If anyone was uncertain about the future of digital in the retail world, those doubts have been quelled after the 2016 NEXT Conference. More than 150 furniture industry insiders gathered in Savannah, Georgia, and the buzz circulated on millennial shoppers, digital marketing tactics, and the future of furniture. Meanwhile in Chicago, the Casual Market was targeting the new trends in outdoor living spaces while teaching industry leaders the best practice methods for marketing the trends.
Here are the 10 things you need to know about the future of the home furnishing industry and how you can stay ahead of the trends:
1 . It’s not all about the millennial consumer
But when millennials search for a product, retailers must be ready. This generation is buying fewer homes in the marketplace and making purchase decisions based off search engine results. If ever a generation existed to test the limits of the furniture retail industry, it is the millennial generation. Here’s what we learned: the biggest mistake in many companies is the assumption that millennials are the primary–and in some cases, the only–demographic to base marketing strategies on. Gear your digital strategy to the consumers you actually service, not consumers other retailers service.
2. Content is (still) king
If you build it, they will come. Your strategy in content has to be built on the foundation of storytelling. MicroD’s Keith Johns summarized in one panel that retailers must be thought leaders in order to be visible to consumers at the early stages of a buyer’s journey. Inspiration, engagement, and entertainment are the three pillars of great content; however, many marketing strategies struggle with the transition from education/entertainment to purchase.
3. Is online the only option
Is eCommerce an overcrowded space? While there is still room to grow for the right company with the right message, it is more complicated for the majority of entrepreneurs. Speakers enlightened us with some inspirational takeaways which included some shocking news: online isn’t the only option for retail-centric businesses. Companies can do so much with online retail–including build foot traffic to their brick and mortar stores. Furniture retailers, manufacturers, and designs can grow their online business and traffic with MicroD’s website and eCommerce platform. We make it efficient and simple.
4. Don’t forget the basics
While much has changed (read: most things) in the world of retail, one thing has stayed the same: why a customer becomes a customer. Ryan Craver, Digital Strategy at Lamour Group, told industry leaders that digital will continue to rise but it won’t replace 100% of the in-store experience for many customers. We learned that growing in technology doesn’t mean your company loses the basic values of customer service and the customer needs. In 2016 and beyond, we must empower the customers with 3 core principles: control, competency, and community.
5. Technology is the center of home furnishings retail
Virtualization of your products online is the current trend that many retailers want and need. Why? Engage them on your website with furniture visualization and customization features. Let them build room plans. You’ll be amazed at how long they will stay on your site and how this engagement converts into purchasing. Beck Besecker, CEO of Marxent, opened the keynote with an inspirational statistic. He said that virtualization increases conversion by 20%. We are all on board to increase conversions! MicroD customers deploy our room planners, developed for customers and designers, to plan furniture, design, and even upholsteries. Lowe’s has also found incredible results with tech in the buyer’s journey and shortened their average purchase cycle. Creating a seamless transition from the digital to the tangible is the pain point of many retailers embracing the new digital marketplace.
6. Engage, engage, engage
Social media integration is nothing new for home furnishing retailers; however, virtualization, SEO, and personalized content are trends that have come to (or come back to) the priority of future digital engagement strategies. Christi Olsen, Search Evangelist for Microsoft, reminded furniture industry professionals that we grew up in the physical world speaking English. The future furniture shoppers grew up in the digital world and speak social. The retail industry must bridge the gap between products and consumers through social media. Success in the future means social strategy. Social media is vital in the path to personal engagement in the shopping experience. Haven’t caught up with your website and social media integration? MicroD eCommerce and website solutions offer built-in ways to integrate social media and reviews into your content.
7. Outdoor is the new black
The home furnishings industry has seen trend after trend take over the home design world. Naturally, the Casual Market Chicago taught us not only about the importance of outdoor decor projects but the ways in which furniture retailers can present their products online and in-store. We learned from Chicago to Savannah that intrigue begins where the eyes start.
8. Search is as much about your competitor as you
Olsen turned search engine optimization and product reviews on their heads. Incredibly, 72% of search ad buys have competitors’ keywords taken into account, and the results are increasing. We learned that your search campaigns should be people-focused, not product-focused. At the Casual Market Chicago, MicroD’s Business Development Executive, Jessica Norby, held a roundtable discussion that pushed the point a little further with the power of Product Reviews. 88% of customers will check out review before making a final decision on a purchase. (Search Engine Journal). What’s more, Ryan Craver concludes that your consumers will even trust reviews from strangers. This is just one of the reasons why MicroD embeds reviews within your retail website. The moral of this story is this: when your company is developing a strategy for search marketing and SEO, make sure that product reviews and your competitors’ keywords are part of the equation.
9. Buyer’s Journey is Changing (still)
Touch points increase in quantity with today’s buyer. It is an ever-shifting landscape. More than 81% of shoppers are conducting research online before making a purchase decision, according to research last year. If a furniture retailer doesn’t have engaging visuals and high-quality content about products that appeal to interior designers and consumers alike, those prospects will never convert into customers. SEO can bring your company to the first page, but what will convert that traffic into a customer that remains loyal to your brand? Your storytelling.
10. Managing expectations will save your store (and strategy)
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. Customers are optimizing how they live, how they search, and how they shop. Heather McCune, Director of Marketing for Bassenian Lagoni, talked about the future of responsive homes. We learned that not only will homes begin to be smaller and design will become democratized, but the old places & spaces that used to be the focal point of homes will shift in the new digital era. From dens and kitchen tables to outdoor living spaces and kitchen islands, the heart of the home (and the furniture that designs it) is changing as the generational needs change.
Among the conversations at both conferences, one thing was certain; the digital age is full of inspiration and growth opportunities through innovation AND tradition. Storytelling, personalization, modern millennials, and reviews were just some of the crucial takeaways from this year’s conference speakers. We look forward to continuing this conversation over the next year through more content! Keep an eye on our blog for more insights into the future of furniture retail and digital strategy.