23 May 2024, 06:38
By Gavin Boden Jul 09, 2018

Ecommerce – you’ve gotta be in it to win it

I know that I keep harping on about furniture retailers working with the internet and not against it. Well, while out visiting retailers recently, I’ve noticed how right I was – because the most succesful independent furniture retailers I’ve visited over the last few days have a strong presence online, and reiterating what I’ve said previously.

I don’t want to add to the debate of whether or not independent retailers need to be online – the jury is no longer out on that. What I would like to do is add more information on what you need to know when entering the wonderful world of the web.

So, you own an independent furniture retail store, and have done for the last 1,000,000 years. Up to 10 years ago it was easy and enjoyable, but over those 10 years it’s evolved from this adorable cuddly puppy which furnished you with fluffy loving affection into this hungry, horrible, animal which is more likely to bite your hand off. 

You’ve taken advice from some clever people and decided you are going to spend your marketing budget on the internet rather than the local newspaper, which has long since died a horrible death. Back in the day, you probably spent a lot of money on weekly, colourful full-page ads to get that traffic through your door. 

Now, instead of spending that spare cash (yeah, right!) on different forms of media, like radio advertising or getting your brand seen for five seconds in between Coronation Street and Emmerdale (normally fast-forwarded), you need to spend that money on building a functional, easy to use, inviting website, and – equally important – maintaining it.

First of all, you must decide whether you want to attract customers from your local area or deliver all around the country. Both are completely viable, as long as your business has the procedures in place to make it happen. If you decide to go for it and supply the UK, then you need to remember that because of the Consumer Contracts Regulations (www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/consumer-contracts-regulations – previously the Distance Selling regulations) you must have a procedure in place to allow for the customer to send the order back at any time, for any reason, within the first 14 days after delivery. 

To avoid this, you will have to do everything in your power to make sure the customer is happy – the product is as described, clean, in perfect condition and professionally delivered.

I would suggest employing a full-time member of staff to build the website, maintain it and attend to all your social media marketing (very important). It is no good getting the cheapest web developer (or sometimes the most expensive) around to build you a website – 99% of the time it will be false economy. By all means, have a look at successful competitor sites and see who has built them, but in the long run a dedicated employee will bring better results.

Try to see your website as your showroom. It needs to be fresh, inviting, warm, easy to get around, clean and tidy, and well displayed. You wouldn’t take something from your shop floor and leave a space, or have a discontinued piece of furniture on the floor which you can no longer sell – so why would you do this on your website? After slow transition speeds, the biggest annoyance for consumers visiting websites is discovering that they are out of date, with gaps, missing images and discontinued products.

Also very important is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Done well, this can get you onto the first page of the top search engines (Google, MSN, etc). If you’re not on the first page, you might as well not be there at all. 

One of my customers, Neil Barker from E Barkers in Sheffield, said: “We pay £40 a month to www.seositecheckup.com because it’s the best SEO analytical software I’ve seen. I’ve spent hours getting our SEO score up to 86/100 – which is higher than DFS at 84/100, and higher than Ponsford at 80/100 – taking the home page, for example. We are on the first page for just about every search in our locality now. You’ve got to get your SEO score as high as you can to ensure you’re doing all you can to appear at the top. You’ve not got a prayer if you don’t do your best with SEO.”

While out on the road I also spent time with Mike Robinson from Robinsons Interiors in Aylesby Lincolnshire. Five years ago he took the decision to focus his energy on trading online – now it is 95% of his turnover, and last year he moved his showroom away from the high street, and now pays 80% less on rent and rates, and has 20% more space. 

He has a dedicated, employed two-man delivery team, puts no prices on his website, and answers 90% of his enquiries personally, as he would if the customers came into the shop. His marketing budget now goes on a part-time employee who looks after “cleaning and maintaining” his website, driving traffic and maintaining a stable social media reach. 

He also spends a good part of his budget on Pay Per Click (PPC) with Google, of which he said: “PPC is the equivalent of paying to get on the inside-front facing page of the local paper in the old days.” This gets you to the top of your desired search, and you only pay when a consumer clicks the link to your website. He added: “A well-orchestrated PPC campaign can generate over £40,000 worth of business, and will cost you the same as an advert on the radio.” 

We sat for over an hour in his office looking at his Google Analytics statistics and comparing them to last year – how many times his site has been viewed, where the traffic has come from (search engine, social media, etc), how long the customer spent on the site, etc. He said that this type of information is critical to his business, and invaluable when delegating resources to different areas.

I am so disappointed that the majority of furniture retailers in the UK just aren’t getting it. I speak to so many retailers who don’t have a website, that don’t see the importance of having a presence online, be it a website, Facebook profile, Instagram, etc. 

I also encounter business owners that have a website but don’t look after it, don’t spend any money on it or understand that over 80% of prospective customers do their homework online before they come out to buy furniture. 

If you don’t have a website or social media presence, or your website is out of date or ugly, then those prospects won’t even set foot in your beautiful store.

Written by furniture sales and marketing professional, Gavin Boden. This article features in the July issue of Furniture News magazine.

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