the store?
Here’s what it looked like:
Once someone finds your store, they come into the physical store to look around. One of your friendly sales people greets them. They answer questions. They learn about customers preferences and help them find the perfect set.
Here’s what it would look like with an omnichannel retail strategy:
This still happens. But much of this consideration phase now takes place online. People use online tools to see the different styles and color options from the comfort of home. They use online design tools that allow them to visualize what certain pieces will look like in their home. This is a critical point in the customer journey. You want to use the omnichannel retail strategy to make your website, your social media, and your advertising show slight variations of the same message. Prospects are doing a lot of this stage online but some may happen in the store. You’ll see customers come in the store asking about something they saw on your social media. Maybe they call your showroom after reading something on your website. The goal is to guide this buyer to the decision-making stage.
The decision-making stage is the last stage when a prospect is justifying their purchase decision. This phase could be long or short. And depends solely on how you’re interacting with the prospect. Your goal in the Decision stage needs to be very targeted. By this point, you may have an in-store visit from the customer. How do you handle the sales process from online to in-store? Check out our last blog.
If you’re enabling ecommerce or allowing shop online and pick up in store, you need to focus on the product page conversions.
You may be limited to a certain number of SKUs or brands when creating product data because of time and money constraints. But you can make every page on your website more dynamic.
Each page on your website doesn’t have to be a video or interactive tool. Product data is also the little things you do like:
- Adding social media icons
- Embedding business reviews from other sites like Yelp or Google My Business
- Embedding product reviews from the manufacturer or another source
- Adding Google maps
- Allowing comments and reviews directly on a page
These elements build instant trust with customers regardless of whether they’ve heard of you before. And that’s what you want when you enhance product discovery process online.
Here’s what it looked like:
Customers decide what they want and then sign up for financing or pay in the store. You schedule a delivery date that works for you and the customer and make the delivery. Then this may be the end of your experience with this customer.
Here’s what it would look like with an omnichannel retail strategy:
Today, customers complete financing applications and checkout online. So your chances of a one-to-one interaction in the store is more unlikely. That makes your website’s conversion value even more important. If you haven’t looked at your Conversion Rate Optimization, we’re happy to review it with you. If you don’t offer e-commerce on your retail website, customers may visit the store in this decision-making stage. You want to make sure that you’re making contact with these potential customers with very personalized, targeted, customized messages. If they’ve added items to the cart, send abandoned cart emails to remind them about the pending purchase. Continue to find ways to bring the customer’s thoughts back to your brand.
Congratulations! You have a new customer. Now, what do you do?
Here’s what it looked like:
Once you have a customer, before an omnichannel retail strategy, your re-engagement campaigns were very simple. Hand-written holiday cards, event invitations for customer-only in-store events, maybe you called to get a review a few weeks after the delivery.
Here’s what it would look like with an omnichannel retail strategy:
It’s critical to keep in touch with customers after the purchase. Omnichannel is the best way to approach this stage of the buyer’s journey. They’ve made the purchase. But now you have to make sure you’re continuing to delight them. Why? Because your store stays at the top of their mind for future purchases or referrals. Not to mention collecting customer reviews. Technology makes re-engagement very easy to do.
In a nutshell, this is what the typical furniture customer expects from the furniture buying experience today. Now, let’s take a closer look at these experiences. We’ll see how we can integrate technology with our people to build the optimal customer experience.
Considerations for Vendors
If you’re a manufacturer, then you want your dynamic content to be found on all the retailer website. Develop a system to communicate updates and transfer the publish-ready content to them. The less they have to do to put in on their website, the better.
Create an enhanced online product catalog that becomes the go-to source for retailers. With the right systems in place, you can even automate updates on retailer websites each time you update your catalog.
When you make it easy for retailers, they get it up faster and more dependable. Also, leverage social media. Share content on social media to both strengthen your brand and increase sales through your retail partners.
PERSONALIZING THE OMNICHANNEL BUYER’S JOURNEY
Retailers use their observations of shoppers within their store to provide the atmosphere best suited to them. Your salesperson may spend time engaging with someone slowly going through the inventory. That’s someone wanting to take their time and learn everything they can before committing to a purchase.
They can also sense when someone’s in a hurry and looking for ideas to consider later. Your salesperson might direct them to the section they need, pass them a card, and leave them in peace to snap a few pictures and go. You might offer the three children of a harried-looking mother some distraction to calm them down while offering to show her a new line of relaxing recliner that just arrived.
