From Home Furnishing Business
Two Opportunities for Improvement with Today’s Consumers in Our Stores
By Tom Zollar
In all my training sessions with managers and sales people, we always begin with a discussion about the consumer – where she has been, how she got here and most importantly, what changes have occured in how she wants to be treated in our stores. This magazine has covered the research that supports this in depth and many of the columns I have written, discussed what we can learn from it all in order to provide our customers with the shopping/buying experience they desire. It all starts with our adverting, our web site, and everything else we do to reach out to consumers in our market and follows with us through every phase and step in their process, including delivery of their dream room and follow up relationship building.
As I have stated before, a sales person’s basic role is to make the customer feel comfortable in their store, find out what they really want to have as the outcome of their visit, and then help them make it all happen! While satisfying the consumer’s needs has always been a sales person’s primary goal, there have been differences in the process, based on the type of needs addressed in each situation, but the intended result has remained the same, whatever the industry or market might be.
What has changed are the three major elements in the consumer’s selling and buying process:
- The selection of products to buy
- The number of places or ways to purchase
- The consumers themselves
Today there are so many products to choose from in every category of home furnishings that the selection process can be very confusing and thus more difficult. In addition, the huge number of retail locations and online companies to buy from has become so vast that competition for the customers business has become very intense. As a result, our customers have a great deal of choice, often finding it intimidating, confusing and in many cases, downright scary!
Therefore, we all want our customers to feel relaxed and comfortable in our stores as we help them find the home furnishings they want to create the home of their dreams. Unfortunately, most of them arrive with a lot of fear and distrust that heavily impacts their attitude about the in store experience they expect and how they react to it.
Today’s consumer has found several ways to deal with this situation. A growing number completely avoid the situation by buying online. Others do some degree of research before shopping so they can make a more educated decision about where and what to buy. And, today there are many more ways to do research than ever before. Not only are there dozens of magazines available that relate to home decorating, but nearly every cable provider features multiple channels that have home related programming. Even broadcast TV has embraced the “Home Make-Over” craze. By comparison, other than approximately a half dozen “shelter magazines” aimed at the home, the only place my parents could go to get ideas and learn about home furnishings was a store that sold them!
Because of all this pre-shopping media access and decorating emphasis, recent generations have dramatically changed their shopping habits. While our parents visited five to seven stores during the discovery experience, today’s time-limited customers only visit two or three retail locations. Experience and research has shown that they now arrive at the store much more ready, willing and able to make their buying decision than ever before.
So why when our sales people approach them, do the majority - as many as 75% - say “No thanks, I’m just looking”? The answer is, because they are just looking. The difference today is that they have a much better idea what they are looking for than previous generations and they have educated themselves to the point where they feel confident in their ability to make the buying decision when and if they see what they are looking for.
This increased level of confidence makes them think that they don’t need our assistance in their search. Just like a visit to Target or the grocery store, many consumers think that they can walk through our store and see everything we have to offer. We know that in order to have any chance of being successful, they need us like they need their next breath. But many of our sales people and managers don’t want to be too pushy so their response to this rejection is to let the consumer wander through the store alone, hoping they will reconnect with them before they leave the store - which only ends up happening with less than half of them industry wide.
Opportunity for Improvement Number One: Train, coach and motivate our sales people to overcome “I’m just looking” during the greeting process so that they connect with more customers and don’t release them to browse through the store on their own. The greeting has become the most critical step in the selling process. Make sure your staff understands this and knows how to maximize their effectiveness. We discussed this in a bit more depth in the November 2015 issue column: “The Consumer Evolution”.
The other result of pre-shopping research and the impact of HGTV type programming has changed how today’s consumers look at what they want to buy for their home. Our business is now more than ever driven by the needs our customers have to create beautiful homes. Therefore, our mission really needs to be finding ways to help our customers learn how to use our products to enhance their quality of life instead of merely how to buy our products. We must shift our long-standing paradigm of products driving all we do, to one of dealing first with the customer’s need to create a beautiful home, then finding a way to use the products we sell to fulfill that need.
The fact is, for almost any customer there are many “things” that would fit their need perfectly. Most are not necessarily seeking a specific product, but rather a type of look or feel, a result that will satisfy her most fundamental need to provide a beautiful environment for herself and her family. The catchword for this is “Lifestyle”. This is what we should be talking about with every customer before we begin dealing with products, features and benefits. The benefit she wants has nothing to do with any one product or group but rather lies in her vision of what her home or room will look and feel like when whatever she buys is in it.
Opportunity for Improvement Number Two: Train, coach and motivate your team to truly provide what your customers really want when they enter your store. Your customer’s need is not for “things”, it is for better, more beautiful homes that reflect their lifestyle choices. People are not interested in “things” except as they relate to their most basic need to create a beautiful home environment. Customers have consistently told us that furniture salespeople do not want to talk about the same things they do. So make sure your sales people are selling beautiful, comfortable rooms that fit your customer’s lifestyle, not just the “things” you carry.
This really represents a complete change of focus for most sales people. They need to reset their initial emphasis from the things in your store, to the needs in their customer’s home. As an example, instead of talking about the sofa first, they should talk about the living room it is going into, because in a very real sense, it is that room, that brought them into your store, not the sofa. Indeed, another reason many customers say “I’m just looking” as soon as your sales associate approaches is because they are interested in their home and believe your staff is only interested in selling furniture. The customer wants help and your people want to get on with showing furniture.
As stated earlier, we need to help customers understand how to use our products to enhance their quality of life instead of just how to buy them. If customers come into your store and hear only about your products features or the promotions offered by the store, rather than how you can help them put the puzzle together for their rooms and homes, there is a fundamental disconnection in the communication process. Fix it and you will prosper because the main reason why only 30% of all shoppers in a typical furniture store actually make a purchase, is because we fail to help them connect what we have to what their own outcomes will be.