As online shopping becomes more ubiquitous, every industry is working to find out how they can use digital marketing to their advantage. While items like electronics or books can be purchased without a customer ever seeing it in person, the furniture retail space is one based around in-person interaction. Learn how two furniture retailers created a furniture digital strategy and marketing plan.
So, the question that remains is this: How does a furniture store use online marketing tools to drive traffic into their store? What kinds of online tools are most effective? But more importantly, what exactly does online success look like from the perspective of a brick-and-mortar retail space?
We recently had a chance to chat with two heads of digital marketing for two different furniture retail chains: Joey Gunn, the Vice President of Knight Furniture and Mattress; and Jordan Barrick, the Vice President of Quality Furniture.
During our conversation, we learned more about each store’s overall furniture digital strategy, the tools and services they utilized to translate online visits into in-store traffic. We also discussed what the horizon looks like for the furniture retail industry.
What Is Your Furniture Store’s Digital Strategy And Tools Used?
When a potential buyer plugs in “furniture sales” into a search engine, they’re likely to be provided dozens, if not hundreds, of options. It’s the job of digital marketers to stand out in the field, and both Gunn and Barrick began with similar approaches.
Barrick has helped establish Quality Furniture as a household name in the Mesquite and Canton, Texas areas. He explained that he adopted a three-tier marketing approach. “I use search text ads for prospecting, display ads for retention, and video advertising for those not in the buy cycle. That’s our branding strategy,” he said.
As opposed to partnering with a marketing firm, Barrick found success using self-service tools online. Outside of work, Barrick has been pursuing his business degree, and has invested a ton of personal time learning to deftly pursue leads in the online realm.
“The main thing is sticking with cost effective solutions,” Barrick said. “It’s challenging to understand those analytics. I try to utilize as many free programs as I can. I took classes just to understand stuff; your average retailer is not going to know web design, but I’m a bit of a different story.”
At Knight Furniture, Gunn initially took a similarly self-educated approach, working to increase their online stock by conventional means.
“We do the normal stuff that retailers do, like Google Adwords and Facebook advertising,” said Gunn. “Another thing that we spent years trying to perfect was making the website copy organically relevant to search content.”
Gunn later explained that Knight Furniture actually changed their name to stay up with the times. After 105 years of business, they added “Mattress” to their end of the name in order to stay relevant in keyword searches. “Even though we sold mattresses, and it said mattress on our website, the Google algorithm didn’t put two and two together often enough,” he said.
What Does Digital Marketing Success Look Like For Furniture Retail?
The success of any and every marketing campaign, be it digital or physical, is measured by the amount of new business it brings to the retailer. Online, there are many ways to capture leads, each with their own benefits.
“When I need leads,” said Barrick, “I go search-based. When I have a decent amount of leads, I can use video. But search-based is often the cheapest option for us. That’s where I’m pulling in most of my new leads.”
Many customers begin shopping online when they realize that they want to make a purchase at some point. This means they’ll be highly motivated and open to sales persuasion, especially based on what they see when they do a web search for their ideal sofa or bed frame. When asking about the buying cycle, Barrick was enthusiastic about the results of a furniture digital strategy and marketing plan. “We’re getting customers way down in the buy cycle. They’re ready to make a decision, all across the board,” Barrick said.
Gunn’s team managed to find success through a design style quiz that helped consumers hone in on their aesthetic. He points out that success in digital marketing doesn’t necessarily mean that sales through the website will go up.
He also shared that any furniture retailers interested in creating a digital strategy should make sure their sales process is equipped to follow up on and capitalize on those leads. “It’s awesome to be sitting there with an inbox full of prospects who were on your website, but if you don’t have a way to follow up on it, it’s wasted effort,” he said.
What’s The Future Look Like?
While both Gunn and Barrick are excited for the lead generation opportunities found online, they both are confident that the sales and customer experiences will likely stay physical, as opposed to heading to the web.
“Furniture is one of the biggest and emotional purchases you’re going to made,” said Barrick. “Younger generations may enjoy shopping online, but you’re going to get burned by a bad mattress and end up going back to the same furniture store your parents did, to find the same mattress your parents had bought you.”
