24 May 2024, 13:59
By Biljana Vidojevic Dec 07, 2020

Ten steps to future fitness

The pandemic may have caught many furniture businesses off-guard, but it’s not too late to adapt to the ecommerce demands of tomorrow’s shopper, writes Cylindo’s Biljana Vidojevic …

This year has been a wild ride. While in the beginning many companies thought they could get away with an ostrich approach and pretend nothing happened, now everyone is aware that the world is changing. It’s time to recognise the impact of Covid-19 and think through the long-term implications. 

For furniture businesses, there were two scenarios. Companies that were ready to move online managed to buffer the initial shock, and adjust their business strategy. Unfortunately, those that were delaying their digital transformation efforts have been caught flat-footed, without the ability to deliver a positive digital experience.

It’s not called ‘survival of the fittest’ for no reason – no matter how big and successful one company is, only those who can adjust to the environment are going to survive. 

Luckily, there’s always a silver lining. The pandemic has forced companies to pivot, and this will also future-proof their businesses. Now is the time to think about the strategies that will strengthen your business in the new era of furniture ecommerce. Here’s some food for thought – 10 tactics that will help you embark on your path to growth …

1. An engaging online shopping experience will future-proof your business

We’re witnessing a seismic shift in ecommerce. Traditional buyers who, in the past, had some hesitation to make purchases digitally, have become first-time online buyers during the pandemic. 

According to Paysafe’s research report, Lost in Transaction: The impact of Covid-19 on consumer payment preferences’, 18% of all consumers have made an online purchase for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic (this increases to 25% in the US and 21% in the UK).

A good starting point to understand your product pages’ performance and make improvements (if needed) is to check some main indicators that can give you a clear picture of your user experience – analyse traffic, time on site, conversion rate, page load speed, etc. 

2. Designing a product page that turns visitors into customers

After diagnosing the performance of your product pages, you’ll be able to define a plan for improving the overall online shopping experience. Even though the process of creating an engaging online shopping experience can seem daunting, start with the basics and go from there:

• Focus on creating high-quality product visuals. Furniture is an incredibly visual industry, so having top-notch product visuals is a prerequisite for more online sales.

• Enable product customisation. Help customers display the right product from the large number of possible product variants intuitively, easily, quickly and to order, directly according to their individual requirements.

• Add product recommendations – these allow customers to find relevant products quickly and easily, by generating personalised offers based on their browsing and purchasing behaviour.

• Leverage reviews. Customers today are constantly looking for unbiased feedback to help them decide whether they should buy a product. Product ratings and reviews have become major decisionmaking factors. When it comes to big-ticket purchases like furniture, product reviews are even more important.

• Create a seamless checkout experience. Give customers the chance to choose between registering and a guest checkout, and encourage them to give you their personal information by offering an incentive or a personalised experience.

3. Bridging the online-offline gap with product visualisation

For many products, particularly furniture, shoppers want to scrutinise the goods before making a purchasing decision. Replicating the sensation of the rich texture, soft cushions, and the overall in-store experience in furniture ecommerce is difficult — but not impossible.

Here’s where product visualisation comes in handy:

• Google’s metrics have shown that consumers interact with 360° spin four times longer than with conventional product photos alone. With 360° views, you can encourage customers to make an online purchase, or inspire a showroom visit.

• Augmented reality (AR) is set to disrupt the furniture industry, as using this technology can reduce customer hesitation in purchasing due to uncertainty. AR, especially in furniture, is probably the closest to magic we’ve seen this decade. Data from Interior Define shows that customers that engage with AR are eight times more likely to convert than customers that choose not to.

• Virtual consultation with 3D product visualisation – the retail apocalypse that happened due to the coronavirus outbreak has forced furniture companies to find new ways to engage with customers and recreate the in-store experience. The combination of virtual consultation with 3D product visualisation can revolutionise online furniture sales.

