Those who know me know that I am an old school guy where social networking and technology are concerned. I prefer to talk face-to-face with people. To interact with all the body-language, eye-roles, smirks, questions, and groans that inevitably arise in my seminars and training sessions. I think that all the current noise about Tweeting and Facebooking (is that even a word?) is really off target in a world of personal selling. I need to feel the energy of the people I’m dealing with, whether in a seminar or on the selling floor. There is no energy in Twitter, the root word of which is, unfortunately, twit, and all I think of when I hear the word is Tweetie Bird who “tawt he taw a puddy tat.” Sorry Tweeters. OK, so there are many effective uses of Twitter in commerce, and e-commerce sites are growing rapidly in use. But, my experience and personal research shows that the vast majority of furniture sales are still consummated as the result of a personal, face-to-face engagement between consumers and salespeople in good old bricks-and-mortar stores.
I am not, however, a complete Luddite (oh, look it up) and when something comes along that I truly believe will help salespeople connect better with real-life people shopping for furniture, and help customers make informed decisions about their purchases, I pay attention.
Several years ago I became enamored of the products of Icovia, the room planner people. And, there was MicroD with EasyPlan. I saw this innovation as being right on target for what should be happening in furniture stores, but isn’t. I learned it at Ethan Allen in the 1970’s when we were trying to deal with people’s rooms and homes instead of just with furniture from our point of view. Room planning was our core selling strategy.
Lots of retailers and manufacturers have picked up on this idea, but few have really used it to transform their customers’ experience in their stores. In fact, the customer experience in most furniture stores has remained unchanged over the 4 decades I’ve been involved in stores. They see some stuff they like, and some customers buy it. But, most don’t - at least not the first time around. Programs such as those from Icovia and Micro-D were intended to offer retailers a better way to connect to the one thing furniture buyers want above all others - a beautiful room, and they’ve been successful for some consumers and some salespeople, but room planning is not a core strategic selling service in very many retail organizations. Among the reasons I hear as to why the use of room planning tools is not higher as an in-store strategy is that “it takes too long.” At least one major manufacturer who was an early adapter of this room planning program has removed it from their website due to their inability to maintain the interactive nature of the program with their own products. It seems that things that really aid consumers in making decisions just don’t take hold in the furniture business.
In the same vein, more than one systems company are developing iPad applications for use by salespeople on the selling floor to serve consumers better. Keeping salespeople connected to prospective buyers has long been the goal of thoughtful retailers, but this new thinking takes this a giant leap forward. Imagine giving salespeople all the information they need regarding lineups, inventory, options for customers, and other important information to make the purchasing experience better for your customers, right in their hands all the time! Imagine dealing with the new wave of buyers coming along who were raised with all these tools and who want to be served their way instead of our (old) way.
Now, a whole new idea has surfaced from across the sea. An innovative group of smart people have developed an iPhone app called Furniture View® that allows phone users capture images of items in stores and project them into photographic images of their rooms, helping to answer the question “How will this look in my room?” and resulting in providing prospective buyers the one benefit many retailers seem to not want to deal with; a beautiful room, not just a beautiful piece of furniture, but a beautiful room – which is what the lady wanted all along.
Recently there has been some interesting and strategically important research performed among furniture consumers which shows that around one-third of all consumers who shopped for upholstered furniture in 2010 did not make a purchase. The “buying gap” was 19% overall for all categories, but as should be expected, the one area where fashion reigns as a powerful contributing influence for women (who make over 95% of all home related purchases according to the HBR September 2009) is an area where furniture retailers can make immediate improvement by helping their potential customers answer that purchase-killing question – “How will this look in my room?”
Furniture View is a consumer-driven application. They will want to use it. They will seek out retailers who offer it. Unlike the room planners, there is virtually no work required by the user to actually see a product in their room. For those forward-thinking retailers who jump on this train there may be some challenges, but they will be overcome by the developers in due course. The point is that you will have to go where your customers are technically, and ride the wave of innovation that will inevitably follow this early application, instead of clinging to the bricks-and-mortar mentality that has kept us firmly anchored in the past.
So, now we have a high-tech, customer-driven purchasing tool (we’re always talking about selling tools) that is going to cause our sometimes technically challenged industry to join the 21st century. As the people at Imagiu® continue to develop and build additional features into their application it is certain that new twists will be developed and the use of such applications will expand to other platforms than just the Apple format. You can use your imagination to see how far this can be taken and what such consumer-driven technology might mean to our industry in the short term. As we all know, technology moves at light-speed. It’s time to join the technical revolution before the results leave you in the dustbin of denial.
For more information on Furniture View and for an online demo, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 516-714-4332 pr visit http://furnitureview.com.
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.
Read other articles by Joe Capillo