They also explained that in many cases, online retailers may only have one or two options for each piece, meaning less customization. An online user may be saving time initially, but will have to sacrifice the personal touch and more immediate inventory found in a store. Still, Gunn was equally optimistic regarding the model of a brick and mortar furniture space.
“I do think the landscape is changing and that people are more comfortable buying online than previous generations. Before now, it wasn’t as trustworthy. Logic tells me ‘yes, of course, we may see an increase in online sales,’ but people want to touch and feel and see the pieces. As long as they continue to want that, we’ll continue to see the majority of sales done in-store.”
“A furniture digital strategy needs to support the consumer’s perception of the store — a place that’s worth visiting.”
Gunn added, “When you’re younger, you take bigger risks — but when you’re older, you want to lay on the mattress before you take it home.”
For home retailers, a furniture digital strategy needs to support the consumer’s perception of the store — a place that’s worth visiting. Until online furniture buying becomes more common, a retailer’s website isn’t about convincing the customer to buy right then and have the product shipped.
Instead, your furniture digital strategy as a retailer should be centered on being seen as a knowledgeable resource with a wide inventory — a place people can come to find the things that will make their house feel like home.
Additional Home Furnishings Resources
Texting customers became a business norm almost overnight, with more consumers than ever saying they prefer a text over a phone call. When PERQ recently surveyed thousands of home furnishing shoppers searching retail store websites, 13.5% picked text messaging as their preferred method of contact and only 7.5% chose phone calls as their top choice.
Email remained the clear winner, with 79% of online furniture shoppers choosing that option in PERQ’s survey. However, digital marketing experts predict marketing emails will soon saturate consumers’ inboxes and spur a surge in the use of text messaging to reach leads. Text is already proving to be more effective than emails.
Recent marketing studies estimate that at a 90% open rate, SMS (short message service) performs nearly 5 times better than B2C emails, which average around a 20% open rate. Those same studies found text messages sent to customers get 7.5 times more responses than emails, with a 45% response rate for SMS versus 6% for email.
A couple of years ago, it seemed intrusive if a salesperson texted you. By being one of the first in your market to offer SMS, online chat or text conversations, your home furnishings store can capitalize on this accelerating texting trend, making it easier for customers to immediately connect with your knowledgeable staff and quickly convert into an in-store sale.
“Monitoring and engaging through text requires a resource investment for retailers, but the choice is either to engage it or make peace with the fact you’ll lose that customer to a competitor who is willing to invest in it,” says Dave Weiss, Marketing Manager at Sherman’s, a furniture retailer in central Illinois who uses a variety of text messaging platforms to communicate with customers.
If you already talk to your customers via text or plan to add the option in the near future, here are 3 tips to make sure you are effective as possible when communicating with text messaging.
1. Don’t Assume All Shoppers Prefer Text Messages
While texting is blowing up in the world of digital marketing and B2C communication, not all consumers prefer text over email and telephone, and some only like it for certain parts of the sales process, like setting up a delivery. Don’t make assumptions and start sending unsolicited text messages to every lead you get.
Shoppers Adam and Angela Wire say they personally prefer to shop local at a store that specializes in what they’re seeking and rarely buy from generalized online e-commerce sites like Amazon. Born at the tailend of Generation X, which witnessed the digital revolution and remember a time without smartphones, internet and home computers, they’re the shoppers in their late 30s and early 40s who straddle the technology divide and still find value in simpler sales methods. They still start their search for big-ticket items online, narrowing down their options before visiting a handful of retailers to make a final decision.
The Indianapolis couple recently bought a new couch, recliner and dining room set. “We looked at options online beforehand, comparing various local furniture stores. I always do this for larger items like a car or appliances,” Adam says. “We communicated with the furniture store on delivery set-up via text message and that went well, but I’m only OK with that if I tell a retailer to communicate with me via text. I have no desire for a company to ever try to sell me anything or initiate conversation with me through texting unless I ask them to do so.”
Weiss advises retailers to follow that same philosophy. “At this time, we don’t use text as a promotional outbound vehicle like we use email,” he says. “Texting is far more personal and disruptive, so we view it as more of an inbound lead channel or for customer service inquiries.”
