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.
How Retailers Connect with Consumers
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.
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.
Innovative Tools for Online Customer Experience
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
Online Customer Experience After COVID
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.”