What can you to inject some of this immediacy and personalization into your business website? It’s about understanding why someone’s there and putting the information in front of them to help make a purchasing decision. The key is finding website engagement ideas that walk the fine line between personalization and intrusion.
Why Personalization is Important
Nearly three out of four visitors respond to a personalized shopping experience. Coming up with fresh website engagement ideas helps in the continuous reinforcement of relationships you’ve built with customers. 59% of visitors believe personalized sites make it simpler to find products they find interesting. That translates to 56% who continue returning to a website for this very reason.
Try not to confuse personalization with customization. It’s nice if you can let customers see different color swatches for a particular couch. You make it personal by asking them if they really in need of a sofa. They could be more in need of some new bedroom furniture.
Think about the following questions as you work through ways to personalize your website.
What do my visitors want?
Why do they want it?
How soon do they need it?
What do we have that complements their desires?
- How can we make it easy for them to get what they want?
- Are we putting the right suggestions in front of them?
Your website needs proper optimization designed to address most of these topics. Amazon’s created an entire generation of millennial shoppers who expect nothing less when they visit an e-commerce site.
Challenges In Web Personalization
It’s a lot to take in if you’re a business who feel they’ve mastered the art of in-person communication but struggle to get this to translate to the web. Here are some of the biggest roadblocks you may encounter.
- Too much data– It’s possible to get overwhelmed by the information you’re taking in. You could also end up with a bunch of irrelevant and unusable data.
- No plan in place–Do you have website engagement ideas already outlined? How do you plan to turn them into an actual strategy?
- Misuse of data– You may end up misreading the information and end up making your tactics too intrusive, which turns off visitors.
- Improper measurements – Do you have the right tools in place to measure your efforts have on your ROI?
Personalization Tactics That Work
Amazon’s got algorithms down to a science when it comes to reading the habits of its visitors. The key for you is using some of those same techniques in a way unique to your business. Why should someone buy from your website instead of sticking to one of the big online retailers offering them everything under the sun?
Here are a few website engagement ideas you can give to give your site the type of local flavor appealing to shoppers near you.
Event and Promotions by Zip Code — Use a visitor’s geo-location and let them know about a local promotion currently going on in their area. You can also reference local events informing visitors about an upcoming sale in locations near them.
Surveys and Quizzes – Ask your visitors about what recent sales initiatives they liked and which ones they ended up bypassing. Use this information to refine and improve any future campaigns.
Personalized Products and Offers – This is another area where collecting information directly from your surveys and quizzes pays off. You can make sure to display products and sales offers targeted at the needs of an individual visitor.
Shopping Cart Reminders – Sometimes visitors get distracted and don’t get all the way through their checkout. Sending them reminders about what they left behind can bring them back to complete the sale and improve your abandonment rates.
PPC remarketing – Using personalized marketing techniques helps allows visitors to see ads relevant to them. Ads created by web personalization can have up to 10 times the click-through traffic of traditional PPC ads.
Email campaigns – Learning the right lessons from a user’s websites habits allow you to create emails with headlines designed to appeal to their needs.
RECALIBRATING THE RETAIL WEBSITE EXPERIENCE
The furniture retail website experience is where the significant recommendations come in for retail store owners. The future of Commerce and Omnichannel strategy for furniture does a great job on the brick and mortar side. But where most retailers are only surviving and not thriving is the retail website experience.
Focusing on Your Analytics
Analytics is so much more than how many visitors you have coming to the website. The future of omnichannel furniture eCommerce is about connecting all of your business systems and reviewing the data to see how consumers interact with your business on each channel. Analytics should be the very first step in reviewing successful performance changes and budget planning in your showroom. And retailers have to stop just focusing on the number of leads from a website, especially if retailers are not showing pricing on the website.
Retailers that want to thrive in the future of furniture Commerce will take all of the data from their website platform, their Google Analytics, RMS and point-of-sale systems, and any third-party marketing technology and create a holistic view of the consumer interaction. What brands are consistently the most visited on your website. Does that match what happens in the showroom? Which of those same brands have available inventory in product information and pricing built-in. What’s your order to cash like on these same products. Analytics is your first step in determining what’s working for your business as a whole. Not just what’s happening on your website.
Furniture Website Design
Because consumers are using multiple devices at different times in the buying journey, the furniture website design is more challenging than the previous. For years we’ve been talking about mobile-specific website pages as mobile-friendly pages and making so many changes based on Google’s best practice. And some of these things are still important. But when it comes to design for your retail furniture website, it needs to mirror the brick-and-mortar showroom experience.
Improve Your Product Data
Step one: Encourage product discovery.