2. Ask Online Shoppers Which Communication Method They Prefer
Start where shoppers start, online. By integrating AI software on your website, you can discreetly ask online shoppers which communication mode they prefer along with other personal information your sales associates can use to better nurture and convert the lead.
Find out how they prefer to communicate with your sales team, and respect their response by using that mode when initiating the initial contact with an online lead. “It’s our responsibility as retailers to adapt to however customers wish to communicate with us, and they have certainly shown that text is now a preferred channel,” Weiss says. “More broadly, I don’t think texting is great for all customers, but there are many who find it the most convenient way to get quick answers to simple questions.”
Sherman’s uses a mix of web chat, Google text through mobile listings, and Facebook Messenger to communicate with customers who initiate contact through those inbound streams. “We text review invites after delivery, and see a much higher response rate with text than we used to with email alone,” Weiss says. “Many customers choose to keep that review invite text thread open and ask follow-up questions after the sale.”
3. Use Marketing Automation and Templates for Text Nurture
John Neal Jr., Vice President at Neal’s Furniture in Oklahoma, says his stores also experience a much higher customer interaction rate when utilizing text messages as opposed to emails and phone calls, and successfully convert many of their text leads into store sales.
“A text message does not demand your attention so it’s naturally less obtrusive than a phone call, but still just as personal. A customer can respond if and when they decide to,” says Neal Jr. “A sales associate has the added benefit of tracking past conversations and referencing them as needed.”
Neal’s Furniture developed templated responses for responding to specific kinds of customer text messages and simply add a new template if they encounter a new scenario without a proper response saved in the system. “That automation allows for quick and efficient responses, while not demanding much time or mental strain,” says Neal Jr. “If we receive a message after hours, the customer will receive an automated message letting them know we are closed and that we will get back with them as soon as possible.”
His staff can see incoming customer texts from their phones, and can even choose to respond to a request when the store is closed. A Neal sales associate recently converted an online lead into an in-store sale in less than 24 hours by immediately responding to a consumer’s question sent by text message after hours on a Sunday.
“As a whole, text message conversations used for follow-ups and initial conversations have been received by our customers and sales staff as a benefit, if not a preferred method,” says Neal Jr. “Conversations, pictures, receipts, quotes, reviews, emojis, etc. can be sent directly to the device that the customer uses all day and lives in their pocket! Why wouldn’t that be the way businesses talk to their customers?”
Without the interactive sofa style assessment on Quality Furniture’s website, the Texas home furnishings store wouldn’t know that 33% of people who took the online quiz want a couch that seats four or more people. It also wouldn’t have received the website leads generated from 100% of visitors who took advantage of the store’s free online shopping tools.
“Now I know I have a market for 100-inch sofas,” says Jordan Barrick, Vice President of Quality Furniture. While the retailer sells large sectionals and lists them on the store website, it doesn’t feature them inside the store showroom. “We don’t have any on the floor. That’s a valuable insight.”
Don’t Miss Out on Website Leads
Without engaging website experiences, online shoppers who spent several minutes clicking answers in a style quiz and typing short responses about themselves would have likely skimmed the website quickly to see if anything caught their eye before moving on to other home furnishing websites — without Quality Furniture ever knowing who they were, what they were looking for or why they exited the site.
Between January and August 2018, Quality Furniture received nearly 2,000 website leads from consumers who registered their contact information while using website conversion tools from PERQ. Embedded on the home furnishings website, the interactive software generated leads from approximately 6% of visitors who visited the website. Before adding the interactive software, their website traffic to lead benchmark was less than 2%.
Collect Quality Information for Lead Nurturing
Not only do interactive quizzes and planning tools give the store a way to identify trends and popular products in demand, the smart software also generates detailed leads. Every website visitor who takes the sofa style assessment or interacts with any of the website experiences on Quality Furniture’s website — like a design style assessment or scratch-and-save promotional offer — reveals personal details that help the sales team nurture and convert leads into sales.
Other digital lead-generation sources Barrick utilizes, such as paid ads on Facebook and Google, deliver only basic information on a potential customer. “Once they come to my site from those sources and engage with an experience, I can find out so much more,” Barrick says. “How far down they are in the sales funnel. What style of furniture they like. It helps us establish common ground really quickly.”
