E-commerce is here to stay, HFA members tell fellow retailers

Sheely’s Furniture in Ohio dipped its toes into the e-commerce game last summer. Nine months later, the longtime Home Furnishings Association member has a message for other brick-and-mortar furniture retailers: It’s time for everyone to dive in.

“This is something a lot of retailers will look back on in 15 years and say, ‘I wish we’d done this a lot sooner,” Jim Elenz, Sheely’s operations manager and controller, told an HFA Live COVID-19 Webinar audience Thursday. “When our doors were closed and we had no customers, we still had revenue coming in from (e-commerce). That was invaluable to us.”

Elenz joined Ken Larson, CEO of Minnesota-based Slumberland Furniture, on the HFA’s weekly webinar to share successes and failures with their e-commerce strategies during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Larson said it’s important for retailers not to dismiss e-commerce – particularly the chat facet of the strategy. “Chatting is really the preferred method for a lot of our customers,” he said. “You need to have your best people on that. It’s essential for closing.”

Website is an extension of your store

He added that retailers need to think of their website as an extension of their store. That means your website should reflect your store. If the website looks clean with rich images, your store must hold up its end when the customer walks in, the two retailers agreed. “Otherwise there’s a disconnect and they might think they’re in the wrong store,” said Larson.

Elenz said your website, like your store, needs to be clean and seamless for the consumer. The more you reduce the number of clicks, the more you streamline the process and the higher the close (rate),” said Elenz. “It’s just like your store.”

Both retailers said it’s imperative to link your e-commerce sales to your inventory – especially as many furniture retailers reported strong e-commerce sales during the pandemic. Elenz said there’s currently a two-hour gap between the time Sheely’s website refreshes its inventory count and matches that with its in-store and web purchases. During Ohio’s lockdown, Sheely’s was selling appliances faster than it  could keep track of its inventory, so it shut down the website. “You don’t want to promise something you can’t deliver on,” Elenz said.

The webinar is the latest in a series presented by the HFA for furniture retailers preparing to reopen their stores. You can find the webinar, along with Larson and Elenz’s other e-commerce tips, at the HFA’s COVID-19 Recovery Resources page, along with all the previous webinars.

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