The best website advice? Tie it to your store

HIGH POINT — When it comes to creating a website that works, the stats can be intimidating. Studies have shown that it takes less than a second for consumers to decide whether they’ll stay or leave after they land on any given website page.

According to an article from marketing agency, more than half of Internet users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile website, and more than a third of people will stop engaging with a website if the content and layout are unattractive or if the images take too long to load.

On the plus side, 88% of consumers who search for a business on a mobile device either call or go to that business within 24 hours, and average smartphone conversion rates are up 64% compared to desktop conversion rates, according to a survey from

User experience

For furniture retailers who offer e-commerce to consumers, and even for those who don’t, the website’s look-and-feel needs to meet consumers’ needs no matter what type of device they are using.

“User experience (UX) is not something that just happens; every element of your website has to be meticulously engineered to work together seamlessly to give your customers the optimal experience,” said Alex Kirsch, vice president of client solutions at website provider FurnitureDealer.Net. “Your online experience has to be better than what shoppers are seeing everywhere else.

“Shoppers don’t care that you don’t have the website budget of Nike or Target or Wayfair. Their expectations are high. They’re judging you against the big brands, and your UX needs to be on par for them to consider shopping with you.”

For many of the experts in this field, that means using best design practices that include having appealing graphics with a clear focal point, visual flow, balance and contrast as well as immersive, engaging content.

“All of this leads to the crucial next step — taking an action — which can be many things, including creating a profile, subscribing to a list, reaching out to a customer service agent,; setting up an in-store consultation or even, ultimately, traveling to the store,” said Jake Freedman, founder, president and CEO of digital marketing agency Dovr Media.

Freedman said consumers need the ability to get to an action point very easily once they are on the website, whether they are using a smartphone, tablet or PC, because if the desired action doesn’t work correctly, that’s when many companies lose the business.

Three of the top questions for online shoppers and browsers are: How much does the product cost, where can it be seen, and how long until I can get it in my home?

Experts say it’s imperative that these questions are answered for every single product on the website, especially the products that can be found on a nearby showroom floor or in the warehouse.

“Fully representing your lineup online with great search capabilities, photography and detailed data is the key,” said Andy Long, head of sales for Blueport Commerce.  “Some advanced tactics include the ability for shoppers to digitally switch between colors and variations of products, the ability to order fabric swatches and online customization of furniture.”

Traveling to the store

Many home furnishings retailers are now successfully using an online-to-offline model to drive in-store sales. This occurs when the customer starts the search online but then purchases in a retail location, which pays heed to a recent poll that 86% of consumers would rather shop for furniture in the physical store than online.

“Not only that, but those consumers who do shop in the store have a tendency to spend more,” said Ken Widger, senior marketing program manager for MicroD, a web technology provider.  “In fact, 71% of shoppers polled admit that they spend more in the store than online. No wonder major e-commerce brands such as Amazon, Casper, and Wayfair are starting to open up physical stores.”

When technology company Morning Consult asked 2,000 shoppers of all ages about their ideal shopping experience in a 2018 survey, most admitted to a preference for furniture shopping in stores vs. online, and half of all shoppers said they wanted to be able to interact with a person who could help.

According to Scott Hill, founder of marketing technology company Perq, “Brick-and-mortar retailers have additional weapons at their disposal, including local stores and helpful sales people designed to win the fight for the larger and more complex furniture purchase.”

This means that one of the most important things a retail furniture website can do is incentivize people to drive to the store.

“Baseline tactics here include geolocating shoppers, prominently featuring the closest store and tuning online merchandising to match what shoppers will see at the store,” said Long. “Ensure your store locator is prominent, and just as importantly, make sure shoppers can find the closest store where a particular product is floored.”

It’s also a good idea for retailers to offer free WiFi for in-store consumers who may be taking product photos to send to friends and family or even purchasing the product online for home delivery while they are in-store.

Promote in-store events online

The website is also a great place to promote in-store events using a page created specifically for the event with all the necessary information including how to register, directions, logistics, agendas and speaker bios.

Retailers can also add blog posts to run on the website that help to promote the event as well as event banners or call-outs on the home page to make sure all website visitors see the opportunity.

“Having information about upcoming events, as well as posting information online using flyers, circulars, ads and closeouts, are great ways to get people to come into store and learn more,” Freedman said. “Keeping the website constantly updated also gives people a reason to come back. They don’t want to visit the site and then come back a month later and see the exact same thing. Even subtle changes to the presentation will incentivize online browsing.”

Promotional events play a significant role in convincing shoppers that now’s the time to make a discretionary furniture purchase, according to Long, who said a retailer’s digital presence needs to amplify the offers being run in stores by ensuring every offer available in store is showcased and redeemable online and by offering regional promotions and flash sales.

Data, data, data

Collecting data from everyone who visits the website allows retailers to build a database of customers for future marketing and retargeting efforts so that ad dollars can be focused on those with the highest propensity to take action.

As opposed to in-person data collection, collecting data digitally allows for much larger sample sizes and improves the reliability of the data.  Some ways to collect digital data include website contact forms, contests, surveys, user profiles, event sign-ups and app installation.

“With today’s technology, there is no excuse to just be sending blast emails once a month.  When someone has engaged on your website and has been turned into a known person, you now should have everything you need to set up the right personalized automated messaging designed to nurture them into being ready for a conversation with a member of your sales team,” said Hill.

In fact, once someone is in the showroom, collect her email whether she purchases or not, since according to Widger, “You want to make sure that you continue to feed your list of emails for future marketing. Sending regular emails that highlight ongoing promotions and unique content such as maintenance tips and design trends will keep your prospects and clients engaged with your business for future purchases.”

Collecting data the whole way — before, during and after the purchase — will allow retailers to measure what’s going on and determine if the dollars are being spent in the right place. All data should be tracked regularly since it’s especially critical when launching new marketing efforts.

A new round of ads, for example, or a new social media campaign, coupled with analytics, can allow a retailer to see how its audience interacts with a new message to inform future marketing decisions.

“Some retailers mistakenly believe they need new ERP systems to make this possible.  In fact, the data exchange capabilities of the Cloud mean retailers can keep legacy systems and add digital capabilities without sacrificing data unity,” Long said.

For his part, Freedman recommends treating a website like a restaurant experience, knowing customers want to know exactly what is on the menu. So the items and brands need to be as accessible as possible.

“Even if exact pricing isn’t possible, it’s good to offer a ballpark figure, similar to the number of dollar signs that are often used to illustrate how expensive a restaurant is. Furniture retailers should be offering this level of information to website visitors to keep them coming back.”

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