Use AI to Keep Consumers Engaged
By collecting lead information and tracking an individual shopper’s journey on the website, home furnishings stores can provide those consumers with a personalized, helpful shopping experience tailored to their interests, either on the store website, through email or even a direct mail lead nurturing campaign.
Artificial intelligence solutions automate the lead follow-up process, so even a small sales staff can successfully manage an increase in website leads. Quality Furniture uses an automated email drip campaign to send personalized, scheduled emails to all website registrants for up to three months after they visit the site. The emails contain helpful content, such as explaining different types of sofas, or offering incentives to motivate the consumer to visit the showroom or reach out to a specific salesperson with questions.
“It’s worth it to stay top of mind with your customer,” Barrick says. “Sending AI-type emails where it sounds like we’re reading their minds makes it a custom experience. It goes beyond serving the customer. It’s almost precognitive: tell me what I need before I need it.”
Stores can implement the same selling technique through AI technology on the website, helping visitors figure out exactly what they want and guiding them to the next best step in their specific shopping process. By combining website lead generation with email nurturing, retailers keep shoppers interested during the long buying cycle for furniture.
“It’s engaging consumers, getting us about 300 to 400 email addresses a month,” says Dave Maxwell, President of La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries of Ottawa & Kingston, about the store’s online guided shopping solution, which automatically feeds leads into their email nurturing program with PERQ. “That approach is driving a lot of sales and leads.”
Increase Website Lead-to-Sale Conversions
Ultimately, increasing in-store sales and profit drives any digital effort. While it’s still important to work on increasing website traffic and analyzing overarching data to help attract new customers and keep return customers satisfied, those goals don’t directly convert sales.
By investing in technology that captures individual website leads and provides an engaging shopping experience through marketing automation, home furnishings stores can take a more targeted approach and better nurture those leads until they decide they’re ready to buy. Recent marketing studies prove that approach improves a retailer’s bottom line.
Quality Furniture converts more than 10% of its website leads to in-store sales since launching the interactive website features that collect lead information. Barrick, who used to run a digital marketing firm before getting into the family furniture business, says he was once a naysayer of this kind of website technology but the results speak for themselves.
“I’m seeing $70,000 in ROI,” Barrick says. “I know, some of the numbers seem fanciful, but if you have doubts go talk to other businesses that utilize it and are successful. I don’t believe my business would be near as successful without these tools.”
For store owners who doubt customers will actually engage with interactive tools in exchange for providing contact and other personal information, take a quick scroll through Facebook or popular pop culture sites. It’s apparent our digitized society loves self-discovery quizzes and instant, online results tailored to us.
“People are filling out Rocket Mortgage applications left and right, handing over secure information. There are so many online tests out there now, like Which Harry Potter Character Are You?,” Barrick says. “People want to know more about themselves and your product, and which one is right for them. You have to be willing to try new things.”
This article was originally published on Furniture World.
Additional Home Furnishings Resources
Living in our very digital age, it’s become more important than ever before to have a strong online presence. In order to compete in the automotive industry, your website, social media profiles and advertising have to be top-notch.
Now, assuming you DO have a website, social media pages and an digital advertising budget, you might be sitting there and asking yourself “Am I doing this right?” or “Is my online presence effective?”
Lots of dealerships are perfectly capable of cobbling together a website and a Facebook page…. but the question is, are those websites and Facebook pages worth visiting? Do they even look presentable?
Here are 3 auto dealer digital marketing practices that I’ve recommended for 2018 to my clients:
Don’t Overlook the Importance of High-Quality Design
One of the first things I tell dealers trying to improve their digital marketing is that high-quality design is absolutely crucial.
Today’s consumers, baby boomers and millennials alike, have far more sophisticated taste. They expect a lot more out of dealerships than some obnoxious inflatable tube men or painted letters that spell out “SALE” underneath the hoods of your cars.
People don’t want to be pandered to anymore. They want to be spoken to like an investor — because frankly, that’s exactly what buying a car is: an investment! This is especially important in the digital age, as many consumers do their research online. If they’ve never set foot in your store, but discovered you on social media or search engine, you want your online presence to be a reflection of your amazing inventory and customer service.