Digitally merchandising furniture to favor trending items—items that also align with a shopper’s personal style—you encourage them to keep exploring your website. A modern website is no longer a static place. It’s a dynamic digital showroom. And it should appeal to a variety of customers who should land on your pages.
Are you struggling to keep your digital product catalog up-to-date? Is it a massive, manual, tedious and costly process? When information is out of date, includes SKUs are no longer available from the manufacturer or everything a person clicks is out of stock, this creates a poor customer experience. Even your most loyal has-written-you-a-hundred-glowing-reviews, tells-all-their-friends type customer will flee screaming. And what’s the thing about product catalogs that aren’t effectively updated? They get worse over time.
It’s vital that you have systems to update data straight from the manufacturer and automate the process to reduce excessive work hours spent doing monotonous updates.
Now, it’s easy to think of digital merchandising retail strategies like these as independent of your physical store. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Interactive tools like a room design tool make searching for the perfect complementing items entertaining and helpful. Making those results sharable on social media helps to build support from friends and family, encouraging them to move forward with their purchases. In some cases, the family will want to pitch in if the person just bought a home, got married, etc. You can facilitate this common customization.
Making Product Discovery Easier
If you’re a retailer, employ smart search engine optimization best practices to help content rank high in searches over time. As more people visit a product page, buy and review, it will move up in the search engine ranking.
Search engines want to show searchers content that’s popular and relevant to them. The same goes for social media. As you gain traction, you’ll note that social media sites like Instagram and YouTube begin recommending your content to new customers.
Your data has to be digital and on the website. It needs to be complete, accurate, and consistent with your in-store brands. This is the hardest part of the product data online initiative. Many retailers can’t keep up. Here are some tips to help you:
Develop a plan to be consistent. It’s so easy to push content creation and updating to the back-burner when tax time rolls around, or the holiday foot traffic is insane. Be consistent and you’ll get to the point where people discover content independently of you. Add that saves you time and money in the long run.
Set an update schedule to ensure the content stays current. Set a creation level goal. Get there. And then maintain for a while, publishing in regular intervals and measuring your results.
Use product data on your website to improve the product discovery process. Think videos and image galleries embedded into digital sell sheets and product catalogs. Think stunning imagery, the kind that makes people gasp in awe and long to buy a product–or whole line.
This is what people share on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. It’s what people click to visit a website.
Telling a Story with Product Descriptions and Images
Bullet points help people distinguish similar items from each other. But reading a dry list of features for product after product doesn’t make for a delightful experience, it doesn’t evoke emotion. Products start running together. Nothing is memorable enough for a deeper glance.
Vivid details set product descriptions apart from your competitors. And they help tell that story about how a piece will enhance the life of the customer. To create a vivid description, elaborate on things like
- Style origin
- Material source
- Design ideas and ways a product can be used
Images should be equally vibrant, not only showcasing the product in 3D but also giving it context through staging images. Again, you’re telling its story that will become the customer’s story.
Beautiful static pages can go a long way. But consider the many ways you can make that product catalog interactive to further make your catalog a centerpiece truly worthy of your brand.
Adding Interactivity to Digital Product Catalogs
There are many things to consider:
- Give the product some context with charts that compare features with similar products.
- Embed a product draping tool. This allows a customer to see what that accent chair will really look like with that “out there” pattern. Generate more happy customers and fewer returns when customers know exactly what they’re getting.
- Invite them to use your augmented reality room design tool and share on social media.
- Prominently display product reviews even if the item has no reviews. Simply having a place for a customer to review shows transparency that customers like. This builds trust.
- Include a map and some interesting country/people facts if the product has an intriguing source. Use expandable text to avoid cluttering your page. This also generates another interactive element
Interactive elements like these keep people on your site longer. Each second spent and each click made gets a potential customer closer to making that purchase for you.
But also create interactive tools for both customers and your sales team. Virtual reality and augmented reality design tools allow a person to build their perfect living room or see what a sofa will look like in their den before they buy it. Product draping and 3D product visualizations let someone see what that accent chair looks like in different available patterns and colors online. It takes the guesswork out of buying online. So you have fewer returns and unhappy customers.
Create content that helps customers easily compare features. Not only are you helping them make a decision. This may help them discover new products that they hadn’t considered.
Leverage the Power of the Site Search Box
What a customer searches for and clicks on your site tells you a lot about their intent. You could think of each search independently. Or employ basic machine learning tools to start putting the pieces together. For example, if someone previously searched for “red sofas” and then they just search for “chairs”, you could push that gorgeous red accent chair to the top of the list to be sure they see it.
