Home retailing has always remained a major part of the overall retail industry. Over the years, this segment has witnessed numerous innovations, with furniture renting and online furniture buying being the most recent trends.
These changes can be attributed to the shift in consumer preferences, be it in terms of design, aesthetics, or convenience. A major part of this change also depends on unexpected events or situations such as COVID-19. For instance, work from home (WFH) has made multi-functional, comfortable and aesthetic furniture more relevant than ever, especially from a home office standpoint.
Another significant disruption observed in this space is the consumers’ shift from offline to online buying of furniture during the lockdowns. Evidently, this transition is not limited to the urban areas only, but a small town and tier 2 people are also adopting it. This is primarily because most people working in urban cities had an option to move and work from their home towns. Thanks again to the burgeoning remote working culture.
However, despite things going digital, we can’t ignore the fact that online furniture shopping can never replace the offline experience of visiting showrooms, seeing & touching the product, and then finalizing the one that meets all the needs, under a planned budget. Just imagine going to a showroom and experiencing a bed, sofa, or anything, and you will understand what I am trying to demonstrate here.
So, what is the way forward that players in the furniture industry should follow to ensure continuity and sustainability in 2021? An online approach, offline strategy or the best of both worlds, also known as phygital?
For a better perspective, let’s break the topic into three different parts:
We have already seen and experienced how technology is playing a critical role in this industry, be it in the form of making the overall experience more seamless or simplifying shopping further. Both online and offline retailers have been adopting different technologies – such as touch screen kiosks, 3D software, virtual walk-throughs, mobile apps, etc. – to augment their existing offerings.
However, what’s even more important here is integration across all segments. For instance, integrated promotion to bring all sorts of advertisements and promotions under a single channel across all touchpoints. Doing so will help consumers establish a strong connection between the various channels where retailers operate. Similarly, integrated product and price information is crucial to ensure consistency between channels and avoid disharmony in the customer’s mind.
Then there is integrated transaction information, which allows several retailers to gain a single unified view of their customers while providing customers with all the relevant information in an easy, friendly and organized manner. Likewise, we have integrated information access that enables customers to easily switch between channels without a jerk in the process, and absorb information as per their need and choice. It is by far the most significant dimension that either makes or breaks the seamless experience that customers expect in their shopping journey.
Integrated order fulfilment is another major thrust area, which includes factors such as ‘click and collect’, contact-less ordering, payments, delivery and return. Last but not the least, integrated service delivery also holds great significance in the entire process, and is essential for ensuring sustenance from both personalized human touch and chatbot standpoints.
This demonstrates the importance of an integrated ecosystem and how it can be a differentiator in the customer journey, keeping in mind their changing expectations in the new normal. Those who fail to adopt it will be outshined by their competitors. This brings us to the second element of importance, that is, our salespeople.
Apart from tech adoption and integration, salespeople are equally important for successfully building and maintaining lasting relationships with customers as they play an important advisory role by ensuing them in taking an informed decision rather than just selling. It is the credible sales personnel who creates a difference when it comes to efficient customer handling with knowledge, competence and utmost friendliness.
Thus, home retailers, small or big, need to keep upskilling their salespeople and help them master the use of technology at every point possible. While customers are increasingly adapting to new styles and ways of shopping, retailers need to keep salespeople on the same page.
Let’s talk [i] about the significance of sensory experience, which is all the more important in the current times. There could be several barriers that may prevent customers from visiting the store. Therefore, it is crucial to offer them a sensory experience that makes them feel at home. Simply put, retailers must strive to deliver a staged experience to customers rather than a shop experience.
For instance, picture yourself visiting a theme park and you will be able to understand what a staged experience means. The sense of smell, sight and sound do make people stimulated to respond favourably or unfavourably. Adding to this is the element of touch that makes customers realize its need before they buy the product. Let me make it very clear that the ‘touch’ factor is not only important to check the quality of the material used, but it is also essential to ensure a sense of pleasure, warmth, and satisfaction.
The reason for putting stress on this aspect of tactility is because of the nature of home retailing, which is itself a sensory category, involving feeling more than thinking. When we combine technology with the entire store journey (online/offline) using a touch screen kiosk, it gives customers a holistic experience in a simplistic form by displaying beyond the store’s current offerings.
I am certain that going through the entire piece so far must have explained well the importance of three factors: integrated stores, salesperson and sensory experience. Focusing on all these factors will help retailers gain relevance in the customer’s mind and heart, and cement its stance as a preferred brand that can lead and keep customers satiated all the time.
It is, therefore, extremely important for the retailer community to approach the times ahead with a creative zeal and keep the aforementioned factors in mind while serving customers. In short, we need to be more agile, creative and prepared in order to tackle the unexpected odds that the future has to offer. Not only will it help us reach a better position in the market and drive more brand significance, but it will also make us more confident when it comes tackling unforeseen events like the on-going pandemic.
There is a need to utilize the vowels of the new voyage, namely Adaptability, Empathy, Innovation, Ownership and Understanding with more passion and commitment than ever as the journey continues into the new year with renewed hope. Let us enable homemaking to be more enjoyable than ever, smarter than earlier and more creative and joyful for all.
Gone are the days when operating – either offline or online – could help you win the game anyway. Remember, we are living in a new era that calls for the best of both the worlds.
[i] Adapted from e-book Future of homes