There’s no doubt that the rise of e-commerce has shaken up the retail sector. In the most recent iteration of its annual e-commerce survey, analytics firm comScore found that—for the first time in the survey’s five-year history—polled customers made over half of their purchases online. And while a Pew Research Center survey conducted in June 2000 found that just 22 percent of Americans had purchased something online, this number has now risen to 79 percent.
The act of visiting a physical showroom has long been an integral part of the furniture-buying process, but the furniture industry has not been immune to the impact of e-commerce. Online shopping has actually helped to fuel significant growth in the sector in recent years. While brick-and-mortar sales have risen by 13.8 percent since 2009, e-commerce has surged by 168 percent to make up over 15 percent of total furniture sales.
Although online shopping has largely been a boon for the furniture business, it has created new challenges for retailers. In addition to optimizing their online channels, companies must also find ways to ensure that their brick-and-mortar locations do not become obsolete. By leveraging knowledge of customer trends, an understanding of emerging technologies, and a bit of creativity, retailers can create unique experiences that keep shoppers coming back to their brick-and-mortar locations. The following are a few ways that furniture retailers can enhance their in-store experience.
Even as technology threatens the prominence of brick-and-mortar retail, some innovative companies are harnessing digital tools to improve the in-store experience. A recent survey conducted by Deloitte revealed that almost 70 percent of consumers go online before visiting a store, while 36 percent also browse the Internet while shopping at brick-and-mortar locations. Further research in the B2B space has also revealed that customers tend to spend more money after interacting with multiple channels. All of this suggests that retailers cannot afford to ignore the influence of digital channels while striving to improve their in-store experiences.
Mobile technology has also emerged as a particularly powerful way to add value to the physical retail environment while adding depth to the omnichannel customer journey. Mobile coupons, digital home design platforms, product match tools, and in-store pickup centers for online orders can all be useful in turning online shoppers into in-store customers. At the same time, innovative mobile applications have the potential to optimize the sales process from start to finish.
As the largest furniture retailer and manufacturer in the United States, Ashley Furniture is on the forefront of this trend. Thanks to the company’s recent partnership with Mad Mobile, which has helped streamline the in-store operations of such prominent organizations as Payless and Major League Baseball, both customers and associates at Ashley Furniture showrooms around the world will have access to a number of new, innovative mobile tools.
Mad Mobile’s Concierge application is a prime example of how mobile tools can help to optimize the in-store experience. The tool can assist retail associates in managing inventory, customer information, and point-of-sale interactions, while its Clienteling module allows employees to digitally manage tasks and appointments, take notes, and communicate with prospective customers. At the same time, the mobile app will also improve the customer shopping experience by providing integration with online shopping carts and Apple Pay accounts, issuing digital receipts, and streamlining the overall checkout experience.
Adding New Value
As e-commerce platforms offer new levels of convenience to consumers, furniture retailers stand to benefit from emphasizing the experiential aspect of their physical locations. By creating and promoting inspirational, on-trend, and expansive showrooms, retailers can continue to position their brick-and-mortar locations as an important step in the purchasing process, even if customers ultimately decide to make a purchase online.
As companies strive to make the in-store experience a valuable one, retail design aesthetics will also become an important consideration. The industry-wide effort to create memorable brick-and-mortar locations is driving a focus on both the impact and consistency of store design, as companies strive to develop in-store experiences that reinforce their brand identities.
Innovative In-Store Marketing
Technology has afforded retailers a number of new opportunities to engage in-store customers with promotional content. Companies such as Estimote have begun developing physical beacons that, when positioned throughout a store, can automatically push strategic promotional content to customers’ smart devices. The growing popularity of wearable technology is poised to create more opportunities for beacon marketing. In a survey by Startek (formerly Accent Marketing), more than half of respondents said they were willing to purchase wearable devices capable of pushing alerts and gathering insights for retail companies.
LCD video displays and interactive touch screens also offer new ways to present product information, and new IoT-enabled displays are now facilitating further in-store marketing innovation. At the most recent Retail Tomorrow conference in San Antonio, Texas, Impax Media unveiled a video marketing platform designed for the retail checkout line. Recognized as the most disruptive innovation presented at the conference, the IoT video screen collects anonymous data on patterns in customer traffic and engagement, in addition to displaying promotional content. But perhaps most remarkably, the screen also reduced customers’ perceived wait times.