Some searches can render dozens of pages. Unless you have a very diligent shopper, they’re unlikely to make it past page 2 or 3. When it comes to furniture, style and needs preference are many. To compete, you need to have options unless you’re dominating a niche. Streamlining search is a way to present fewer options first, but present the options most likely to be purchased. Digital merchandising retail strategies are win-wins for you and the customer. What about visitors who land on your website and leave without moving forward? Let’s talk about some intelligent digital marketing tactics.
Make Shopping Mobile
While we are offering tips for bringing digital into the store, we’ll readily admit one huge secret. Digital is coming into your store regardless of what you do. Digital is in the hands of the consumer — on the ubiquitous mobile phone.
These devices contain the secret to their favorite décor colors, to the home fashion trends they’ve liked on social media and maybe even to specific pieces they’ve researched on your website … or that of your competitors. If your website still isn’t mobile friendly, now is the time to redesign for the growing population of mobile shoppers.
When you put mobile first, you put customers first. 80% of Americans have a smartphone. For many, especially millennials and younger Generation X, the smartphone feels like an extension of their body. They use it for everything from planning their day to finding a new place to eat to buying furniture.
50% of local customers who visit your site on a mobile device will visit a store within 24 hours.
You do need to understand how to convert website visitors into customers that show up in the showroom to make this happen. But it’s easier than you may think. Invest in a website that’s easy to use on a smartphone. Provide online tools that people can use both in the showroom and at home to enhance the customer experience. Follow the tips in this article. Now, onto step three.
They can guide shoppers through your physical inventory selection and navigate their way to digital visualization tools. Then consumers can use their own phones to explore your online showroom of fabrics and styles beyond what they see on the selling floor.
Using Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence, used in your websites search bar, can greatly impact your sales in a positive way. This enhanced onsite search can autocomplete your customers’ words before they are even done typing. The intelligence software anticipates what your customers are trying to search for and suggests terms that it thinks are relevant based on the few letters they have typed so far.
On many websites, when a customer accidentally types in a misspelled word, the search will go to a “not found” page. With AI, this is a non-issue. The software senses what the visitor is trying to search for and will automatically correct to the appropriate word. The whole point of search bar AI is to provide an experience that intelligently displays results and moves customers from search box to checkout as fast as possible. After the enhanced search tool starts to gather data, it can start to recommend products that it thinks you will like based on past search history. You may have seen this technology on big websites like Google or Amazon. Below is an example of enhanced on-site search in action on a customers website. We started searching for a Stressless chair and only had to get two letters in to find the exact brand we were looking for. It’s that powerful.
Prioritizing Secure Shopping Options
Providing a safe way for your customers to shop your showroom online should be a top priority. After all, if your customers have a bad shopping experience after buying products from your online store, they are much less likely to come back. Installing an SSL, or secure sockets layer, is the easiest way you can protect your customer’s sensitive information on your site. An SSL, when installed on your website, activates the padlock and the https protocol that allows secure connections from a web server to a browser. This handy certificate makes sure that your customer can have safe and seamless transactions on your website time and time again. See what Google does to websites that haven’t made the step for better security.
reCAPTCHA is another tool that can be used to secure your website. It is a free service that protects your website from spam and abuse. reCAPTCHA uses advanced risk analysis techniques to tell humans and bots apart. No longer do humans have to solve puzzles to gain access to content. There is now something called “invisible reCAPTCHA,” that allows humans to gain access with a click of the “I am not a robot button.” No one likes spam. Installing reCAPTCHA on your website will ensure that you will only be exposed to humans interested in your products.
When transacting online, there are more ways to pay than just credit cards. Some visitors will not feel comfortable entering their information into your website. That’s ok. With alternative ways to checkout like PayPal and Google Checkouts, your customers will feel more secure purchasing your goods. Providing payment methods beyond credit cards will open up the opportunity to sell to more people.
Powerful Visualization Experiences With Products
Your furniture retail website is more than just a few product pages and a contact us form. Retailers who want to focus on a proper omnichannel strategy will take their retail website to the next level
- 4K 2D visualization
- Customized product draping
- 3D visualization
- Custom pricing and configuration tools
- Connections to third parties
- Integrating your business systems
The retail website is as vital as the brick-and-mortar showroom. So creating connections between your website and the vendors that make you successful is a priority. That also means pricing your products on the website. Retailers who are still focused and concerned about getting price budgeted online are the ones who will only survive the future of furniture commerce, not thrive. Every retailer needs to create an enterprise-level retail website experience. And have their teams using the retail website as a tool and not an afterthought.
