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From Home Furnishing Business

How Can the Internet Support and Enhance your Selling Effort?

Probably the single greatest impact on the entire retail landscape since the turn of this century has come from the introduction, growth and evolution of the Internet as both a research/educational tool and retail distribution channel. Other articles in this issue and previous ones have outlined the numbers to give you a picture of the depth and breadth of its role. How many use it and what they use it for, gives us great insight into why it has become so important to the shopping process.

This is great information to know and understand, but the main thing it tells us is that the Internet is causing a significant number of potential customers to avoid visiting our stores! That is the major negative we are experiencing at retail. It is really a double whammy for us since not only are people searching for, finding and buying our products on the internet, they are using their research to zero in on where they want to shop, thus significantly reducing the number of stores they will visit. As a result, in addition to losing sales directly to the Internet, it is also helping to reduce the total amount of traffic we have available in our markets.

Obviously the first step we need to take is to develop our own online sales capability. We must do that in order to capture some of the potential lost sales from customers that initially want to avoid visiting our stores. If this sounds to you like “joining the enemy”, then so be it. The internet is here to stay and the amount of home furnishing products sold directly over it is going to continue to grow. We are in the business of selling our products to the people in our market and it does not make sense to just let such a large percentage of them go elsewhere to buy. Especially when the end result can be that we can sell more people and then have the possibility of bringing them into your store when they make their next purchase. If we do not provide this convenience to those that want it, we will probably never see them.

While it seems that very few smaller retailers have taken this route, the numbers are growing and the initial reports indicate that many are having some success with it. The volume is not huge, but they are capturing customers that they would have missed otherwise and in the long run that will benefit them. As their client list grows, so too will their ability to reach deeper into their market and increase their market share. Therefore, find someone to partner with or hire that can put you into the online business and do it soon!

As for the prospect of ending up with fewer people to sell, what could we do to minimize its impact? Perhaps the answer is for us to find ways we can use the internet to expand or enhance our selling efforts to reach and ultimately satisfy more of the consumers that are still available to us in our market. To determine that, we need to focus on what potential opportunities for help the internet could provide us with.

Basically there are only three ways you can grow a retail business: See more people (Increase your traffic), Sell more of the people you see (Increase your closing rate) and/or Sell more to the people you do sell (Increase your average sale). Any of these individually or in combination will build sales. Therefore, let’s take a look at how we might use the Internet to improve or enhance our processes to help us achieve better results in these areas.

See More People (Traffic)

For the vast majority of the people interested in buying home furnishings, the first place they go is the internet. It is where the whole decision making process either begins or at least really gets serious. They use it to get ideas for their home, plus to educate themselves about products, prices and places to buy. Consumers only shop for furniture a few times in their lives so they generally know very little about it and the WEB is where most go to begin their learning process. It is the library they go to study at before the big test, which in this case is the actual shopping and buying experience.

As a result, your web site is absolutely critical! It provides your first impression to as many as 85% of the people who could potentially visit you. You only get one chance at that, so make it the absolute best it can be.

To these potential customers, your site IS your showroom and it needs to make the viewer want to come see it. We know they are looking for product ideas, pricing, specifications and other information. The ease they have finding what they are looking for on your site and the excitement you help them experience will go a long way towards establishing your place in their “Stores to Visit” pecking order. Do all you can to provide visual stimulation through exciting graphics, videos and other tools. Obviously most information they seek must be delivered in text format, but make that the last resort. How do you figure this out? Visit the pros that do this for a living and study what they do! We can’t all be Amazon or Wayfair or other major players, but we can learn from them!

Where you differ is that your main goal is not necessarily to make the sale then and there online, it is to get them to talk with you and ultimately to visit your store! Setting up chats, connecting to design advisors, moving from an online entity to a personal connection is what you want to do. We recommend that you have a dedicated person or team that creates and maintains your online marketing and sales effort.

Sell More of the People You See (Close Rate)

We have always maintained that If you can get a customer to tell you what they want, you have a much better chance of helping them find it. We also know that if you can show them what they are looking for (or something pretty close), even on a screen, you have a better chance of selling them. Therefore, in many cases you will need to provide a continuation of their internet shopping process. Your staff can do this by understanding that process and learning how to discover what each person has learned and what they have found that they have liked or not liked. To do this they will need easy access to the Internet on the floor. Using it in the selling process must be part of your sales effort and training program. They need to become a partner in the consumer’s search and join them on their journey as opposed to leading the process or just telling them what they should get.

Often we are finding the inquiries coming in from a retailer’s site via email or phone are potentially the best Ups sales people will get each day. However, we also know that not all of your sales people believe that. We recommend that you develop an individual or team that buys in and understand how to communicate via the internet and develop relationships that result in the customer coming in for a visit. The close rate on consumers that have connected to an individual and had a positive experience that brings them into the store looking for that person is probably about 90%. Why give these opportunities to sales people that do not treasure them? Make them matter by only allowing those who have demonstrated they can connect with online customers to deal with them.

Sell More to the People You Sell (Average Sale)

We know that product knowledge and design skills both contribute greatly to average sale. If your customer is going to use the internet to educate themselves, so can you. Part of your training and coaching program should involve using the WEB to learn more about product, sales techniques and design ideas. Your vendor sites can provide a treasure trove of information to help your staff better serve your customers. There are many great design and style centered forums and pages that can raise their awareness of trends in style and colors. All of the buzz words are there, if your people go looking for them. There should be no “down” time in a retail store for sale people, if they have access to the same library their customers are studying at!

We have also found that the better a retailer is at reaching their target customers through email blasts, social media and other online tools, the higher their closing rate and average sale is with those they bring into the store through it. We have had clients that have significantly reduced and even eliminated much of their traditional advertising effort to concentrate on reaching more potential customers via social media and other internet avenues. While total traffic declined, in most cases the increases in revenue per up more than compensated for seeing fewer people. They became much more efficient and effective with those that they did see because they were bringing in much more “qualified” customers!

So the answer is to sell who you can online and then get better at using the internet to reach and connect with more customers that you can get into your store. That is how you can offset the potential negative impact of the Internet and turn it into a positive. No matter what you do, you must tie it all together with your selling process and use it all on the floor consistently.  

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