How is it possible that as many as 25% of potential furniture buyers can’t find what they need or want in our stores? Could it be that our customers want different things than we think they want. Could it be that they don’t care about our store layouts, product selections or current sales?
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They don’t care about your store layout, your product selection, your current sale or any other thing about you.
Probably the most disturbing research to come out of our industry over the past few years has been that a significant percentage – maybe as high as 25% - of all furniture shoppers don’t make any purchase as the result of their shopping efforts.
This doesn’t just mean they don’t buy today. It means that they don’t buy at all! Although the research doesn’t reveal whether they make these purchases at some future time, but these same results have been achieved from three research surveys in as many years.
Now, ask yourself, how this could be true. How is it possible that as many as 25% of potential furniture buyers can’t find what they need or want in our stores? If we combine these research results with our well documented performance results over the past decade from hundreds of stores, the matter looks even worse. We know that actual close rates, those that result from actually counting all store traffic, are below 20%. It is not unusual to see close rates as low as 15% in the largest, high-traffic stores.
This means that the 25% figure for people who never make the purchase has to be reflected against the 80% to 85% of shoppers who don’t buy from you. The thinking about this last data is that while these customers don’t buy from your store, they do buy from some store – they become part of the 15% - 20% who buy from someone. However, now we know that it is likely that fully one third of the 80% who don’t buy from you actually don’t buy from anyone – at least not for their current furniture shopping project.
This is good news! You have a tremendous opportunity for growth if you know what to do about it. Helping you understand what to do is the topic of this article.
Stephen Covey wrote that "the way you think about the problem is the problem." This statement is relevant for those of us in the home furnishings industry seeking to deal with “buying gap” issue. Most retailers believe that the solution is product related. They believe that we need to bring better, different or more products to our customers. They would offer consumers an even more mind-numbing array of choices, causing the decision-making process to become more rather than less difficult.
Here are the real issues that cause the fundamental disconnection between our industry (as a whole) and our customers. Customers want different things than you think they want and you talk to them about different things than they want to talk to you about.
Your customers all have one, common need – one thing they all want. This need is completely unrelated to any product they can find in your store and it is internal to them. They are looking to make their homes beautiful.
Further, they want something from you, the retailer, that is also completely unrelated to any product you stock. They want HELP putting together beautiful homes.
So, here’s the "great disconnection" that lies at the heart of 20% close rates and 25% who never buy. When a customer comes to your store they want to talk about their home. You want to talk about furniture, so you’re talking about two different things. They know it and don’t like it.
Customers tell you this every day over and over again when they say, "I’m just looking". They assume from all their past experience stores like yours that you don’t know what they want, and worse, don’t care. All you probably want to do, all you’ve taught your salespeople to do, is to try all kinds of tricks and subterfuge to quickly connect a customer with a product. This, all to often, is the industry-applied meaning of the verb "to qualify".
If your salespeople are not be able to make this connection (as evidenced by the industry’s dismal close ratio and the 25% of shoppers never find anything) your immediate response will probably be to seek out different products. This is partly due to customers telling you, "I didn’t see anything I like" or "Nothing jumped out at me" or "I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it".
The fact is that customers are very unsophisticated in the area of interior design, the ability to deal in the abstract with concepts like color, color-flow, style, scale, traffic patterns, and all the other Design 101 concepts they would like your salespeople to help them with. Problem is, your salespeople, for the most part, are probably just like your customers in their inability to deal with these concepts.
Now, regarding your product selection; it’s probably just fine. The American public, in general, is far more conservative in it’s tastes than our industry gives them credit for. The evidence is right there before our eyes as we watch what they buy, year after year, decade after decade. All they want to know when they come to you is this: How is this piece of furniture going to work in my room, in my home? How is it going to go with things I have? What else will I have to buy to make the room beautiful? How can I put it all together?
You see, if you don’t talk to customers about these things, you’re really not helping them get what they want – beautiful homes and rooms. You’re showing them "stuff" and leaving the difficult decisions, and answers to the above questions, up to them. This doesn’t help them with complicated purchases for which one decision or one purchase affects existing environments and other present and future purchases.
Let’s bring this even further into the light. The key relationship in the furniture industry is the one between your salespeople and your customers. No other relationship in the business is more important because that is exactly where our industry meets its customers.
Yet, this relationship is, for the most part, in the hands of people who are under-trained, under-managed and who don’t understand the fundamental issues we’ve talked about above. Some salespeople certainly do understand and perform far above the norm, but, as with any population, the larger percentage exist somewhere further down the scale of competency.
Have you ever heard your salespeople say things like: "Can I direct you to anything in particular?" They say this to help their customer target some particular thing or item, but look at it from a different point of view, one of deeper reflection. What they are really telling the customer is, “if you can tell me exactly what you want, I can help you. If you can’t, then you’re on your own.”
If your customer were to actually tell your salesperson what they’re looking for they’ll then be subject to a lot of other questions, such as: "Do you have a particular style in mind? Do you have a particular color in mind? Do you have a particular fabric in mind?" These appear to be good questions, but again, let’s go deeper. Your customer listens to them and thinks; "I was going to ask her these questions. I don’t know about style. I’d like to see what’s new in fabrics and color. Now she’s asked me. I think I’ll just look on my own." So, this is what your salesperson hears from many, many customers every week: "Can I just look on my own and I’ll call you if I need help? Do you have a card?"
The sad point here is that if you allow this kind of communication to take place, you will literally, allow 80% of your potential customers to walk out poorly served with their needs still intact.
To close the "buying gap" you’ve got to close the understanding gap between what you think your customers want or what our product-driven industry tells you they want and what common sense (and a little research) tells you is really what they want. You’ve got to develop strategies to engage and deal with customers differently than you have in the past. You’ve got to ensure that you have strategies in place to influence, if not control, what happens at the point of contact. How many stores have written, scripted customer engagement strategies? How many have a management system in place to ensure that the strategy is delivered to every customer, every time by every salesperson?
How often have you told your salespeople to make sure that every customer has a sale mailer pushed into their hands upon entering the store? How many have policies around other such things – insisting that all customers be told things about your store? Here’s some news: they don’t care! They don’t care about your store layout, your product selection, your current sale or any other thing about you. What they do care about is their home, their room, their quality of life and until you learn how to talk to them about these things, you’ll allow a large majority of them to leave with their needs unfulfilled and become someone else’s customer or, more depressingly, no one’s.
Joe Capillo is a furniture industry veteran with 35 years combined experience as a retail consultant and retail industry executive. 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.
View all articles by Joe Capillo