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Tablet with furniture displayed by AR technology

Is your store ready for AR?

Whether they are shopping for sandals or sofas, consumers have no shortage of augmented reality (AR) apps to assist them these days. Following the viral success of Pokémon Go in 2016, hordes of retailers have embraced the technology, including furniture retailers.

Home Furnishings Association member Jerome’s Furniture recently deployed its Photo to Floorplan technology powered by Marxent 3D Room Designer. Using the program on Jerome’s website, shoppers can design whole rooms from photos, buy the pieces they like and share the results with family and friends.

But AR’s promise doesn’t make it a great investment for every furniture retailer. The likes of virtual reality and 3-D TVs are still trying to find a home in the home furnishings industry. Such innovations may not prove worthless, but they are certainly worth less than tech dreamers imagined.

Harvard Business Review lays out some key questions (with answers):

Is there customer value?

Customers have a hard time telling retailers what they will want. That might be because they don’t know what’s available when it comes to technology. Case in point: There were not a lot of people clamoring for Pokémon Go until the AR-heavy game came out.

Whether retailers make or buy them, AR apps cost real money — anywhere from $300,000 to $30 million for development costs alone, according to HBR. Are customers willing to pay for that technology and convenience or would they rather have lower prices? The answer depends on whether your targets are aggressive adopters of technology, the app enhances your brand, and the purchase and usage of your product is sufficiently complex to justify the use of AR.

Furniture apps such as Ikea Place use AR to ease a notorious source of pain for shoppers — namely, the difficulty of predicting what a couch, bed or table will look like when brought home. Will it fit into the available space? Will it go with the existing furniture, carpets and walls? That’s a perfect problem for AR to solve. Consumers really suffer when they buy the wrong furniture online: They might lose eight weeks waiting for delivery only to be forced into the nightmare that engulfs those trying to return these bulky items. The value to the consumer is high relative to the cost of the innovation. That’s a plus for brick-and-mortar furniture retailers.

Can the math work?

Even if the math turns out to be wrong, it’s worth laying out how a technology such as AR is supposed to improve profits. Is it supposed to improve sales (the number of customers who visit each year, the frequency of shopping visits per year, the percentage of shopping visits that create purchases, the number of categories shopped, the number of items purchased per category, the average unit revenue per item)? Is it supposed to reduce costs (labor, materials, distribution, marketing)? Is it supposed to reduce inventory levels or capital expenses?

Limit the intangible benefits. Don’t just “imagine the PR power”; quantify the improvement in marketing expenses. With these kinds of estimates in hand, HBR says it’s easier to test initial assumptions, compare actual results with early estimates, improve investment proposals over time, and identify better ways of solving customer problems.

And don’t forget to look for creative sources of funding. Technology vendors often are willing to subsidize AR projects for learning and publicity purposes. Merchandise vendors may be willing to pay to have their products featured in the apps.

Is AR a priority?

Let’s face it: The technology systems of most furniture retailers are stone age. As a result, they become the choking points for almost every important innovation that retailers need to succeed. Yet the number of projects heaped onto this creaking infrastructure is growing fast. This is why the biggest question of all is how you should prioritize and sequence AR on your technology to-do list.

Given constraints on budgets and the hiring of tech experts, the results are often disastrous when retail executives add projects to this to-do list. Delays ripple across the existing backlog. Meanwhile, customer needs evolve and nimbler competitors charge ahead, making many of these stalled projects obsolete.

Furniture retailers can’t see technology projects piling up the way they can see sofas stacked in warehouses. But technology projects are every bit as expensive and perishable as your physical inventory. Retailers need to stop starting innovation projects and start finishing them.

As a tool, AR likely will get more powerful. It helps that billions of people will always have an AR-enabled gadget in their pocket or handbag. But the appropriate role for it will vary significantly by retail sector and by the health of a retailer’s core technologies.

Podium

Want more and better ratings? Podium will help

You’ve run an attractive family furniture store in your hometown for many years. You offer great products at fair prices and provide top-notch customer service. You’re also a community leader, supporting many worthy causes. 

So where did that blistering online review come from? 

An occasional complaint is inevitable in the retail trade, but it can live forever in cyberspace, sowing sour seeds across a wide field for all to see. Why can’t more satisfied customers write compliments to present a more accurate picture? 

Probably because you aren’t asking them to – or you’re not asking at the right time on the right channel. 

That’s where Podium comes in. Podium, a new Home Furnishings Association solution partner, is an interaction management platform that engages customers when and where they are most likely to respond favorably. 

Customer reviews on Google My Business, Facebook or other sites are very influential. You want positive ratings, and a lot of them, because shoppers follow a happy crowd. To generate those favorable reviews, Podium helps you message purchasers even before they leave your store, asking them to complete a brief survey. They can answer in 30 seconds. “Three clicks and they’re done,” says Brian Rea, a channel account executive for Utah-based Podium. 

It works, says HFA member Dan Griffin of Griffin’s Furniture in Clearlake, Calif. 

“Their review invite feature will allow you to rack up 5-star Google reviews,” Griffin says. “Google controls 80 percent of the ad market, so if you’re not connecting with them, you’re missing a giant opportunity. An invite and response can literally take seconds. We have more Google reviews in our county than the combined reviews of all my competitors.” 

