Koenig: Now more than ever, the new customer journey starts online

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City Furniture's newest store in the Miami community of Doral will be a dual-branded effort with Ashley HomeStore.

For years the start of the customer journey has slowly been migrating away from the furniture showroom floor to online. The novel coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated that change to the point that Home Furnishings Association member City Furniture has revamped its sales process entirely to focus on engaging that customer online and making sure its in-store sales associates are ready for them when they walk through the store’s front doors.

In years past, City Furniture President Keith Koenig said a typical furniture store with an e-commerce component had two distinctly different sales teams — one for online and one for in-store. Koenig said City’s teams now work together so that when the online customer is ready to enter the store, the handoff is much smoother.

“Sales associates are going to have to embrace the fact that the journey is starting online more and more,” he said. “It’s no longer how many door swings you have. It’s how many you can catch on your digital platform, and then the handoff between your digital leads and your sales organization. Some of the best (retailers) in the country are reinventing their business around this.”

Photo of Keith KoenigKoenig was speaking with HFA Executive Vice President Mark Schumacher in a webinar May 14.

Koenig said the auto industry is already proving his point. Before the internet, he said, the average car buyer visited about five auto dealerships before making a purchase. Today that number is about 1.4 visits, said Koenig, with much of the homework being done online in advance. “So the customer coming in the front door is so much further along in their journey that they’re coming to really touch and feel and see and confirm they’re making a good decision,” he said.

For furniture retailers, the change is already here

That experience isn’t coming to the furniture retail industry, he said. “It’s already here. Our sales team understands that tracking closings now is very important, and you need to take advantage of every opportunity. The leads coming from web sessions, from web chats that are turned into telephone calls are also enormously important. We can’t just rely on someone coming into the store for the first time. We have to do business with them on their terms.”

The webinar is the latest in a series presented by the HFA for furniture retailers preparing to reopen their stores during the coronavirus pandemic. You can find the webinar at the HFA’s COVID-19 Recovery Resources page along with all the previous webinars.

Koenig said not every furniture retailer is going to survive this recession, but the ones who do are going to come out the other side stronger and more profitable than ever before. He said home furnishings sales have been declining as a share of a consumer’s personal expenditures for the past 20 years, but he thinks that streak will soon end.

“That’s going to turn around,” he said. “Home furnishings is more important than ever. Home is going to be more of a priority than ever before. I really think this is going to be home furnishings’ golden era. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime if we play our cards right.”

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