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For many large scale retail operations we have seen in the past a reliance on the ‘Big Sale’ above the line marketing initiatives. We believe that without a promise of a big discount the consumers do not really take notice, they either just fast-forward or continue multitasking on their mobile phones, eventually leaving you in a race to the bottom as most of the other retailers have their sales at the same time as you do! Connecting with your consumers online not only increases your online traffic and the consumer interactions with your brand and whilst they may visit your web-site, search ideas for style, materials, and colours, there is no guarantee that the consumers will purchase from you, or even bother to follow up within your store.

A personalised omnichannel customer experience is the current retail mantra, the holy grail and a silver bullet all wrapped in one. The retailers who provide their customers with an engaging omnichannel journey through each step of the buying cycle, from the need-recognition and alternative-evaluation to completing the purchase, have been shown to enjoy significantly higher conversion rates and customer loyalty than their competitors (for example,  in our studies up to 59% higher in-store conversion rate, and 23% higher purchase size). But how do you achieve this in furniture retail, notorious for the consumers starting most of their purchases online but also seeking a tactile buying experience?

The first logical step in the omnichannel journey is to make the product communications relevant to the consumer and build an emotional connection with your products as early as possible within the buying cycle, and quite often this is in the background of their interest in visualisation technologies in the furniture industry. By enabling the consumer to place the products in their own home not only helps the consumers in their selection process but also makes your products more personal to them, not just with costly catalogue pictures and high end product videos. In the ROI-measurements and studies done with our retail customers (e.g. ROI of visualisation: Customer Results, Long-term User Behaviour analysis: After the Initial Excitement), we have seen the web-site traffic growing between 25%-600%, the time spent on site increasing by 4x, and the number of return-visitors improving by over 300%. At least in our mind the impact is clear and proven.       

So once you have now got their attention here then comes the hard part. While your consumers are more comfortable in buying furniture online than they were 5yrs ago (30%-40% would consider ‘with the right conditions’), most still want to visit the store to see the product before the purchase. And to successfully transfer the online consumers to your stores the same personalised journey needs to continue within your showroom. Whilst your online presence may have impressed them and they are keen on t your product, if the personalised experience does not continue in-store the consumers may as well visit your competitor who has ‘the same sofa’ in the display window – or could just be closer to where the customer parked her car within the shopping precinct (Talk about all that above the line advertising wasted!). Even more importantly, if their personalised journey does not continue in-store, and that emotional connection you spent big dollars on with your product is broken, the consumer usually will want to compare more alternatives and your sales often ends with the departing comment ‘I just need to see few more alternatives, but will come back to you’.

As impressive it is to measure as the online traffic increases, it is the connection between online and bricks-and-mortar stores where we see a true bond in the omnichannel furniture retailer.  With our retail customers we have seen that when the consumers can visually design their next purchase online and that experience seamlessly extends also into the store, not only does the first-visit conversion rate double, but the number of store-visits made by the consumer before purchase is reduced by 63%, but there is also an almost 100% increase in the number of ‘be-backers’.  Although a good portion of the improvement can be attributed to the consumers coming into your store, both better prepared and already more comfortable with their product choice, based on our experience with the retailers implementing the visualisation platforms also in-store (e.g. design-stations, sales personnel iPads, VR), the ability to keep the emotional connection with your products has also a significant impact. While the traditional laws of retail, like the dwell-time to purchase -correlation undoubtedly still apply, we suspect that this is mainly due to two additional factors. Firstly, being able to continue the design cycle in-store gives your sales personnel better understanding of the customer situation, enables them to offer more personalised recommendations, and continues to build the customer's confidence. Secondly, and at least as important, since your customer do not need to leave your store ‘to see how it would fit into the space’ or ‘what it would look like back home’, they do not forget to return and, what would be even worse, do not ‘drop by in to that other store on my way home’.      

Entering the last hurdle you are looking to completing the purchase. As much as we try to create a personalised shopping experience, giving the customer time to think is always fraught with danger. And this is exactly what happens when the time comes to start entering those products at the point-of-sale. Often more cognizant of the task ahead of them (giving the details, waiting for the order entry, etc.) than the actual price, the threshold for the customer decision is lifted and they may want to 'see that other alternative one more time'. While we typically see the biggest benefits of design-to-purchase-to-ERP -integration in the other retailer cost savings (Financial & Operations View of Design-To-Purchase), it is obvious that being able to place the order directly from the visualisation platform with just ‘one-click’ can increase the sales conversion, in particular amongst the last-moment hesitators.     

With the background of traditional furniture retail environments, creating an omnichannel journey and a seamless consumer experience across the online and physical channels is essentially an exercise in change management. The good news is that it does not need to happen all at once but this initial step should be taken in this right direction, nevertheless. When considering the improvements possible at all customer touchpoints, operationalising a truly successful omnichannel requires a gradual company-wide transformation in organisation, marketing, IT, sales-personnel training, and even supply-chain. And like so many other change management processes - as long as the omnichannel is not interpreted as just another online ‘marketing-gimmick’ and provides simply an iPad for a sales person to access the web-site - it often needs to start at the top.

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