In a recent article by Tom Zollar, he observes that online room planning apps will be critical to sharing ideas. It’s one of the features our retailers find most valuable as a virtual selling tool. It also creates a virtual interaction with potential customers before you bring them to the showroom. If you can create an engaging experience on the website, use virtual interactions to consult on the purchase, then scheduling the showroom appointment will be successful and easier to accomplish.
The buyer’s journey is a long process even during the time of COVID-19. But you can add virtual interactions like taking interested shoppers through a virtual room planner and build a faster path from discovery to purchase.
VIRTUAL TECHNOLOGY FOR OMNICHANNEL EXPERIENCES
Countless surveys in the past 12 months have shown that consumers preferred to shop in stores because they wanted that personal attention and connection. COVID didn’t change that desire, just the venue. Retailers have definitely embraced the virtual sales models with tools like Zoom or Facetime that allow their sales teams to engage face to face with clients on a personal level. This helps retailers achieve both personalized attention and the social distancing that consumers crave.
MicroD’s Ron Gordon said, “Sales associates in the retail stores are also using Facetime to show consumers at-home items that are on the showroom floor before they come into the store. They begin with LiveChat or a Request for Information, and then transition to Facetime if they have the product on the floor and the consumer would like to proceed further to see the product(s) in greater detail.” For more information, see the article on Furniture Today.
Are We Over-Zoomed?
Another interesting statistic we found shows that it’s not just live webinars that reach consumers. MicroD is just one company to see results to prove this theory. We are finding that more retailers are using Webinars for their own training and education through Zoom. No of attendees in educational webinars offered by MicroD has doubled compared to pre-pandemic.
In fact, some may say that live interaction is overwhelming the consumer. 6 out of 10 people would rather lose the internet for a weekend than attend another virtual event (webinar). So retailers need to find creative ways to use innovative tools to improve the online customer experience for furniture shoppers.
Chatbots For Retailers
No question, having a good chat tool on your website is a very important tool for retailers. You have to have the right personnel and process to run a chat system — you can’t just install the software and forget it — but once these are in place, you can more easily close deals with online shoppers who are in buying mode and might not be coming into your showroom.
Chatbots are helpful tools when retailers use them to respond to simple and often repeated questions. They can provide directions to the store, store hours, explain the current safety precautions that are being taken, and what steps the consumer can take to stay safe. Chatbots can respond to a variety of often asked questions so that LiveChat may be used to engage the sales professional when their response is most needed.
Tools like Chatbots or Live chat are not only used as part of the initial product search but also for questions during purchasing decisions, and after-sale customer service.
Using Chat Tools to Set Appointments
Here are some things you need to know about chat right out of the box:
- Easy to implement
- Allows for customer engagement at every stage of the shopping experience
- Empowers sales teams inside or outside of the showroom
- Increases probability of appointment-setting or closed sales
If you haven’t implemented a chat tool on your website, make it the first thing you employ. You can use chat to schedule time with your potential shoppers and maximize your business.
Implementing Online Technology to In Store Kiosks
Not just for gift registries and Redbox rentals, the kiosk is a straightforward way to bring the digital experience into the store setting. Furniture brands can work with their retail customers to install kiosk solutions that give consumers access to extended collections.
For example, a retailer may not be able to devote a lot of floor space to patio sets over the holidays, but through partnership with an outdoor furniture brand, the dealer can virtually show an extensive collection online. Integrated e-commerce and digital catalog solutions make the whole experience seamless, from applying the retailer’s markup to arranging for drop-shipping to the store or shopper’s home straight from the wholesaler’s factory or warehouse.
Leveraging Third-Party Integrations
At some point, it became taboo to talk about integrations. As if your website should operate exclusively without any other support from your other partners. But like the most successful people in business, you are better by those you work with. This is why you need to embrace third-party integrations that will boost your website and store consumer experience. Omnichannel is about embracing technology, not trying to hide it. Integrations can accelerate your performance.
So if your website partner is not engaged or developing solutions that bring these integrations to life, find another partner. Retailers cannot afford limits on their growth because commerce does not have a ceiling.
BUILDING THE DIGITAL CONNECTION FROM WEBSITE TO SHOWROOM
With the proliferation of eCommerce, it often seems like everything has gotten a lot more complicated. You can’t advertise the same, market the same, or do business at the speed you’re used to. Customer needs and expectations aren’t the same and as a business owner, you’re in the position to change for your customers. But what strategy will you use to make sure you’re serving the new customer demands while maintaining your business integrity within the community and your current customer base? Retailers, manufacturers, and business owners in every industry are hearing about the omnichannel retail strategy. What is omnichannel retail? First, it’s the answer to your question. Let’s break it down.
