At least it should be. Engage potential shoppers where they start their research—online.
Successful furniture retailers know they need to constantly be investing in their store, whether it’s in personnel, product or hardware. But where does new technology fit in? To stay relevant to consumers it’s vital for retailers to choose a tech solution with a proven return on investment, one that will improve the customer’s online experience and attract new shoppers.
More than 40 percent of furniture store owners acknowledge they need a new website or online tools, yet in the next breath they say they’re hesitant to invest in technology, according to sales manager Doug Stump of PERQ, an online guided shopping software solution company. Many of those retailers, says Stump, don’t even know why they need something different.
“I’d say 100 percent of stores I talk to have no idea how their revenue from website visitors is tied to the shoppers who walk in their door,” Stump says. “The website turns into a digital catalog, and the same person who unloads the truck ends up handling the website stuff.”
Given that most furniture shoppers start their research online and the popularity of giant e-commerce sites that make browsing for new home furnishings easy and cheap to ship, investing in technology is exactly what furniture stores must do to compete in today’s online marketplace.
“Brick and mortar is in a fight for its life right now,” says Dan Marchione, analytics director for Gallery Furniture. “Here in Houston, Amazon just opened a distribution center to deliver packages weighing up to 300 pounds. If we can’t be as competent as the big online retailers, our days are numbered.”
So how does an independent furniture retailer attract local customers to their existing website, and better yet, their showroom, in this digital age? Implement innovative technologies that target and track buyers in new ways.
Invest in web technology
Online shoppers visit an average of two furniture stores before they’re ready to buy. That’s a number down from five or six visits just a few years ago, according to PERQ co-founder Scott Hill. Those two visits are important. They’re using a furniture store’s website to determine which stores to visit in person. “Consumers expect a high-end service experience on a website like the big brands spend millions to achieve,” Hill says. “One that remembers them and serves up relevant offers.”
Indiana homeowner Luke Fishero bought a dining room set and recliner at two different furniture stores this year, after shopping online for months. Like most Americans, his family regularly shops on Amazon and values online research before making a big purchase. “If your website isn’t user-friendly, then I’m probably not going to visit your furniture showroom,” Fishero says.
To capture the attention of online visitors and convert sales, Hill recommends furniture stores treat their websites as a second showroom. Utilize technology that guides online shoppers along the path to purchasing by delivering helpful, targeted and interactive content, such as design assessments, smart calls to action and pertinent promotions.
“Ultimately, it’s about helping shoppers before selling to them,” Hill says. “To enable a guided online shopping experience, it becomes like a digital assistant. Consumers can do the same things online that they could do in person.”
Attract new customers
Online marketing company El Toro has invented a new way to target consumers, mapping physical addresses to IP addresses, allowing businesses to target specific geographical areas or certain consumers. One of its latest technologies allows clients to digitally advertise to people who just moved—within 24 hours of turning on internet access in their new home. It used to take three to four months for new mover promotions to arrive via direct mail.
“Our technology really works well in the furniture space,” says El Toro’s director of business development Michael Gannon. “We’ve partnered with data house Avrick Direct to get the new mover list, which is refreshed twice a day and old prospects are purged out every 90 days. It’s a big improvement over the old way of direct mailers.”
Another technology offered by El Toro helps furniture stores directly target online shoppers who abandon their digital shopping cart. The company can identify an individual’s IP address and deliver a direct mailer in the shopper’s mailbox the next day. “It helps reengage that consumer,” Gannon says. “Our technology is completely different than what’s on the market today.”
Track ROI and customers
Many furniture stores hesitate to invest in technology unless the return on that investment is easy to track. Fortunately, many web-based tools now measure such metrics so a furniture store can gain insight into how much their digital efforts drive revenue. Investing in technology that doesn’t track ROI isn’t worth it.
“We don’t believe in just tracking e-commerce or in-store sales—it’s all revenue,” Hill says. “It’s just hard to see without the right tools.”
PERQ’s software tracks individual website visitors through internet cookies, gathering in-depth customer data through interactive content that can turn into a valuable lead for furniture stores. The website remembers every online shopper for up to 45 days if they return to browse, making sure they don’t see the same message twice and giving the customer a personalized experience. Furniture stores can then use the data gathered to later tie a website visitor to a showroom sale.
After investing in PERQ’s technology, Gallery Furniture experienced more than an 11,000 percent ROI in just one month and a 14.55 percent lead-to-sale conversion in the first five months. “We can’t track the ROI of the newspaper ads or TV commercials,” says Marchione. “We have devoted a ton of resources and man hours into learning what’s effective, trying different things, and PERQ is one of those things that we’ve really seen ROI on that’s trackable. It gives us a lot of useful information and it’s very effective.”
Gannon of El Toro says his company also tracks ROI and sales conversions for clients. While the size of each campaign greatly varies, Gannon says El Toro clients see a 2 to 16 percent conversion rate.
“We’re huge advocates of sharing ROI, because at the end of the day, that’s what counts,” Gannon says. After an ad campaign is completed, furniture store owners give El Toro a list of customers and their physical addresses, which can then be matched to the IP addresses targeted by the digital ads. “In the past, furniture stores would buy digital advertising but have no way to qualify and quantify the success of the campaign.”
Keeping it easy
Investing in good technology means an influx of quality leads, but that sometimes scares local furniture stores that operate with a small staff that lacks digital marketing managers or analytical experts.
“A lot of technology solutions are project intensive and require a heavy workload for multiple people, which make it a nightmare,” says Stump. “Stores need a tech solution that’s easy to implement and easy to use. They need something that won’t change much of their process but lifts the waterline on consumer engagement and converted leads.”
Gannon agrees implementing new technology shouldn’t be painful for the furniture store staff, but it is imperative if furniture stores want to stay in business long-term. “If you stay trapped in traditional brick-and-mortar mindset and don’t invest in technology, what’s going to happen?” Gannon asks. “E-commerce is booming and it’s new technology that drives it. If you don’t invest and keep evolving as a brand, you’re going to die.”