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From Home Furnishing Business

Online Shopper Inquiries


By Tom Zollar

After a sales training session a few years ago, a client’s top design salesperson issued an edict—we are struggling to properly handle all the Internet inquiries we get. Come up with some direction for us.

 I get great feedback and ideas salespeople I work with, but since Yvonne routinely writes more than $1 million each year, I tend to listen to her closely. So we developed some recommendations to help clients take advantage of the growing opportunities. Here are the strategies we have found to be successful.

Whats and Whys of Internet Inquiries

First, we have to understand some basic truths that are important to help maximize performance in this area. Many salespeople do not like handling phone or Internet inquiries because they see them as a waste of time. That could not be further from the truth. These customer contacts represent some of the most qualified leads a store receives, and consequently they should be handled quickly, dynamically and professionally.

To begin the training process, retailers must ensure staff members are on the same page and understand the promising potential source of business Internet inquiries present. Here are issues to discuss with them:

  1. Consumers seeking information online are not tire-kickers, lookers or price-shoppers. Instead, they are legitimate ups and need to be treated as such. They have decided to buy something, researched online to narrow their choices and are now looking for a place to buy it. What better chance can you have?
  2. For the most part these inquiries represent the best selling opportunities a retail salesperson will have, because they are looking at a product and are willing to tell you in what they are interested. How many of the in-store customers you approach give you that information? If you do get that far, what are the chances you will make the sale?
    Most salespeople agree that once they get to the point where a customer will tell them what they want, they have more than a 60 percent chance of success. Inquiries give them a head start on the process.
  3. Inquiring customers are typically in the final stages of making a purchase decision and are at a point where they are narrowing down choices, how much to pay for it and where to buy it. Therefore, if they ask you for a price and you give it to them, you have addressed only one part of their need. That said, they may well shop around and go elsewhere to buy, based solely on price. You should address each of their needs and in doing so, give them a reason to buy from you.
  4. It is critical for sales management to understand that many retail salespeople are most comfortable working face-to-face with customers so they can read body language and communicate more effectively. Working with someone online is much different and might not be something at which every salesperson is competent. It has been said that younger people are better at communicating via written word, having grown up with e-mail, texting and social media. But it is more a matter of desire than age. Yvonne is from my generation, and she is a killer with inquiries. Truth is some salespeople will be better at handling online inquiries; those are the ones that should be given the majority of them to maximize a store’s return on this potential customer base. That might not seem fair, but those who are most comfortable doing something are usually the best at it. Find out who they are and create an Internet response team to funnel these valuable leads to.

Process Recommendations

Here are a few recommendations about how to respond to these inquiries. Each organization needs to determine its specific process and what incentives to include, but this should put you on the right path:

  1. Answer Their Question: Respond promptly (within a few hours if possible) with the answer to the question. Failure to do so will mean immediate rejection. These are not the most patient people, and they are used to immediate answers from Amazon, Target and other online retailers. However, you must give them additional answers to questions they did not ask in order to separate yourself from the others and make them want to do business with you. Always try to give them the specific information they seek, such as the price of a item on your website, but if possible, also quote the range of price that the product is available at depending on fabric, options, group make up and other attributes.
  2. Offer Options of Which They May Not be Aware: Always try to give them more to think about like similar products you carry or can order that can provide them with both product and price related options. Consider something along the lines of sharing the varied services the store offers. “One of great things I like about working for Sample Furniture is that we offer our clients so much selection that they can almost always find the perfect product for both their lifestyle needs and their budget. As an example, we have several very similar sofas in a broad array of fabrics and leather that range in price from $599 all the way up to $1,199. Some are also available as sleepers or with a reclining function built in. Whatever you want, we can make it happen, even if we need to have it built especially for you. I have included some pictures with my e-mail to give you an idea of other options you may want to consider.”
  3. Be Visual: One great advantage of the Internet versus the phone is that it is visual. Take advantage of that by sending pictures of the item the consumer has asked about and other similar products. Go out on the sales floor with a mobile phone and send back actual pictures of the furniture in the store. What better way to pique their interest in coming into the store.
  4. Give Them A Reason to Buy from You: Separate yourself from the competition by adding value to the process and creating a desire to do business with you and your store. Add value by giving them specific reasons why buying from your store will be their best choice. How about something along these lines? “Another great aspect of working here is that customers can shop with confidence based on our lowest price guarantee. We also offer free design services to our clients, including an in-home visit if needed, to ensure your new (insert product) is perfect for your home.”
  5. Get Them Into the Store: You must give them a strong reason to come into the store and meet with you to complete the process. This should involve some sort of legitimate special offer for your online friends. The main thing is to get them to print out the e-mail and bring it to you in order to take advantage of the offer. Something as simple as concluding the response with: “We value our online friends, so if you just print this message out and bring it to me here at the store, we will give you an additional 10 percent off of whatever you select.” (Put offer in bold so they don’t miss it.) You could also offer a gift certificate or gift, but we find that a discount on a purchase tends to work best. A colorful coupon in the signature of the e-mail works well.

Keep in mind that many consumers shopping online are trying to be as efficient as possible in their search, so you need to get to the point as quickly and directly as possible. The recommendations above are a bit wordy to give you an idea of what could be included in your response, but it is best to be as brief as possible while still getting your point across. They will be more likely to read text if it accompanies pictures.

You have a great opportunity with these clients. Give the recommendations a try, adapt them to fit your business and find what works best for you.


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