Today’s furniture shoppers are increasingly tech-savvy and increasingly comfortable making big-ticket purchases in an omnichannel environment, writes Frank Lochbaum, who explains how furniture retailers must adjust their models to suit if they wish to maximise sales …
Today’s consumers welcome the opportunity to switch between physical stores and multiple digital channels several times within a single buying journey before they commit to a sale – so retailers who fail to invest in the right systems and processes to make this complex buying journey as frictionless and seamless as possible ultimately risk losing out to digitally transformed competitors.
Starting the customer journey
When it comes to the early stages of product research, convenience is a key driver for furniture shoppers. For time-poor consumers, online provides convenience, allowing shoppers to research and compare product specs, reviews and prices on their devices quickly and relatively easily. Depending on the consumer, inspiration may come from a retailer’s website, online adverts or social media.
Forward-thinking retailers tailor their online offering so they ensure user-friendly ways to view, compare and analyse multiple products simultaneously. The real innovators in this space, such as Ikea, go one step further, using smartphone augmented reality (AR) apps to show prospective customers what items of furniture will look like in their homes.
According to Marxent, a leading North American VR and AR company, customers who use online tools such as AR spend up to four times longer focused on a product and are 30-60% more likely to buy.
And that level of digital engagement is set to rise. At the moment, Ikea’s AR app will only allow you to view one or two items of furniture – but in just 18 months, experts predict that customers will be able to design a whole room using AR.
Visual search, powered by artificial intelligence, also promises to lend the process of looking for the right pieces of furniture additional convenience and speed. Consumers will be able to use the technology to find a piece of furniture – like one they’ve spotted on social media, for example.
Transitioning to store
While 45% of furniture shoppers research their purchases online, just 24% hit the Buy Now button on their devices. The rest go in-store to see, touch and feel products before they commit to a sale.
But that doesn’t mean digital becomes redundant once consumers decide to set foot inside a bricks-and-mortar furniture shop.
Bed retailer Dreams, for example, is using digital to make the transition from online to in-store research as smooth as possible with its Dreams 360 solution. It enables consumers to compile a wish list of products while they view beds on the company’s website. They can then find their nearest branch using a store locator, and even book an in-store appointment with a store assistant to discuss their wish list.
The store assistant can also access the customer’s wish list during the in-store consultation, and can add any extra products the customer is interested in before taking banking details and completing the transaction. Alternatively, shoppers can start a wish list in-store, without visiting the website, and their wish list can be emailed to them if they need time to consider a purchase. Once they have decided, the customer simply moves the wish list items into their basket and completes the checkout process.
Of course, furniture shoppers don’t necessarily need to set foot in a store at all. A growing number of digital pureplay furniture retailers are finding new and innovative ways to broaden their appeal.
Online retailers such as Sofa.com enable consumers to create their own bespoke sofa, complete with their own fabric, with free delivery in under six weeks. Bed-in-a-box specialist Emma Mattress, meanwhile, promises shoppers a free, three-day delivery and a 100-day free trial.
These pureplay examples illustrate the level of customer-focused convenience and functionality that bricks-and-mortar retailers will increasingly need to compete with if they’re to preserve and grow their market share. They also give a good indication of how the speed and direction of the consumer’s digital journey is evolving.
Frank Lochbaum is managing partner at KPS, one of Europe’s leading management consultancies for the retail sector, covering the entire range of omnichannel business and digital transformation.