Connecting With Consumers Digitally
The pandemic taught us a lot about the online customer experience for furniture shopping. Especially in the way our retailers reach out to consumers. Considering that for many, their online showroom–the website–became the only showroom available, we’ve seen a dynamic shift of advertising dollars going to the digital channels.
The focus has become driving consumers to the website by interacting with these consumers online in more interactive ways. It creates a new online customer experience for many stores that weren’t prepared.
Retailers are now paying particular attention to their website! Ensuring that it has current content and accurate information, now more so than ever! And they are using their websites in new ways to better engage the consumer. Adding LiveChat, the ability to make a specific appointment to visit the showroom, and documenting the store’s procedures for staying safe when visiting are some examples.
Consumers are engaging now much more frequently through online chat and through the “Request for Information” function.
COVID-19 pandemic has brought the realization to the retailers that they have to be much more responsive to the consumers’ needs and requests in a non-touch, remote access way. Websites are not only where consumers starting their journey with product searches. But customers are using websites now for interacting with the retailers. We see:
- Setting appointments
- Live chat with retailers’ sales reps
- Virtual tours
- Experiencing the products virtually
- And, eventually, purchasing online
Consumers to retailers’ interactions are still personal but have moved more virtual.
One of the most important ways to offer a seamless shopping experience is to enable consumers to easily access your store and products across channels and devices. The most innovative home furnishings websites embrace responsive design. This means that their underlying website technology instantly adapts their content to best suit the screen size of any consumer device, whether PC, tablet or mobile phone.
However, being seamless isn’t just about offering a fluid online experience. Furniture retailers want to offer a truly omnichannel experience that blends the best of the physical and digital worlds. Leaders in the industry are leveraging their product imagery, craftsmanship, decorating expertise and customer service across all channels and media. Each new collection presents a world of options to play up home fashions themes in multiple formats, from the physical showroom to traditional advertising to online blogs and social media posts. All of these touchpoints can and should tie back to the brand website.
Furniture retailers win when they make it easy for consumers to like, share and review products on their websites and on social media platforms. While it’s important to help facilitate some of these communications, many aspects of this seamless exchange with consumers can be automated. For example, brands and retailers can utilize website software solutions to automatically integrate social media onto every product page. The consumer need only hover over a product photo for the option to “Pin” it.
These same website technologies, coupled with best practices in site design, help consumers easily navigate more seamlessly, with minimal clicks. In many ways, this online experience is just like being drawn into a physical furniture showroom, sitting down to consider a display and feel the fabrics, looking at a room from different angles. Whether you’re in the physical or virtual world, you don’t want to leave.
The seamless home furnishings experience extends to empowered customer service representatives who are ready to engage with consumers across channels. Today’s consumers want sales associates who are as familiar with your store’s Instagram posts as they are the deals in the newspaper circular. Websites and social media can be used to entice shoppers into stores to schedule appointments to touch and feel products and meet with interior designers and salespeople.
Whether the consumer is in the store or connecting to your brand digitally from somewhere else, there are wonderful opportunities for creative collaboration. It’s important to cover the basics of being available via online chat, phone or social media to assist with shopping, answer questions and complete transactions. But there are also new and exciting chances to work with shoppers via online room planning tools and fabric visualization technologies. Just imagine the connections an associate can make with consumers if they can start a conversation online, helping to furnish a room virtually, and continue the shopping experience in the store with full access to both digital and physical assets.
Retail Websites as Store Locations
Design on your website and layout of your products should match what happens in the retail showroom. For a truly omnichannel experience, retailers must create a synonymous online to in-store shopping journey. And you should use your data (see section above) to identify what design techniques and layouts serve your consumers the best on different channels. Use website design to create a meaningful shopping experience. That means advanced product visualization, customization, high-quality product photography, videos, and interactive elements to bring all of these in-store experiences online.
But omnichannel is a two-way street. The design of your retail website should match the furniture store and inform changes that happen in the retail showroom. Use the technology and layout of your website to power a customized and personalized in-store retail experience, especially for those shoppers that you can identify as digital-first consumers. Also known as those shoppers who saw you online first. An inconsistent experience is a negative experience.
Creating Space for Digital Interactions
Microinteractions are animations or visual responses that users see when they perform a certain action online. Though it may seem insignificant, microinteractions have a significant psychological impact on your potential customers. Think, Instagram. When a user “likes” a photo or video, a little red heart pops up and lets you know that the task was successfully complete.
