by Joe Capillo
Is your website an extension of your store, or vice-versa?
Now, this is going to be controversial and hard to accept for many people, but I believe you should turn this thinking around and strive to make your store an extension of your website. Here’s why:
When a prospective customer visits your website, directly, or through a link to a manufacturer’s site or via a search engine, their experience is totally personal, and can evoke their dreams for beautiful rooms and homes. Each visitor’s experience will be personal to them when you speak to their needs, dreams, and issues.
Web shoppers can find merchandise anywhere, at dozens of store sites in their shopping area, and they will each establish a virtual relationship with your company based on what they see, read, and feel while at your site. You can tell the story you want to tell on your website and most visitors will read it if you make it sincere, visually engaging enough, and germane to what some consumers are seeking. It will help them to make their their decision regarding what to purchase and where. In this case, your best website visitors will be those who are more relational than transactional because relational shoppers are seeking a relationship with a store that will transcend this one shopping experience. Speaking to these relational shoppers on your website is a critical point of engagement.
For transactional shoppers, those people who are interested primarily in the best price, and are less interested in a relationship, the challenge is to not cater to the lowest price need, but to the inherent danger of buying furniture on price alone. I believe that furniture is a relational product category, requiring more consultative selling than commodity items, which are the prime ground for transactional shoppers.
For transactional shoppers, where consultation and advice is a more important factor in the decision to buy, I believe it’s important to offer a price match guarantee, but there are many challenges when selling against total online retailers. This is an area where offering exceptional service from the moment you meet a customer on your website, all through their in-store shopping experience can add value in the customer’s mind.
Room Planning Programs
Many retailers offer a room planning tool on their website, and many manufacturers offer consumers this helpful tool. Not many retailers, however, offer their shoppers this same service in the store, and this is a point of disconnection between a customer’s experience on your website and their experience in your store. Room planning, simply dealing with the customer’s room related issues, is a key element in many consumers decision to buy. If they can’t resolve their issues around look, fit, and layout, and can’t get help from retail salespeople with this, they simply become part of that 40% of shoppers who reported that they shopped, but did not purchase. I believe that offering a room planner on your website is a valuable service that ties into the quality of the customer’s experience. You must, however, extend this service to your store by simply telling your web shoppers that they can bring their dimensions to the store, and one of your fantastic salesperson will do all the work for them. This is a key way to make your store and extension of your website.
If you own the rights to the room planner you will receive notification for all users who register to use the planner. Generally, visitors can use the planner to layout their room, but cannot print, save, or send it without registering. Here, again, the room planning tool provides a direct connection between your website and your store, and between your salespeople and your potential customers who register to use the planner. If you use a manufacturer’s room planner, as many retailers do, you may not have access to registrant’s information. I recommend purchasing a room planner for your use and making it an important part of a fully integrated website.
To continue to extend your website experience to your store you should give visitors every possible opportunity to join up with you through some sort of “Inner Circle” or Home Fashion Group, or Home Decorating Club to receive special treatment from your company. Getting people to register through your website gives you a connection you might not otherwise have – their email address. While more and more retailers are developing email address lists, many still don’t do this as a matter of initiative. There is really no better way to communicate with consumers today, and your website is the first place to capture this information. You can issue a special invitation to each registrant to visit your store to redeem a gift certificate that they receive as the result of registering. The email can be sent by a salesperson to begin a personal connection. If you ask them to respond to make an appointment to meet with the salesperson that sent the email, some will do that, so your people can be ready to extend and enhance the relationship begun on your website. This is how to personalize your customer’s experiences and become more customer-centric.
You must remember that well over half of all furniture shoppers use the internet to shop first. Many shoppers who come through your doors have already met you on your website, and your selling strategy should assume that everyone has “met” you before. You should specifically ask each shopper if they have been to your website as a matter of gathering important marketing information. If they have not been to your site, you can advise them to do so to register, or your salespeople can register them right in the store. You want as many registered users as possible because this is how “opt-in” one-to-one marketing is done. Upon registering, each customer is asked to accept or deny email communications. You can also put a short survey in the registration where shoppers can tell you about their specific areas of interest – specific home decorating projects they’re working on. This gives you the ability to supply them with specific, customer-centric information that will further enhance their experience with your business.
Joe Capillo is a 41 year career veteran, experienced in managing and consulting with furniture retail operations. He is also a contributing editor for Furniture World Magazine. He is a contributing editor to FURNITURE WORLD and a frequent speaker at industry functions. See all of Joe’s articles on the furninfo.com website.
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