4. Redefined in-store experience and a sneak peek at the store of the future

No matter how many customers turn to online shopping, stores will still exist – in a different format. So, it looks like the outbreak has accelerated the digital transformation in furniture retail and prompted retailers to reimagine the in-store experience. 

The store of the future will be smaller, so the biggest challenge for retailers in the not-so-distant future will be in transforming to an experiential store through technology. The concept of offering customers an appointment to get their full attention, and leverage technology to help them make a purchasing decision, is something we might see in the near future.

5. Mobile experience is more important than ever

Mobile is an inevitable part of the way consumers shop nowadays, from browsing and research to comparison and purchase. Data from Google Shopping Insights shows that 72% of searches in the furniture category from January to August 2020 came from mobile devices.

Prioritising mobile will pay dividends in the long run. Back in 2016, Google confirmed that more than 50% of all web traffic was coming from smartphones and tablets, so it’s no surprise that they have shifted indexing from desktop to mobile-first. This is one more reason to pay extra attention when optimising for mobile to ensure that visitors who open your site from their mobile device have a great experience.

6. The journey to a diversified supply chain

Furniture brands have learned the hard way that they need to diversify their supply chains. Retailers, on the other hand, realised that they need a wider portfolio of products from different brands. 

McKinsey predicted that, by 2020, 80% of goods would be manufactured in a country different from where they are consumed. Supply chains are becoming more global, and companies pursuing growth will need to think about dealing with the supply chain complexity.

7. Flexible fulfilment options will lead to customer satisfaction

Last-mile delivery is the most important element of the supply chain business. By 2021, 90% of retailers are expected to offer BOPIS (buy online, pay in-store), according to Digital Commerce 360.

In September, Google updated its Shopping results on Google Search to help consumers find local businesses and check for curbside and in-store pickup services. It’s now easier for customers to see what’s in stores near them before committing to going in-person, with a map view and list of stores in their area.

Besides this, consider working with a third-party logistics (3PL) partner, as it comes in very handy when your order volume can spike and it becomes very challenging to fulfill orders in a timely manner.

8. Managing returns in the right way can be a game-changer

Data from SaleCycle shows that, on average, 25% of all ecommerce purchases are sent back. And, if a retailer charges too much (or charges at all), 57% of millennials will bail on future business.

When it comes to furniture ecommerce, returns can significantly impact your business. Before figuring out how to deal with returns, make sure to prevent them with high-quality product visualisation. This way, customers will know exactly what to expect.

Besides this, make sure to have a clear return policy, offer flexibility and easy refunds, to encourage customers to shop online. 

9. Flexible and contactless payments become the norm

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of ‘contactless’ technologies. Mobile transactions are replacing cash, cheques and credit cards as people avoid exchanging paper currency or touching screens to complete transactions. First, it was for safety reasons. Now, it’s slowly becoming more of a behavioural shift because of its convenience. 

PayPal reported that 34% of retailers selling in stores are implementing mobile payment options such as PayPal, Google Pay, Apple Wallet and Samsung Pay. In the first two months of the pandemic, 30% of consumers made mobile wallet transactions for the first time.

Another trend – buy now, pay later – is making its way into the home industry, as more retailers offer this possibility for their customers. 

10. Stand out from the crowd with mindful communication

According to GlobalWebIndex, the average number of social media accounts per internet user globally has risen from 7.6 in 2017 to 8.1 in 2020, with the average time spent increasing from 2hrs 15mins to 2hrs 22mins. However, as they are spending more time on social media, consumers are becoming averse to aggressive ads. 

Showing customers you care, and that you’ve taken all the necessary steps to make them feel welcome and safe in your stores – or through initiatives that will make their online shopping easier – are much more valuable than shiny ads without real value behind them.

Changes and challenges come in waves. The key is learning to be buoyant. Learn to ride the waves. Take actions today that will future-proof your business and prepare you for the future of furniture ecommerce.

Biljana Vidojevic is the content marketing manager at Cylindo, which specialises in making product visualisation easy through automated content creation for 3D assets and photorealistic images. This article featured in the December 2020 issue of Furniture News magazine.

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