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Creating a Better Consumer Experience - Part 1

Furniture World Magazine


by Joe Capillo

Well, this is what we’re hearing about from the retail gurus like Accenture and BNET; “Make your customer’s experience better and manage it,” but what does this mean for us in the retail furniture business? In a recent article on global customer expectations, Accenture Consulting reminds us that “Truly knowing your customer is a hallmark of high-performance businesses.” So, what are we supposed to actually do?  

It seems to me that a better experience for furniture shoppers would address issues that consumers have told us through consumer research are the things that dog them when shopping for and selecting home furnishings. These research studies help us to truly know our customers. Here are three examples of this: 

  1. Almost every year since 2000, Furniture/Today has published a study on consumer shopping and buying preferences relative to furniture categories. The purpose has been to discover what consumers are shopping for. They perform the research in January based on consumer shopping and buying experiences during the previous year, and report in February. For every year of the study, there has been an average gap across all categories of around 40% between those consumers who shopped, and those who made a purchase. 40% of shoppers did NOT buy.
  2. HGTV did some research early on in their short-lived arrangement with the NHFA seeking information on the attitudes, influences, and issues of furniture shoppers around how they make decisions to buy. Just about 40% said there were too many options, and too little information available about how to make a decision. 40% also said they had problems relative to the design aspects of their decisions. 30% said they would purchase more often if there was a way to get information about their decision before the purchase. I wonder if there is a connection between the 40% from the NHFA studies and the 40% from the HGTV studies.
  3. Lexington Home Brands performed a study of the mental processes women go through when making a change to their home relative to how they decide to buy. There are five phases of thinking and action that were defined by the researchers. 1. Dreaming, 2. Exploring, 3. Planning, 4. Selection and 5. Enjoyment. There was no detailed information around whether there is a defined time frame or whether several phases can be happening simultaneously, but I think it’s safe to assume that 1. There is no defined time frame, and 2. Many phases can be happening at once. This I get from my experience on the selling floor interacting with shoppers and being a careful observer.

Here’s my take on what this means to us who have to create that better experience for our customers using research like the above examples to help us know more about our customers: 

  • People have issues with the design aspects of their purchases. We are a fashion-based business as well as a functional one. We do too little to help them get past these problems, and because there are not many furniture emergencies, purchases can be delayed to some future time when better options might make the consumer’s decision easier or more certain and less risky.
  • Customers’ fears of making mistakes with high-ticket purchases are very great. Whether it’s a design mistake or a quality/price mistake doesn’t matter. The cost emotionally and in dollars is high on both counts, and women will avoid the risk of the consequences of such mistakes by simply delaying purchases.
 We know this is the case because of our conversion rates of shoppers to buyers, our close ratio, rarely exceeds 30%, and are more often in the 20% to 25% range. Because we typically count each customer visit to our stores as a discreet opportunity my experience shows that as many as 80% of consumer visits to furniture stores do not result in a purchase being made. These results have been consistent for decades and further support the difficulties and fears many consumers have around making home furnishings purchases. 

To address these fears, deal with the real issues women have with the fashion aspects of their decisions. These issues aren’t related to the products you carry, but rather to the rooms these products are going into. Our business isn’t about furniture. Our business is about rooms! Only when you understand and believe this simple truth can you begin to provide real solutions to your prospective customer’s real problems.  

Deal with the room first. Do this starting on your website by making this problem-solving initiative more important than any product offering you have there. Every furniture website is all about products, and many retail sites make mention of “Our free in-home design services” and end it there. Free room planning services should be the way you sell, taking all emphasis off what you sell and placing all your emphasis on how you sell. 

To begin creating better customer experiences, try changing your selling focus and in-store agenda to service and problem-solving instead of selling. Deal with the things the research above shows your potential customers are really struggling with. Start with the room, and you’ll connect to a lot more consumers. Tell this story – your customer’s story – on your website, and you will begin to create better customer experiences. 

Next time: Is your website an extension of your store? If so, you’re doing it backwards.