The same thing can apply to product ratings, reviews, and social media sharing for furniture discounts. There is technology for retailers that lets you send customers text messages or emails after they buy a product from your store. Your customers perform an action, like checking out at your store, and they are given a way to interact post-sale, by receiving an email to rate or review the product. The same goes for social media discounts. You can offer incentives for social sharing on your website.
For example, if your customer shares one of your products on their social media, you can have a popup automatically appear that gives them a discount on their next purchase at your store. Again, a reaction for every action. It is the little things that make a difference over time. You might not realize they are happening, but the most successful brands are using microinteractions to build loyalty between a consumer and a brand to sell more products.
Get Creative With Promotions
Part of the new online customer experience is about convenience. We’ve covered the role website plays in this improvement to online customer experience. But what are the business strategies that convert those online visitors into retail store shoppers? We took a dive into what worked in our retail network during the pandemic and built this tip for you. Because if we’ve learned one thing. It’s that the road to recovery is uneven and long-lasting. The impacts of how consumers shop will be around forever.
The retailers we work with have been very creative with their promotions. If you have it available or know there isn’t an issue in the supply chain, you can sell the customer and reduce the friction. Financing is a “big win” feature right now. Shoppers aren’t willing to put down significant investments in furniture but utilize well-messaged financing options. We’re also seeing customers win more sales with brands they can get easily or ship to the customer.
When retailers can utilize these as “favorites” or “trending items”, like our retailers, they see great results from their local audience.
Promotions we are seeing from the retailers are for more bundled sets, such as the entire living room set, or bedroom set also with easy financing and free shipping. BOPIS (Buy Online and Pick Up In-Store) has also become very popular with some of our customers.
Tell Your Story With Advertising
Advertising shouldn’t stop just because your regular schedule is on hold. In fact, many retailers made a few adjustments to their digital advertising to make use of the vast amounts of online browsing. Bringing online traffic from local shoppers was a challenge before the pandemic for some retailers. But when others took a strategic approach with their advertising, the traffic followed.
We recently heard from retailers who noticed an uptick in search for outdoor casual furniture in the area. These retailers took to their advertising and told the story of their casual furniture collections. They were able to target the local audience searching for casual furniture and interact with them through the content. These visitors turned into shoppers right on the retailer’s website. And it all started with monitoring a trend.
Your store can and should be using digital advertising to promote your big Memorial Day promotions. Even if you can’t serve the customers in the same way, use your online tools like chat to schedule appointments or virtual showings of the sales items on your floor.
Interact On Social Media
While many shoppers were in varying states of social distancing, they took to social media. It’s where many brands got the opportunity to keep customers informed about their store information. Using your social media channels to interact with customers online gives your local community a chance to engage with your store. Retailers can be successful with opening direct messages with local shoppers to share information, product inquiries, and even take orders through message apps on social media. But it doesn’t just revolve around the sale.
Social media has always been a central lifeline between brands and the people that support them. During the crisis, retail stores could show videos and go live from an isolated showroom to give customers a virtual walkthrough of the new collections in store. It gives your store a chance to inform shoppers about the products in your store. But it also gives the shopper expectations and understanding about your store’s social distancing practices.
Shoppers returning to retail stores will still be hesitant to fully interact with your staff. So using social media to go live, record videos, share photos, and announcements about the store or products will give your clients a way to engage between visits.
Virtual Design & Appointment Setting
We’ve discussed a lot of valuable ways you can connect to customers online during this unique period of the pandemic. And one of the most valuable ways you can keep the interaction alive from online to the store is appointment setting.
Encourage your team to use every opportunity online as a chance to set a private appointment in the store. Every retailer who continues to see business come in has made that effort to engage retail shoppers online from ads to chat to social media. And they have turned those opportunities into appointments in the store.
Whether your store is a custom furniture shop or a promotional retail store, you can practice safe shopping guidelines and tell your customers about it. Today’s retail shopper wants to feel confident in their buying process during the uncertainty of COVID-19. So your forward-thinking message focused on that socially-distant shopping experience will set you apart from the rest.
SELLING OMNICHANNEL TO YOUR SALES TEAM
When it comes to omnichannel revenue and omnichannel marketing, home furnishings in-store salespeople may still be a little leery. Understandably, it might feel as if the shopper’s website interaction is circumventing showroom personnel. This perception can create challenges for furniture store owners and executives who want to encourage their sales teams to work with their websites, not against them, and increase consumer engagement.
