Retailers across the country are closing their doors earlier than usual. For many retailers in states of emergency or quarantine, the stores have been temporarily closed. While so much content in the industry focuses on how the retailers fare in this COVID-19 crisis, what impacts have manufacturers faced at this time? We wanted to dive into how manufacturers in the home furnishings industry have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and how they can use enhanced product catalog data to support their retailers during this time.
Manufacturers in the home furnishings industry serve the retail customer in a wholly unique way. While some manufacturers produce B2C websites, many rely on their retail partners to sell the home furnishings. If you’re a manufacturer operating a B2B and B2C website for your home furnishings, you may have an advantage over other manufacturers. But opening a new revenue channel isn’t easy to do in the best of times. So without creating a new way to generate revenue, how can you combat the COVID-19 crisis?
Supporting your current retail channels. We’re going to spend this article focused on the ways manufacturers can take action through retailers. We’ll discuss strategies that you may implement already and others that will be new to you. At any point, if you have questions, please reach out to MicroD and we’ll be happy to talk more about these ideas with you.
How Manufacturers Can Take Action
We surveyed hundreds of retailers in the home furnishings industry at the start of this crisis. One common point of interest was the eCommerce website. Retailers who have eCommerce were more likely to close or adjust their store hours. Because they had a way to continue generating revenue. Those who do not have a website or only have some products online were less likely to be prepared in the event of a government-mandated closing. So why are more retailers not doing eCommerce?
Why Retailers Aren’t Using Ecommerce
There are many components to eCommerce that present challenges to the average home furnishings retailer. At MicroD, we believe that eCommerce isn’t just a shopping cart on a website. Ecommerce has a new and complex definition in the furniture retail landscape. And it means different things to different retailers. For some retailers e-commerce means an activated shopping cart transacting revenue online. For others it means showing all of their product inventory online with pricing labeled for each item–but all transactions happen in the showroom. Ecommerce and the strategy vary from retailer to retailer. That’s why MicroD offers a customized solution for our retail partners.
But no matter what level of eCommerce a retailer enables, there is one big roadblock.
The home furnishings retailer works with anywhere from 5 to 25 manufacturers within a given segment. And if a retailer wants to have a functioning website with great SEO and an extended aisle, they need data. But it takes one to two full-time employees to create and maintain the product catalogs from the manufacturers. And that would be their only job. Retailers who want to set up one catalog one time can save on labor costs but lose the opportunity to sell your current product lines. So many retailers who want to do eCommerce choose to avoid it because the labor and resource costs are higher than the return they see.
You can change that by offering enhanced online product catalogs to your retailers.
What is an Enhanced Product Catalog?
Retailers need to create an online store experience as if it were an extension of their showroom. In many cases during the current economic climate, retailers are using the website as their only showroom. Everything they need to run a showroom is what they need online. Companies like MicroD help with the storefront and the engines to keep it running. But only manufacturers can help them fill the store.
Some manufacturers may offer data files of their collections to a retailer. Some use content delivery networks to share this data. The most advanced manufacturers even send updates through this feed like adds and drops from catalogs. But it’s very labor-intensive for the manufacturer to be this advanced. And your teams have enough to do already. So they’ll rely on other companies to pull the data using other methods. We’ll get into those methods shortly. But first, what do we consider an enhanced product catalog?
What’s Included in an Enhanced Product Catalog?
Standard product catalogs come with some basic functions:
- SKU number
- Category & Collection
- Product image
- Short description of the product
If the retailer is lucky, they’ll get a sentence or two of the product descriptions. These are the basic items a good website provider will demand from a manufacturer to help their retailer succeed online. But this isn’t enough. It’s like going to pitch Game 7 in the World Series without warming up. You’re in the game but you’re not ready to compete.
Retailers need more data to help customers find the product in local online searches. They need to have robust descriptions and images to help customers make the right decision when it comes to buying. And they need pricing for the products in the catalog for shoppers who want to buy or get the cart quoted online. If you offer custom upholstery in your catalogs, you need even more advanced tools in your catalog development like the ability to configure custom products and price them with appropriate rules built into the catalog for the right retailers. Plus, if your brand uses product line distribution rules, you’ll need to have the right collections and products and pricing for the different types of retailers you have within your network.
Enhanced product catalogs should include:
- More product photography
- Merchandising suggested items within the collection
- Robust product descriptions
- Interactive product views
- Videos of the product
- Product features
- Warranty, Country of origin, construction and materials
- Room plan template outline
- Collection features, motion types (if applicable), finish
- Number of pieces (cushions, chairs, shelves, leaves, drawers, etc)
- Dynamic draping and configuration (for custom upholstery)
- Shipping information
Sounds exhausting, right? This is what it takes to compete in the online shopping arena. And your retailers can’t do it without you.
If you don’t have the capacity to provide all of this information for your retailers today, here are the two most important features that will help your retailers immediately:
- Advanced Visualization
How Pricing Catalogs Helps Retailers
When we ask retailers what the hardest part of starting eCommerce is, they say pricing. It’s a challenge for retailers to collect pricing information from manufacturers in the enhanced product catalog. Manufacturers face many challenges in offering pricing options to their retailers. From distribution types to complicated price points, there are roadblocks in several areas that take time and resources to overcome. While we understand many manufacturers have their reasoning behind this rule, the impact is far greater than the need to refrain.
If a retailer can show pricing on products on their website, they have a better chance of getting their customer to purchase your product. In the days of consumers sitting at home and shopping online, your unlisted product prices will deter them from considering your product. Let alone making the choice to “Add to Cart” for later. The country is in a time of economic uncertainty. Consumers are changing their spending habits for the short term. But if this is more long term and you can’t adjust to the changing needs of the consumer, you won’t have a consumer. And your retail partners will continue to underperform.
And other manufacturers who compete with you are already offering pricing to their retail partners. Some were distributing product pricing rules for product catalogs before the COVID-19 crisis because they wanted to sell more furniture on every channel. Others have made the initiative a priority due to retail challenges in the store. Those manufacturers who have not adopted pricing in their catalogs are left behind.
Bringing Advanced Visualization to All Retail
The second feature you can control to help your retailers sell your furniture online is about visualization. Furniture shoppers surveyed every year prefer to complete a furniture purchase in the store because of the visualization component. But if there is no store to visit, how can they satisfy this need? They’ll continue to shop for the furniture but now only consider options they have confidence in.
Visualization tools help furniture shoppers build confidence in the product they’re viewing. When your catalog is built with dynamic draping shows the many digital angles of your product, you’re giving the shopper an in-store experience online.
While this solution takes time to build, it has lasting effects. Your retailers can use this as a tool to sell online now. And when the showrooms open up once again, they can use this tool to showcase more product options for customers in the store. Your investment in visualization is your investment in the future of home furnishings shopping. And you need to find the right technology to build it and distribute it to your retailers.
How Product Catalog Management Works
MicroD works as a connection between nearly 400 retailers and the manufacturers to bring data from the manufacturers to the retail websites. Think of it as a data highway. Product data comes to MicroD from the manufacturers and we distribute it on the platform where hundreds of retailers will show the changes right from the manufacturer. In turn, we provide the data to manufacturers about how their products are delivered, distributed, shopped and purchased through this retail network.
This isn’t a comprehensive view for all manufacturers because not all of your retailers are on our network. And it isn’t a single resource for retailers because not all of their manufacturers use MicroD to manage product catalogs for their retailers. So retailers and manufacturers both operate with a gap in production. It’s our goal to distribute enhanced catalogs to retailers for better eCommerce solutions.
If you would like to reach more of your retailers with enhanced product catalogs that are up to date all the time, contact MicroD today.