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Retail Automation

Furniture World Magazine




Pulling the trigger on pre-sales and open sales opportunities

Every furniture retailer knows how challenging it is to find and retain long-term, career-minded, employees. Along with this talent challenge, wage inflation has made it a requirement to offer more competitive compensation to attract and retain top talent.

It’s a difficult situation. On one hand, retailers need to hire and develop good people. On the other, they must control wage costs to produce a respectable level of profitability.

Despite these pressures, most store owners continue to operate their businesses the same way they always have. The result is often overworked team members, stressful work environments and reduced employee performance. Ultimately businesses, employees, and customer experiences suffer. It’s become a chronic problem.

The solution is to implement systems and processes that provide better results using fewer resources. Doing so enables retailers to employ a reduced number of good people to handle daily workloads, resulting in more growth, happier employees, and satisfied customers.

Fortunately, many tasks can now be “triggered” by software that enables one or more actions to be executed automatically. These actions include retail workflows, processes, reminders, transactions and communications.

The process is similar to the way a mousetrap works. The mousetrap is the technology, the removal of the cheese is the trigger, and the springing of the trap is the action.

With automation, the only limitations are creativity, desire, and the technology that’s deployed.

Pre-Sales Automation

1. Web-CTA (Call-to-action): A CTA is a piece of code on a website that facilitates sending a digital lead. This engagement-ware code typically asks website visitors for information in exchange for personal information. The information request can be a simple item inquiry, a newsletter sign-up, a sleep profile quiz or a style assessment. The CTA either launches when a website visitor clicks on a link, or an auto-launched pop-up can appear after a set time of browsing. Once web visitors type in the requested information, they typically receive a message notifying them about next steps to take, or the results of a quiz they’ve taken are revealed. The CTA process provides retailers with the ability to follow up with web visitors.

Trigger: Visiting an area on a website.

Auto-Action(s): Information requested, results returned, lead opportunity generated, follow-up person notified.

2.Chat-bots: When you visit most websites these days, at the bottom right corner you will likely see a small person with a cartoon chat bubble. If you click on this chat-bot icon you will often be asked for basic information such as your mobile number or email and name. From there, chat-bots differ from CTAs in that chat-bots engage website visitors in a real-time conversation. In doing so, data is automatically collected about potential customers and their needs. Good automation continues after chats are completed. This may include sending thank-you emails/texts as well as auto-assigning follow-up communications to lead managers, departments or individuals as appropriate.

Trigger: Clicking on the bot and typing in contact information.

Auto-Action(s): Conversation initiated, data collected, thank you sent, opportunity follow-up assigned.

3.Appointments: Calendars save everyone time, qualify serious shoppers, and promote the professionalism of sales teams. Links to one or more digital calendars on retail websites show the availability for VIP consultations. Calendars can be used to promote and schedule in-home appointments, in-store concierge services or sleep profiling, for example. Customers can use them for self-scheduling. Lead managers can use them for converting digital to in-person opportunities and sales managers for monitoring and booking salespeople’s time. After an appointment is scheduled, it can be auto tagged as a ‘hot’ opportunity that can be tracked. A salesperson can be assigned, then appointment preparation and reminder messages sent from the salesperson to the prospect automatically. Auto-emails that, for example, ask for pictures of a room or for current likes and dislikes in advance, can increase the likelihood of sales and save time.

Trigger: Booking a date and time on the digital calendar.

Auto-Action(s): Confirmations and information requests sent from salespeople. Reminders sent to salesperson. Lead defined and tracked as “hot.”

4. Physical to digital automation: QR codes have become more prevalent in the age of COVID. They serve as an automation bridge between the physical and digital worlds. Because of this, businesses can capture more leads from their physical material and better understand what customers are looking at. A QR code when scanned can automatically go to a CTA, a calendar, lead to a drip campaign that targets prospects in a personalized way, send an offer, or provide information.

When scanned, a QR code on a direct mail piece, for example, can connect web users with additional product information. It might also trigger an auto-sent email featuring decorating ideas as well as schedule lead follow-up with a salesperson. Printing a QR on order checkout paperwork can facilitate order status, delivery scheduling and service requests. This can make it easy for customers to get order updates (depending on the technology) or request an order update from their salesperson within a certain time frame.

Trigger: Scanning the QR (and possibly entering information).

Auto-Action(s): Information requested returned to the user. Follow-up assigned to salesperson.

Uber and Lyft popularized the automated process of vehicle in-process tracking. This technological advance can be applied to furniture delivery.

5. Quotes and no sale prospects: When prospects provide their personal information or if they are previous customers and they do not buy, it makes sense to follow up. However, in practice, if managers do not inspect to see if follow-up on “hot leads” has been done, there will be multiple dropped balls. It is challenging to keep track of multiple quotes, with multiple salespeople, over time, on an ongoing basis. This is where automation shines. If quotes or non-sale leads are recorded, the next actions can be predetermined. For instance, thank you messages can be auto-sent with a button to schedule an appointment. Reminder nudges can be periodically sent to salespeople on a scheduled frequency until either a sale is made, or the customer chooses not to purchase. Then, a drip campaign can be triggered. In effect, strategic automation enables businesses to cast a wider net, with smaller holes, leading to more fish being caught.