One of the best ways to rally the sales team around e-commerce is to emphasize consumer engagement. Every good salesperson knows how to get the customer talking and sharing. Those insights help them to make stronger product recommendations and build relationships. With more consumers doing product research online, they are often very well-informed by the time they enter the store. Studies show that 67 percent of the buyer’s journey is done digitally, and consumers will touch a website 11 times before making a purchase.
Salespeople who demonstrate deep knowledge of your store’s website will be able to make a quick connection with in-store shoppers. Then they can offer consumers the best of both worlds with an omnichannel furniture ecommerce, digital assortment and physical product expertise. For example, after showing the store visitor a new sofa and loveseat special, they can use powerful room planning tools to demonstrate on screen, in the store, precisely how pieces will fit in a room with the consumer’s desired dimensions.
The digital realm also presents a great way to follow-up with shoppers after they leave the showroom. For example, leveraging insights from the in-store conversation, the salesperson can use a visualization tool to build a virtual furnished room and then email or text-message the shopper a link to it. They can encourage customers to use those same tools on their own to experiment with different furnishing arrangements and upholstery draping choices.
Creating a Collaborative Team
When there is a seamless omnichannel shopping experience, consumers are able to buy products anywhere, anytime, any way they choose, from an endless aisle of merchandise. This new retailing reality doesn’t mean that traditional sales models are thrown out the window.
Quite the opposite. There is still plenty of room for referrals and commission-based selling. The key is to educate your sales team about the new rules of engagement and to be sure your systems are ready to connect the dots between in-store and online sales activity.
Are you tracking when a salesperson’s email outreach results in a click-through to your website? Are you tracking when that click-through results in a sale? What financial incentives are associated with different results?
Improve Your Phone Sales Tactics
Believe it or not but phone calls from your website are incredible points of engagement with shoppers. In fact, retailers across the country have noted phone sales increased dramatically during the pandemic. Customers were finding the store online, reviewing products on the website, and making a call to the store for more information.
And retailers who spent the time improving their phone sales tactics reaped the benefits.
Phone calls to the retail store are critical to digital commerce. Retailers who track these conversions see better results than those retailers who aren’t proactive with phone sales. While it may not be profitable to create an entirely dedicated team for phone sales today, it should be a primary focus for your online engagement. Yes, phone calls are part of online engagement. It’s your first opportunity, without on-site chat, to control your interaction with the customer.
If you have a sales staff with availability, staff the phone lines.
We’ve heard from retailers who increased sales during the pandemic about this strategy. They’ve set up a commission structure to benefit those who staff the phone lines. This creates a unique incentive to close the customer over the phone. And many retailers not using this strategy today could easily adopt this process.
Help Your Sales Team Help You
Technology is important. But your sales associates play an important role when you’re figuring out how to convert website visitors into customers. Let’s look at how they contribute. First, equip your sales team with the tech to assist those in the store. They should be as familiar with the website as the showroom to help customers find what they’re looking for. 57% of customers say that when store associates have a tablet to quickly help them, it improves their in-store experience.
Second, expand your sales associates’ communication capabilities. Make it easy for associates to help customers online through social media and online chat and then invite the person into the store to continue assisting. You’re not only helping customers. You’re helping your valued employees enhance their technology and sales skills to make more sales and upsells.
THE FUTURE OF FURNITURE COMMERCE
Although nobody can predict the long-term impact, we do know for sure that retailers will continue to focus on creating a dynamic, engaging, and robust online shopping experience. So many retailers were caught off-guard by this and found out just how deficient their web presence was. Retailers are determined to ensure that should their showrooms ever need to close in the future for any reason, that their online store is ready to shoulder the business.
Retailers are learning how to better engage more shoppers more effectively through their website. This is enabling them to better utilize their showrooms and their in-store professionals. Leveraging their website and all of the capabilities that it affords is something that will stay with us. These new web-based tools and processes enable the retailer to provide an overall better experience for their customers and do so more efficiently. That’s a plus that will remain long after COVID-19 has been tamed.
According to MicroD CEO and President, Manoj Nigam, “We believe that this trend of minimizing in-person interactions to using more virtual methods is here to stay in the Furniture Industry. Not only does it make customers’ journeys more efficient and frictionless. But it also allows them the convenience of doing more of their shopping from their homes.”
COVID-19 changed the way consumers shop for all products–including furniture. And retailers learned a lot about the gaps in online customer experience for furniture shoppers. We’re here to share some of the insights from our experts with you. Retailers who want to apply these lessons will find great results.