Mining Your Treasure

Photo of a pickaxe and piece of paper

Customer experience is nice, but what are you doing with the data you already have?

In 20 years, when I glide through your furniture store on a hoverboard that actually hovers, as the built-in virtual assistant recommends I lease a velvet three-piece suite using my annual furniture subscription, it won’t be the fact that your store hired a famous DJ for my enjoyment that gets me to sign. And it won’t even be the champagne that comes raining down from the rooftop every 15 minutes.

It’ll be the fact that the hoverboard assistant (we used to call them sales associates) remembered how much I admired those lovely velvet sofas two years earlier, but I worried my kids would damage them. The hoverboard assistant will also know that my kids now are off to college.

Back in today’s world, we’re seeing the onslaught of retailers posting profit warnings, poor sales results and lower traffic in physical stores. We’re seeing the effects of all that with companies like Target and Walmart closing. The seemingly unstoppable rise of Amazon has created an atmosphere in which retailers realize they need to change their approach, and fast.

Many are looking to develop new and engaging experiences for users and often turn to tech-driven experiential retail to do this in the face of online competition and the rising threat of Amazon. But the difference between a gimmick that may be good at generating PR or short-term sales and an experience that overhauls the customer journey in a truly innovative way is important to distinguish.  

The role of the gimmick

The trend of retailers opening pop-ups, bringing in DJs to launch stores or products, hosting food events in-store – whatever can attract consumers to spend time in store and engage with the brand in their physical space – does have its merits. However, this approach needs to be strategic, to fit the brand and to provide long-term value.

It needs to fit, essentially, into a wider plan that prioritizes the overall customer experience, not just the experience in the moment. From order to last-mile delivery, that overall customer experience encompasses the brand’s relationship with customers and, when done well, enriches their overall shopping experience and engenders loyalty.

Decking shoppers out in VR headsets like Macy’s and a few other furniture retailers are doing might get a customer through the door, and that’s no bad thing, but smart retailers are focusing on data and creating offline experiences that add up to a fantastic customer journey. These experiences draw on what a business already knows about the individual customer and feeds any in-store activity back into the customer profile.

For instance, a store that allows furniture shoppers to furnish their den or bedroom virtually and email the results back to themselves will always trump a DJ. Why? Because this both enhances the customer experience and allows for that data to help personalize their experience later.

This is not the technology of the future. In the case of Nebraska Furniture Mart, the future is now. The company is also innovating in this space, creating a so-called store of the future as part of its Augmented Retail vision – through which the interactions between sales assistant and shopper are improved by using data to enable better advice. A radio frequency identification-enabled device can detect which products shoppers are browsing and auto-populates their wish list.

Nailing a customer experience

Being on the receiving end of a disjointed customer experience was a lesson in empathy for me recently, when one retailer sent me a promotional email about a store-opening party. The party was more than 50 miles from where I live, work and socialize. Why would I care about a store opening that’s nowhere near me?

I also regularly get emails telling me about in-store student discount sales. Pretty great for students! But a bit disappointing for me, who is a little past being eligible for these offers. And while many shoppers can and do easily dismiss those emails, they send a not-so-subtle message that the store doesn’t really know them as a person.

It’s frustrating for me as both a consumer and a professional — these are brands that have the data to know me better. It’s possible to ensure that customers are getting messages and rewards tailored to their actual habits. And it’s not just me who feels this way: A recent study my company conducted found that 75 percent of people feel most retailers don’t understand their interests.

While it’s easy to be dazzled by the glamor of gimmick-led experiential retail, or to assume that a few good events will bring back valuable lapsed customers, the reality is that every interaction a person has with a brand needs to be part of one customer experience.

Offline relationship-building

So, if peddling parties, VR headsets and pop-ups isn’t a one-stop shop for improving overall experience, how can offline activations be effectively deployed? Essentially, a mindset shift is necessary.

Your furniture store needs to be an extension of your online presence, not the other way around. I know that might sound backward to some retailers, but think about it: When consumers go shopping for furniture, where do they do their homework first? (Please tell me you know the answer to this is online.)

Creating an experience out of an in-store visit is a good strategy when the model is adapted to focus on developing the customer relationship.

Nike’s running club offers an immersive experience that not only helps build an emotional connection with its customers but also captures their data to improve future communications, allowing for personalized recommendations. This can then feed into the way customers experience the brand as one that understands their needs and just always gets it right. You can do the same in your furniture store.

Experiential retail, and having a valuable offline presence, may be the future, but it’s only part of the answer. While we wait for my virtual-assistant-hoverboard, retailers need to double-down on the data they already have and how they can use that to personalize and improve the entire experience for their customers — and use glamorous experiential retail as one tactic in that overall strategy.

RetailerNOW is changing.

Insights Magazine will be replacing RetailerNOW as the official publication of the Home Furnishings Association. With this change, you will be able to find the same great content on the HFA website. All current members/subscribers will automatically receive the new print editions. You can continue to view content on this website until January 2020.