Podium provides follow-up communications, too, using messaging tools to schedule deliveries and put drivers in touch with customers to make sure purchases arrive exactly when promised. Its programs establish meaningful communications with online shoppers, building relationships that draw them into your store. Podium also channels feedback and messages from all sources into a unified inbox, so you don’t have to keep up with Facebook, email, texts and other scattered social media. 

“They can also install a text bar on your website so you can gain immediate access to your shopping customers, also enabling you to send texts and pictures,” Griffin says. “I operate the whole platform from my mobile phone. A new Podium notification to my phone has a high likelihood of resulting in a new sale!” 

Podium offers free enrollment for new clients and special pricing for HFA members. For more information, contact an HFA membership specialist at 800-422-3778. 

RewardsLP.com

RewardsLP.com builds customer loyalty for your store

Chad Burwell wants to get customers into your store … again. 

Burwell’s company, RewardsLP.com, creates loyalty programs – the LP in its name – to encourage return visits by customers. Not visits every few years, but far more frequently. In his view, customers should be regular customers and receive rewards that make them and retailers happy. 

RewardsLP.com is a new Home Furnishings Association solution partner because its services will help HFA members grow their businesses with both new and repeat customers. 

“They provide a trackable, easy-to-run reward program for our customers,” Joey Gunn, vice president of Knight Furniture & Mattress in Sherman, Texas, said. “It helps you stay engaged with the customer, and it’s a great tool to use. They are a great company and trustworthy, an excellent fit for HFA and any furniture store. Simply put, they make Knight Furniture better.” 

The program builds customer loyalty with rewards: incentives for customers to give email addresses and cellphone numbers; special pricing for VIP memberships; credits for purchases; discounts on warranties. RewardsLP.com custom-designs these programs, sends welcome emails to registered customers and regular emails after that, creates customer cards that act something like gift cards and tracks performance. 

Customers don’t make purchases online through these programs – they go to the store, and they go back. VIP membership, for which customers pay a small fee, also earns them invitations to special events, like wine and cheese parties. It’s all about building relationships and loyalty. 

Special pricing is available for HFA members. For more information, please call 800-422-3778 and ask for an HFA member specialist. 

Shoptelligence Logo

Shoptelligence helps shoppers make smart purchases

Laura Khoury turned shopping frustration into a cutting-edge business that can help Home Furnishings Association members boost sales. 

“I started as a frustrated consumer,” says Khoury, founder and CEO of Shoptelligence. “I wanted to see only the products I wanted.” 

Khoury, a chemist by training, created a company that uses artificial intelligence to help shoppers match furniture and accessories that fit their style preferences. In a way, she’s applying chemical principles to home furnishings sales. 

That kind of chemistry makes Shoptelligence a good fit as one of HFA’s newest solution partners. 

“It helps shoppers discover other products in the category they’re interested in,” Khoury says. “It replicates what a sales associate does.” 

Shoppers visiting furniture websites can find items they like, but when they look for complementary lamps, rugs, end tables, armchairs or other items, they can be overwhelmed by a wide selection of products they don’t like. “Our solution reasons like a stylist,” Khoury says. “It is a robust style-reasoning platform.” 

Consumers find the platform inviting. They spend more time on the website and turn from unlikely to very likely to convert, Khoury says. As a result, revenue per website visitor multiplies and shoppers who buy end up spending more. 

El Dorado Furniture in Miami Gardens, Fla., just signed up with Shoptelligence and has begun installation. “We do have very high hopes for the technology,” the top-100 retailer’s chief information officer, Jesus Capo, said. 

Shoptelligence, founded last year in Ann Arbor, Mich., already is generating high hopes for its innovative solutions to customer frustration. For more information about what Shoptelligence offers HFA members, please call an HFA member specialist at 800-422-3778. 

Someone using a tablet in front of a computer

Your website isn’t a brochure. Use it to build relationships with shoppers.

Furniture retailers miss sales opportunities if they don’t turn anonymous website visitors into people they know, says Scott Hill, executive chairman and co-founder of PERQ

When many consumers never walk into a furniture store until they’re ready to buy, it’s critical to start the selling process online, says Hill, who will lead a seminar in the Home Furnishings Association’s Resource Center at the High Point Market. 

“The consumer is no longer coming to shop in your store,” Hill says. So, the question is: “How are you helping them like you were helping them when they showed up in your store.” 

He’s not talking about buying. They’ll do that in the store, but they’re more likely to buy after they’ve engaged online with the store’s designers and sales staff. 

The retailer’s biggest mistake, Hill says, is thinking of his website as a brochure or “a shopping cart full of hope.” Instead, it offers the means to begin a relationship with customers. 

PERQ built its expertise in online consumer engagement through more than a decade working with the automotive industry, Hill says. In the last couple of years, it’s added 175 retail furniture clients. One of those clients is Big Sandy Superstore, whose president, Bryan Scott, will join Hill to share his company’s success in converting online traffic into in-store buyers. 

The experiences shoppers derive inside the store play a big part in their decision to buy, but Hill warns that will happen less often if online experiences never draw them in. 

His seminar is 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 6. The association’s Resource Center is on the first floor of Plaza Suites, 222 S. Main St. in High Point.  

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