Home furnishings retailers, like their counterparts in fashion, consumer electronics and other categories, are faced with what is both an exciting opportunity and daunting challenge: creating a seamless shopping experience.
Why seamless? 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.
In its 2016 “Global Powers of Retailing” report, Deloitte Global defined the “new digital divide” as the “gap between consumers’ digital behaviors and expectations and retailers’ ability to deliver the desired experiences.” Over the years, Deloitte has been conducting in-depth studies into digital consumer behaviors. Deloitte’s research confirmed that connected online consumers are not just window shopping in stores and then buying online. In fact, the consulting firm’s latest findings show that customers using digital devices in stores are more likely to make a purchase in the store.
In another report, “Building the Business Case for a Unified Commerce Platform,” several industry groups (the National Retail Federation, the Ecommerce Foundation and Ecommerce Europe) cited findings of a 2013 University of Arizona study about the “digital diva” consumer segment. This group of fashion shoppers uses an average of 3.7 technologies per purchase and “expects fluid and highly relevant interactions across physical and digital destinations,” the report said.
With the synergies between the fashion and home furnishings industries, and the increasingly strong performance of home fashions as an online shopping category, it’s reasonable to assume there are many digital divas hunting for furniture as well as apparel.
Making the Seamless Connection
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.