Providing Service, Not Just Merchandise

I recently moved into an apartment in New York City. Though I have lived in other apartments, I never actually managed to acquire many “investment pieces” over the past several years. Moving in, I didn’t own a bed, couch, chair, table, nightstand; in the past, people had either furnished the place already, or I found myself sleeping on an air mattress (note: you can buy some pretty nice air mattresses these days). As a result, this new apartment required some new home purchases; so for the past month I have been thrust into the world of home goods and furnishings. 

What I observed is that the furniture industry is really one of the few standing industries that requires people to actually go into stores to make purchasing decisions. While I certainly recognize the importance of physically being able to see the merchandise in person, as e-commerce shopping continues to grow, developing CRM tactics that bring the in-store feel to a computer is essential. This experiential environment will spark growth in the furniture e-commerce business – an industry, as I said, that hasn’t quite found much traction due to shoppers’ inability to physically sit on or visualize whether a couch or bed will actually fit in their space. The ability to lay out rooms and change the design and color of fabrications will provide needed confidence building as well as fulfill the “fun” desire when making a furniture purchase.

Deliver it to my room -- virtually

Will this couch fit in my living room? Do I like this painting next to my kitchen table? New technology, like augmented reality, virtual reality and 3D capability, allows users to upload photos of rooms, along with floor plans, to acquire a virtual representation of their room and the furniture. Offering customers this type of technology helps both the buyer and the retailer. First, it enables customers to shop online for furniture and quells their concerns by providing a virtual room set up to display what the piece will look like in their actual room, thus reducing the chance of returns. Secondly, by branding the app, customers who upload floor plans and photos of their rooms to the store’s e-commerce database will be more likely to revisit the site. Their relationship with the technology will provide their floor plan information, shifting customers from one-time buyers to lifelong customers. 

Leverage Social

Furniture has notoriously been a promotionally driven business, especially around holidays: Fourth of July Mattress Sales and Memorial Day promos have become the norm. In order to develop a lasting relationship with customers, retailers should focus their efforts on offering personalized and unique coupons to their more loyal followers or create a reason to become one. This will reward existing shoppers as well as generate new interest. Retailers should focus on the visual nature of some social media. Pinterest, which has had a meteoric rise in following, along with YouTube and Facebook, should become an avenue that encourages people to post images of their newly decorated rooms. By doing so, the retailer will establish itself as a service that provides expert interior decorating advice, instead of just a commodity providing furniture. 

Offer exceptional customer service 

While there are clear benefits to shopping for furniture in a store, it can also be unpleasant. For example, sales people often swarm you like hungry sharks, and I’ve always found lying on a mattress with a store associate asking you how it feels to be a bit awkward. Then, upon making a decision, purchasing is always accompanied with a hard sell on the warranty and service plan. Giving people space, as well as equipping them with information, research and reviews online prior to going to the store, will promote a far more enjoyable browsing experience. Also, if the furniture is delivered and something is wrong or broken, making the exchange as seamless as possible to ensure customer satisfaction - even during what could be a less than ideal situation – is critical.  

Clearly, a furniture purchase is a big decision. Knowing how to tailor the experience to each customer to ensure a pleasant shopping experience is what defines a great salesperson. They must understand the consumer’s priorities on fabric, shape, size and comfort, as well as how much space a customer truly has in their living room. In order to offer best-in-class customer service as well as minimize the chance of returns and exchanges, furniture retailers must create a shopping experience that lives both online and offline. This will allow people to shop from the confines of their own home, where the industry is heading, as well as in-store after having already conducted preliminary research online – be it on a website, through social media or in the virtual world. 

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