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As pandemic related issues retreat, what exactly might be done to increase the relevance of in store sales experiences?

My years in the furniture industry were interrupted for a time when I became the owner of my family’s piano store. I had a dramatic realization from that time I would like to share with you. In 2007 piano retailers were waiting for a new and improved generation of digital pianos to be delivered. The “touch” on the keyboard was supposed to be just like an actual piano, allowing for a range of expression that the digitals previously lacked.

When they arrived I pushed on the first key with great anticipation. Then came an awful moment of profound realization. “This is going to absolutely decimate the piano industry,” I said to myself.

Many people within the industry had touted this more affordable technology because they believed it would enable more people to play. They believed that it would lead to an increase in piano sales. But, within just five years two out of three piano stores in America had closed.

More recently, I experienced a deja vu moment while filling up at a local gas station. I placed the nozzle in the tank and noticed six Amazon delivery trucks fueling up as well.

It’s not news to Furniture World readers that Amazon’s sales have gone through the roof during the pandemic and that’s not going to change any time soon. Jeff Bezos is betting big time money targeting just about every area of retail. His actions are a threat, especially to the most venerable of furniture stores, as baby boomers are replaced by younger generations.

It doesn’t help that the in-store retail experience has become less relevant to consumers. A majority of mattress shoppers have no hesitation about buying a mattress online because an entire generation doesn’t realize that the only place they can find real sleep experts is in brick and mortar stores. And, their cherished smartphones are now their preferred and only trusted advisors, providing them with a set’s specs, various piece options, prices, reviews, and often financing information.  Average retail salespeople are often viewed with suspicion and as incapable of adding much value to the sales process. 

“It is critical to point out on your website and in your marketing that this lack of important information often causes home furnishings shoppers to make poor choices.

Can’t Beat Them? Join Them!

Here is an example that clearly reveals the scope of the problem.

In the Chicago area, an enterprising new mattress retailer recently opened up several locations. The retailer, named “HasselLess Mattress” aggressively advertises that they have, “No salespeople, managers, or cashiers. No up-sells, cross-sells, or headaches.”

I am certainly not criticizing them for their business model. I applaud anyone who can open a new chain of stores, especially within a major market by taking advantage of a new niche. Hey, that’s what free enterprise is all about, right? However, I’d like to use their example to make the key point that such a concept would not have succeeded just 10 years ago. Why? Salespeople were viewed as being helpful back then rather than a hindrance.

Are you just starting to press down on your own piano key?

The million-dollar questions right now for many retailers should be the following: After pandemic-related issues retreat, what exactly might be done to reverse or slow down this trend? What happens after the current sales boom is over? How will retailers drive traffic into their stores? And, when shoppers do come in, how can stores immediately reverse perceptions about the helpfulness of retail salespeople?

A Solution

The one thing that can work in your favor is that the generation of adults who are most suspicious of salespeople also crave information—lots and lots of information! Studies confirm that fact. So why not start by offering shoppers lots of important information for free? Explain in your advertising that this information is just waiting for them. Offer it to everyone who stops by. This will help reverse the perception about the helpfulness of your salespeople and allow the store experience to be much more rewarding from the very beginning.

Every store also needs to have a strong web presence, to get shoppers in the door. Without that, you can’t win them over, assist them in selecting accessories, add on extra pieces, step them up, or justify the purchase of protection plans. In other words, to do all the things you need to do to build the average sale.

Many furniture retailers have chosen to “fight fire with fire” by making store websites helpful and informative. That became an absolute necessity as consumers leaned more and more toward purchasing from Wayfair, Amazon, and other popular sites. However, although that approach is now necessary, it also fuels the trend in consumer thinking that in-store sales experiences are becoming even less relevant.

The retailer, named HasselLess Mattress
aggressively advertises that they have, ‘No salespeople, managers, or cashiers. No up-sells, cross-sells, or headaches.’

What Online Shoppers May Not Know

There are lots of things that online shoppers don’t know but should know if they want to make informed purchase decisions. That’s why it is critical to point out on your website and in your marketing that this lack of important information often causes home furnishings shoppers to make poor choices. Here are just a few reasons why.

  • They can’t feel the difference in comfort, weight and quality in a cushion that has 2.0, 1.8 or 1.5-pound foam.
  • They can’t determine if a mattress is too firm for comfortable side sleeping or if it will provide enough long-term support for their 260-pound partner.
  • They won’t know if their feet will actually touch the ground before that recliner they purchased online arrives by common carrier.
  • They will have no idea how much better a sofa pillow feels when it is filled with a blend compared to a poly fiber filling.
  • Fabric colors can’t accurately be determined when looking at computer screens.
  • Fabric textures and thicknesses can’t be felt.
  • It’s hard or impossible to tell how substantial and sturdy a sofa is without visiting a store.
  • It’s hard to determine if a dining table is durable enough to stand up to use by an active family. And, it’s tough to find out without venturing out into a store if just a little more money will get them exactly what they need.

Sure, online shoppers can read reviews and ratings, many of which are from people who’ve actually purchased the products. However, the list of things shoppers need help with is almost endless. You should make sure that they know that. The challenge, of course, is to convince them that your sales team is composed of more than just order takers who are out to make a buck. And that these professionals are committed to helping them to make the very best purchase decisions.

Ideas For Implementation

Listed below are suggestions for things you might want to put on your all-important to-do list to step up your in-store sales game.

The good news is that it’s possible for a great store experience to change the hearts and minds of all but the most committed online furniture or bedding shoppers.
  1. Advertise exactly how and why your in-store experience will help shoppers to get exactly what they need while avoiding costly purchase mistakes.
  2. Pay attention to social media reviews to make sure that your online presence supports or overcomes any claims made on social media and in your advertising.
  3. Offer free insightful and useful information to everyone as soon as they enter your store.
  4. Train salespeople to ask better questions to help them provide more informed solutions for your customers.
  5. Provide salespeople with valuable furniture usage insights that all customers need.
  6. Teach your salespeople how to perform impressive furniture demonstrations.
  7. Make sure that your salespeople have the ability to incorporate decorating guidance into their presentations.
  8. Teach closing techniques that will allow customers to make better decisions.
  9. Always focus on a customer’s two main creature comfort needs, sleep and reclining.

The good news is that it’s possible for a great store experience to change the hearts and minds of all but the most committed online furniture or bedding shoppers. If you can do it, there’s a chance you may just end up sending Mr. Bezos a piano key (albeit a small one) of his own. Happy Selling!


About Scott Morris

Scott Morris worked for the four largest furniture retail chains in America as a store manager and sales trainer. He is the owner of HSM Publishing. His mission is to stop the high sales associate turnover rate within the furniture industry. He has written and published six books on various topics, in addition to the “Sales Questions” laminate, and designed and produced the advanced level sales training course titled “The Best Furniture Sales Training Ever!!!” He also produced 12 insightful customer “handouts” designed to bring back the “75 percent who leave without buying.” Questions about this article or any aspect of sales education can be directed to him at hsm7777@att.net or visit TheBestFurnitureSalesEver.com.

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