From Home Furnishing Business
This month’s issue is designed to help retailers compete in an ever-changing marketplace, which really comes down to one of the most basic challenges of retailing—getting people in your market to want to do business with you instead of others or selling your store.
That may sound simple, but accomplishing it has become increasingly harder as the number of options the consumer has to purchase from has grown. Even though you likely have fewer actual brick and mortar home furnishings stores in your area, competition for the consumers in your market has increased dramatically.
Of course, the real game changer has been the Internet, which has not only given consumers the ability to shop outside their local markets, but also allowed them to customize their shopping experience by selecting businesses they see as providing the things that meet their needs. We know that the most important factors influencing a customer’s decision on where they will shop and buy home furnishings products include: selection, price, display, salesperson, service, exterior, reputation, ease, financing and advertising.
It would be great to be able to be perceived as the best at all 11 factors in a market and some of the country’s best retailers achieve that or come close to it. However, it is not possible for most to do that —either due to store type, market size or competitive landscape.
How can retailers maximize their ability to compete? It comes down to having a clear vision of what customers want and what merchants can offer that differentiates stores from others in the marketplace. Once we have that, we must translate it to three areas that most impact our sales success: advertising, merchandising and in-store experience.
Coach’s Corner is targeted at developing the best sales team and selling effort for stores. That said, let’s discuss the in-store experience, and let others help improve your competitive edge in the other two facets of your business.
The consumer experience is the area where retailers can differentiate themselves and become a true competitor. You have already done something right by enticing the customer into the store. Chances are better than 75 percent they have been to your website and that of the competition. Then, they chose your store. They believe you have what they want or they wouldn’t waste their time coming in.
Research shows that between 80 percent to 90 percent of consumers visiting a store can find what they want. That begs the question—why do most stores only sell about a third of the customers that visit?
Simply the in-store experience does not live up to expectations. This is an area where most retailers can improve. To compete in your market, be the best you can be when consumers come through the door. That’s where the game begins.
To start with, it is best to know what the competition is doing and be aware of how they showcase products and treat their customers. Visit them often and have your team do the same. Such information is invaluable in becoming the alpha competitor in a market. Find out what they do, and outdo them. In many cases it won’t be as hard as one might think. Here are some areas to target:
· The exterior of the store is important in setting your customer’s expectations for their in-store experience. A customer’s experience begins when they drive up to the door. If the store looks tired and old, consumers will wonder about your ability to make their home look new and exciting. There are several dynamic and successful store design firms available. Find a store you like, ask the owner who helped designed it and hire them. It will be money well spent.
· Product display and POS are generally the next area to impact a customer’s store experience. When they enter the door, ensure they are drawn into an inviting, exciting environment that intrigues them and begs them to investigate further. The area inside store entries is critical. It is where consumers take in that first impression, and you know what they say about those. Beyond the entrance, offer clear views and walkways so the floor doesn’t look like a never-ending maze. Use color and pattern to indicate selection throughout. Have colorful, graphics-heavy signage strategically placed to answer questions and help consumers visualize the products in their homes. Consider assigning the task to a dedicated merchandising or design team member. Take them to market to buy accessories and see the newest display techniques at the better showrooms.
· The most critical element of an in-store experience centers on the customer’s interaction with store employees. Many retailers do the other elements well, but fail to maximize the customer’s in-store experience because sales associates are a hurry to sell something as opposed to providing the assistance most consumers are looking for today. The majority of the column’s here have targeted recruiting, training, coaching and managing a customer-driven sales team in your store. Revisit some of them for more information. Following is a list of things consumers want in their shopping experience. Unfortunately, many stores do not offer them consistently. Doing all or at least some will help set stores off in the right direction:
o For years, consumers have said they are afraid of pushy sales associates who are more interested in commissions than solving decorating problems. This is the industry’s reputation, and we have earned it. Make sure the staff is always focused on the outcome a customer wants rather than just on making the sale.
o Today, most consumers entering a furniture store are strongly inclined to say “I’m just looking” to the first person approaching them. They need to interact with a salesperson in order to find out available product and services. That makes the greeting the most important part of the selling process. A great greeting will break through any distrust and kick start a dialog that will result in a positive outcome. A greeting involves more than just words and should include both verbal and non-verbal enthusiasm. Make sure the staff is excited about meeting each customer and shows that enthusiasm consistently.
o The June 2015 issue contained an article on the one thing that will separate a retailer from others in the market. Sketching. More than 90 percent of furniture shoppers say they want their rooms sketched. Yet, only 5 percent say it ever happens. If you do nothing else, revisit that article for more information and train the staff to give the customers what they want—what a novel idea.
o The real low-hanging fruit for most retailers is holding onto customers they have already sold. Today’s consumers are not as loyal to stores they buy from as past generations. Remember that when you have sold someone, you have created a relationship, hopefully one that is also a friendship. Friends stay in contact and so must you. Thank you cards, follow up e-mails, friends and family events, private events all contribute to maintaining this connection. However, real friends send birthday cards, congratulate each other on achievements like graduations, express sympathy when appropriate. The real pros don’t have a client file; they have a friends file.
Most consumers today don’t want to be sold, they want a partner in their search for the perfect room. Be their friend and have fun doing it to maximize results.