Shoptelligence CEO offers retailers tips for thriving in e-commerce

Photo shows Laura Khoury

It’s no secret the novel coronavirus pandemic has changed how we shop, but at first there was only anecdotal evidence of that. In the Home Furnishings Association’s live COVID-19 Webinar June 4, Shoptelligence CEO Laura Khoury offered real data to to show just how dramatic that change is in the retail furniture industry.

According to a white paper released by retail software company Shoptelligence exclusively for the HFA webinar, there’s been a 200 percent increase in online browsing for furniture since the pandemic started. And most of those shoppers aren’t just browsing. “Our research is showing that up to 90 percent of those browsing are ready buyers,” said Khoury, meaning they are motivated to make a purchase.

That motivation is driven by states’ stay-at-home orders, which she said gave rise to “inspirtainment” — browsing online for home décor inspiration as a form of entertainment. Even with all 50 states back open for business, many consumers are still wary of heading back to brick-and-mortars. Because consumers are spending more time at home, Khoury said it’s understandable they want surroundings that are more comfortable and conducive to work. Many HFA members with transactional websites have reported that online browsing for furniture is spiking in the new economy with searches for desks, outdoor furniture and home décor getting the most traffic.

“Traffic across all of our clients is up threefold, which is great, but now we’re actually seeing conversion rate boosts well over three times (the average) and in some cases eight times,” said Khoury.

Khoury said furniture retailers “actively homing in their e-commerce are benefiting substantially. So, those who already had momentum coming into the pandemic are now starting to really gain the benefits of that.”

That doesn’t mean it’s too late for retailers only now contemplating an e-commerce game. Khoury offered retailers five tips for thriving in this new economy:

Be where shoppers start their journey. Provide inspiration in the form of interactive content and tools that help your customers find and create what they want on your site so they don’t have to go elsewhere.

Maximize traffic from your existing customers. It’s five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing one, Khoury said. Unlock value from your existing customer base by proactively delivering personalized inspiration that invites your customers to return. People with open lines of credit offer a tremendous opportunity. They’re likely looking for inspiration. Make it easy for them to purchase the desk they need or upgrade their décor with their open credit line.

Get more value from every visitor. Whether it’s new visitors you’ve acquired through increasingly competitive (and expensive) digital advertising, organic sources or return visitors, retailers must maximize the value they get from them by selling more to each one, Khoury said. Help them discover more products and effortlessly interact to create their room all from your assortment. Whether they ultimately purchase online or in-store, their consideration set will be broader, resulting in a larger transaction.

Rethink the role of your associates. Rather than focusing exclusively on converting shoppers in-store, Khoury urged retailers to train their sales associates to be ambassadors or advisers who can assist shoppers in every step of the process and in every channel. “Make them accessible virtually and incentivize them for sales in any channel,” she said.

Broaden your assortment. Since there’s no need to worry about floor space online, Khoury recommended that retailers offer a broader assortment there to help shoppers find exactly the inspiration and products they’re seeking. Look into drop-ship opportunities that help to grow conversion and share of wallet with no inventory carrying cost. Better to convert the shopper than helping them find a reason to go elsewhere.

To hear the entire webinar, as well as other archived webinars designed to help furniture retailers in the new economy, go the HFA’s COVID-19 Recovery Resources page.

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

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