Trigger: Quote or non-sale lead recoded in a system.

Auto-Action(s): Salesperson assigned. Customer sent a thank you note and provided with suggested next steps to take on their buying journey. Salesperson follow-up prompted. Manager notified of unexecuted follow-up and open quotes/sales pending.

A QR code when scanned can automatically go to a CTA,
a calendar, lead to a drip campaign that targets prospects in a personalized way, send an offer, or give some information.

Open Sales Automations

1. Open sales follow-up: I believe that businesses should be fully transparent with their customers regarding the status of their merchandise. If it has been ordered, is on the water or already in the warehouse, they deserve to be in the know. Not everyone in the industry agrees on this point. Some retailers believe they may lose sales, cause confusion, or create partial delivery requests if they are transparent with merchandise status. No matter what your views are, open sales follow-up is more challenging now than ever. Those retailers that use automation to either give customers direct access to their order status (like Amazon) or prompt salespeople to follow up, will provide a superior customer experience.

Trigger: Sale made.

Auto-Action(s): Predesigned and scheduled messages are sent from salespeople to customers. This may include a thank you communication for the purchase, order placed, in-production, order status self-check tracking link or order status request link.

2. Protection reminder: Product protection, accident insurance, extended warranties or benefit packages are the most profitable products customers buy. Not all customers, however, purchase at the point of sale. Sometimes they are not even made aware that these offerings are available. Therefore, it makes sense to send automated messages to customers who did not purchase the protection package. The email can offer an option for customers to request to be contacted with more information or to be automatically enrolled in the plan. In these and other messages some retailers will use a short video to present the product.

Trigger: Sale made without protection.

Auto-Action(s): Consider sending three campaigns automatically from the salesperson: After the sale, before delivery, last chance day of or after delivery.

3. Payment processing: Collecting payments is time-consuming. Include in your terms that full payment is required on in-stock merchandise. Find a merchant service that enables you to store bank account or credit card information so that you can auto process any amount due.

Trigger: Merchandise arrives in retailer’s facility.

Auto-Action(s): Notifications are simultaneously sent to the customer and to your admin notifying them of payment processing.

4. Delivery scheduling: Delivery scheduling gets done by salespeople, customer service reps or dedicated delivery coordinators. This is a time-consuming process with multiple back and forth calls, texts and emails. Process automation provides huge benefits. When sales arrive that can be scheduled (either partially or fully depending on the retailer’s policy), a message can be automatically triggered to the customer from their salesperson. Date options for delivery can be included or, even better, include a link so customers can self-schedule their own delivery.

Trigger: Sales marked as ready for delivery scheduling.

Auto-Action(s): Pre-designed emails and/or text with links sent to complete the scheduling process.

5. Pick-up scheduling: Some retail furniture operations have up to 30 percent of their sales picked up by customers. It is time-consuming to inform, remind and coordinate customer pick-ups. When customers arrive to get their merchandise, warehouse people must stop doing what they are doing to pull the merchandise while the customer waits. Automating this workflow speeds up the entire process. As with delivery scheduling, an automated message is triggered when the merchandise is in stock. From there, customers are encouraged to select a date and time for which to schedule their pick-up. Reminders are sent automatically from the pick-up calendar. Customers send a text once they arrive, and a return text is sent when everything is ready.

For customers that do not show up or whose merchandise sits in the warehouse too long, constant reminders can be sent to free up warehouse space.

Trigger: Merchandise ready for pick-up.

Auto-Action(s): Pre-designed emails/ texts sent with links to schedule pick up.

6. Day of Delivery: Uber and Lyft popularized the automated process of vehicle in-process tracking. This technological advance can be applied to furniture delivery. On the morning of the delivery, customers can be sent an email and/or a text with instructions to self-track their merchandise. Furniture operations that use this technology find that their retail customers track their deliveries closely. This saves time by reducing delivery status calls and provides a better and more convenient delivery experience.

Trigger: Date of delivery set.

Auto-Action(s): Email and/or text with tracking information sent.


When choosing a system to provide better results using fewer resources, make sure that pre-sale and open-sale automation can be modified to suit your specific needs. For example, a business that does more special orders, design work and house calls, will likely have a greater need for scheduling time and organizing status follow-up. A high volume, stocking retailer, might put extra focus on delivery pick-up scheduling to increase warehouse inventory turns. Whatever your business model, automation is necessary to accomplish more with less time and give your precious human talent more time to focus what they do best.

This article was just a sample of what’s possible using automation technology. In the next issue of Furniture World, we will focus on post-delivery, re-engagement, vendor and trade related automation.



About David McMahon 
David McMahon is founder of PerformNOW Inc.  PerformNOW has three main products that help home furnishings businesses improve and innovate: Performance Groups (Owners, Sales managers, Operations), PerformNOW CXM (Customer eXperience Management systems and processes), Furniture business consulting.  Your can reach David at david@performnow.com.