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Smart Furniture Web Tip #4: Product Knowledge: Knowing What You Sell

Furniture World News Desk on 8/20/2014

by Melanie Silva

In any vertical of retail, product knowledge is key to helping customers find items that satisfy their needs and complete a purchase. The goal is to be a trusted source who can curate a personalized experience, guiding shoppers to pieces that fit their needs--You cannot expect to do so if you don’t know your own offerings. However, furniture retailers have a larger challenge than most. Many items have multiple customization options and generally higher price points, so customers want to understand the items themselves and often have questions before committing to a purchase. Add in the challenges of online retail and a full understanding of each piece becomes even more imperative.

Smart retailers take their roles in the sales process very seriously and strive to be valuable sources of information for their customers. They want their sales teams to be savvy experts; and take steps to make sure they succeed. But how do you help your team to maintain a working knowledge of each item when you offer thousands of products, some of which you may not keep in stock on a regular basis? Training is an obvious must, but what else?

Implementing these four tips will help you to gain a working knowledge about what you sell and effectively present that product knowledge to your customers to aid their decision-making:

Promote a Culture of Learning

Employ smart, driven people who enjoy learning new things. Every day, customers will ask questions you never thought would be asked. A question to which your team doesn’t know the answer is an opportunity to learn something new. Instead of “I don’t know” reply with “I can find out” and get their contact information. Now you have either an email address or phone number to circle back with that shopper and you’ve just increased your chances of converting that shopper into a customer.

Continued education is a necessity in the ever-changing furniture industry. As new products are announced regularly and trends change with the seasons, retailers must continue to learn. Trade shows provide the perfect opportunity to learn about upcoming trends and product lines from new manufacturers and those you already work with. Send a few folks to take pictures, gather sitting data, check out new trends, and report back to the team. That commitment of time and resources will go a long way toward having first-person knowledge about products--knowledge you can’t find in any brochure.

Build an Information Repository

Most manufacturers provide a vast amount of information about their products, including measurements, materials used, and customization options. Present that information on your website so it is easily accessible for both customers and employees alike. Take it a step further and provide information that may not have been provided by the manufacturer. Add a Q&A forum to each product page to provide customers with the opportunity to ask questions and read responses to other customers’ questions. Take what you’ve learned while personally interacting with your products and highlight unique attributes other retailers don’t feature. Consider the questions you would ask if you were in your customers’ shoes, and find the answers before they’re even asked.

An internal, centralized information hub is ideal. Your team should have access to price lists, costs, images, fabric cleaning codes, and other important details in an arsenal of data best shared digitally using a platform like Google Drive or Dropbox. When the information you need isn’t at your fingertips, you need a reliable contact with each manufacturer who is quick to help you make a sale. The answers are out there. View it as your challenge to find them.

Give Shoppers the Best Information (For Them)

Make sure your team knows the technical details and has an opinion as well. The stronger the emotional connection that a shopper feels, the more likely they are to pull the trigger on their next furniture purchase with your company. Don’t focus on detailed product information if your shopper wants to talk about the colors in her living room and her new hardwood floors. If she wants advice about aesthetics versus features stay the “pretty” course and follow her lead. Likewise, if a very detail-oriented shopper has lots of technical questions, focus on the minutia. Give her random bits of technical “know how” to get her primed. She will be eating out of your hand before you know it.

Utilize Media

The more visual your product information is, the more comfortable customers will feel when making decisions. Some items are easily presented through still images, but always be on the lookout for pieces that would benefit from a close-up. Items with moving pieces - like extendable dining tables, office chairs, and sleeper sofas - do well with videos that show how the products work. Additionally, visual explanations of products with multiple functions and adjustments like the Steelcase Gesture Chair can help customers to determine if the pieces are right for their needs.

Whether you primarily convert online or offline, give your website and sales team the resources to meet your shoppers’ needs. After all, they are your bottom line.

Melanie Silva is Vice President of Sales for SmartFurniture.com, an online luxury furniture retailer which combines web based visualization technologies and mass customization to provide customers with personalized furniture products that are uniquely suited to each customer's needs and preferences.
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