I’ll be completely frank with you…. there isn’t much of an excuse anymore to NOT have great design or, for that matter, a great consumer experience (Example: A highly functional website).
When you have the right tools and services at your fingertips, building a website, social media pages and creating ads that look really nice isn’t difficult. In fact, it’s actually extremely cost effective. Something as simple as embedding a video you shot yourself from your own phone can have a huge impact on how consumers view your dealership. It shows effort!
Build Trust and Legitimacy with your Brand
Okay, so — remember how I said consumers in this day and age are extremely sophisticated? Well, along with being sophisticated, consumers are also smarter and FAR more tech-savvy than ever before, too!
Back in the day, dealers used to hold all the power. Consumers couldn’t access information about financing, trade-in appraisals and inventory unless they visited the dealership and inquired about it. In the year 2016, however, this is certainly not the case.
Because of automotive resource sites like Kelley Blue Book and NADA, consumers have the same amount of data and access that dealers do. They can now both get up-to-date information on pricing, availability and competitors FAST.
Now, even if consumers happen to do their research via a 3rd party site, they eventually do need to go to a dealership to purchase their vehicle… and this typically means paying the actual dealership’s website a visit.
To keep prospective customers from straying way, you want your site to provide the best online experience possible. Naturally, you might be asking “What does this mean? My website looks good. What more do I need to do?” Well, your site looking good isn’t the only thing that matters.
You also need to be able provide vital information that the customer might be looking for. Do you have resources available to better help the customer (like a FAQ section)? Do you have a payment calculator or an appraisal tool? Do you have a live chat option?
These types of things might seem small, but overall, they add legitimacy to your dealership. Also, consumer will be more likely to trust you since you are putting in so much effort to help them find the answers for themselves.
Be Relatable to Your Customers. Let Them Get to Know You!
Over 72% of consumers will check out your dealership online prior to stepping foot in the dealership… so along with a well designed, legitimate website, you also want to show that you understand the consumer.
Now is the time to talk about your dealership in more of a personal way and use multiple media formats to engage with consumers. When building or reconstructing your website and social channels, you might consider adding in an “About Us” or “Our History” page.
Many successful dealerships have these pages, as they’re a great way to tell consumers “Hey! We’re just like you!” A page stating “We’ve been family owned for 20+ years and customer service has always been our #1 priority!” lets consumers know that they’re going to be cared for.
In addition to “About Us” or “Our History” pages, it also helps to be completely upfront with them regarding things you know they already care about like: saving time, making sure they’re getting a good deal, or simply confirming the details of an individual vehicle. You can place these points on the main landing page! Another way your dealership can be relatable is to make consumers feel like they’re in control as much as possible. You want to answer consumer questions or inquiries before they even think to ask them. On your social media pages, post pictures of your actual showroom so that consumers have an idea of what they’ll look like.
Or maybe on your “Schedule a Test Drive” form, provide some insights into what the next steps will be (Ex: You’ll meet with one of our reps, who will take you to the car of your choice, etc.). Consumers appreciate the additional information more than you might realize.
Use these automotive dealer marketing tips to help you build trust and authority with your current and potential buyers. It’ll bring your dealership’s marketing to the next level (and your sales, too).
Additional Auto Resources
It’s a given that every dealership wants to be successful and sell more cars. But more importantly, they want to be able to cater to all of their consumer’s needs.
Whether you’ve been in business for 50+ years or you’re a new kid on the block, being able to understand and “get” your dealership consumers is challenging.
Your consumer’s personalities and lifestyles are complex — and as if that wasn’t enough, they’re constantly evolving.
Even though your consumer base might change over time, your area or neighborhood still possesses consumer archetypes that best represent the general demographics and behaviors of your buyers.
“Your area or neighborhood possesses consumer archetypes that best represent the general demographics and behaviors of your buyers.”
Out of these archetypes, you can develop buyer personas to gain a better understanding of community demographics in order to better cater to online visitors and those who visit your showroom.
So, how do you get started? Here’s a useful consumer persona worksheet for you to fill out. Answer the questions listed to the best of your ability using a mix of CRM data, general demographics (often found on your local government website) and observed behaviors based on in-store consumer interactions.