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How To Hold A Customer

Furniture World Magazine


Make long term friends & dollars.

We all know in our hearts that each person who browses through our stores is, in fact, a potential buyer. Somehow, many of us forget that and begin to look at the odds, study the numbers and play the percentages.

"Don't send me more browsers". "Each person who enters my store costs me money."

True, each browser does cost you money. But they have come to you, not because they want to waste your time, but rather because they have an interest in decorating their homes in some fashion, at some time. If they become a friend of the store, they will become a short term, and then a long term buyer. If, instead, they are not treated well, they will move on to competitive stores.

I do hesitate to use the word competitive, because I firmly believe that the home furnishings business would benefit from more in-kind competition. By in kind, I mean the kind of competition we might find in a furniture mall... similar to the auto malls that sprung up around the country some years back.

When consumers shop for furniture, they want as much choice as they can afford the time to acquire. Generally, our customers, who go from store to store have to have the patience of angels. They hate the challenge ... because their choices are spread all over town, rarely in malls, and not physically near each other.

As I listen to the worry many retailers have over catalog sales and 800# sales, I sympathize, but I worry, too. Not because these new retail consumer choices are growing so fast... and they are... but, rather because I am not sure the traditional retailer realizes their true benefit.

Surely, the consumer is experimenting with new choices. Some will continue buying their new found way forever. Some will buy this new way occasionally. Some will never do it again. Soon we'll be hearing about the horrors of catalog buying just as we have about the horrors of retail shopping. The moral of the story is to learn, and to learn fast, so that consumers understand the benefits of each method of buying, and that each has its down-side. Just as cable television has taken consumers away from network television, these new buying channels have and will take consumers from traditional retailers. Both cable television channels and alternative distribution channels will proliferate until a point of marginal return is reached. Radio is still around. Network television is still strong. Why? Because they both changed to meet changing consumer needs.

Let's take a look at the consumer needs which the new distribution channels are working to provide.

NEED #1 - BEST PRICE: How strange. All we've been telling them for years is that we sell cheap... through sales and markdowns. Many (probably most) consumers feel they are foolish if they purchase furniture at un-discounted retail. Most, however, do not know what the correct price should be. Is it 70% off suggested retail? Is it 50% off (two for the price of one) ? Is it 25% above manufacturers wholesale price?

And what in the world is quality worth? Should that sofa I love cost $500, $1000, $2500 or more? What is it worth? To make a long and complicated story shorter, consumers do not know what the best price is and are easily fooled. Plus they have yet to place a correct value on the products and services they are buying.

NEED #2 - INFORMATION: They want more helpful information. Once they did not want to know. Today they need to know. They truly do want to understand the inner workings of their motion furniture. They want to understand when veneers are the right choice and when solid wood is best. They want to know the true value of that fabric and why they need to have a soil repellent finish.

NEED #3 - TRUST: The third new consumer need is: They need to have someone to trust. Where is this exciting new information coming from and who can they trust to deliver it to them? Think about it. Would you trust information coming from someone who you believe has been charging you more than you think is right for years? Or would you trust it from a new, low price discount source? Or would you trust it from a non-biased third party? I vote for the third party. Interestingly enough, the Home Furnishings Council is becoming that objective third party to many consumers.

If your store provides its customers with a credible source of information that they can trust, you are probably very successful. If you do not, then work hard to build your reputation.

For more information on HFC programs or questions about this article contact editor@furninfo.com.