Heather Hanley Tin roof
HFA member Heather Hanley says she's rethinking her store's website strategy in light of the economic slowdown.

With stores shuttering, retailers pick up their web game

Locked doors. Silent phones. Near-empty streets.  With every passing day, HFA members are shuttering their showrooms as states increasingly are ordering all non-essential businesses to close in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But this is not a story of HFA members throwing up their hands and surrendering. This is the other kind.

Heather Hanley of The Tin Roof Furniture Showroom & Design Center in Spokane, Wash., whose store was forced to close Tuesday, is beefing up her web presence, which may soon include prices.

Just east of Hanley in Ephrata, Wash., Kelly Moore is promoting Moore Furniture’s website on the electronic readerboard he installed a few years ago in his parking lot: WE DO TAKEOUT! CALL US IF YOU NEED ANYTHING! Moore invested about $4,000 in buying and installing the sign a few years back. He said the business the sign has pushed to the store this week makes it the “best investment I ever made.”

‘We’re looking for any business we can find’

Tony Vera’s Mega Furniture in North Miami Beach, Fla., hasn’t seen a customer in the showroom since the store closed Saturday. But that hasn’t stopped Vera and his family from selling online. The family has a $20,000 rent payment coming due next week. “We’re looking for any business we can find, and right now it’s all coming through the web,” he says.

Furniture retailers – with an assist from the staggering economy – have made it clear: To stay in business they are using whatever is within their means to get their product in front of customers.

That means enhancing their websites and letting customers know orders are continuing to ship and supply chains are still open. If a business has a design staff, retailers are getting the message out that designers are working from home and available to work on room plans 24/7.

The Tin Roof has a robust website with hundreds of SKUs but does not list prices – not yet at least. “If customers aren’t going to come to the store for the next few weeks or even months, then we need to bring the store to them,” says Hanley. “I think we have to consider that includes our pricing.”

Crisis forces furniture stores to catch up

Retailers know this pandemic is dangerous. But leave it to many like Hanley to find a silver lining. Compared to other retailers, furniture retailers have always been 20 years behind the curve in the way they conduct business, says Hanley. “This could be the push a lot of us need to make the changes we’ve been needing to make. This is a chance for us to look at how we’ve been doing the same thing over and over and how we might want to do things differently in a different world.”

That’s why HFA member Magnolia Hall in Jasper, Ga., is reformatting its website this week and replacing its stock-art sliders with the company’s best-sellers. Magnolia’s Sasha Kampmeier says the company will send out an email to its customers this week letting them know that, regardless of the store’s fate in the coming days and weeks, its website will never shut down. “That’s not going away,” says Kampmeier. “We’ve always done a pretty good amount of business online and now’s a chance to grow that even more.”

Hanley agrees: “If our customers want furniture but they (can’t) come in to shop, they’re going to want to see it – and we’re going to want to display it – in the best way we can.”

Your website is now your furniture store

Manoj Nigram, president and CEO of website technology provider MicroD, agrees with Hanley about retailers reassessing their web presence. “This is a very good time to take a lead online and reevaluate how you are doing things online,” he says. “If people are not coming into your stores over the next few weeks, you need to make your site your new store. Pricing is absolutely the first step to doing that.”

Now more than ever, customers are going to price-shop anyway, says Nigram. “Be the one who makes it easy and transparent for them. Be the leader in your market.”

Nigram says retailers need to think about the entire journey on their website – from pricing to checkout to delivery. “It’s everything your brick-and-mortar store was because, let’s face it, this is your new store for now.”

[See HFA’s COVID-19 resources page.]

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