Ron’s Thoughts: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going
My first reaction to the last three months, going back to March is just wow, what happened? When stores were closed, the furniture industry got hit hard. By April, sales had dropped by 66%. It happened so quickly that it was—and still is—hard to adjust.
Yet, we’ve seen some businesses do amazing and creative things to survive and ultimately thrive. Furniture retailers have started using social-distanced selling and online selling to stay connected with customers, who still want and need their products. I’ve seen salespeople using FaceTime appointments, literally walking a customer through a store on their tablet and telling them about products. There’s been a push to innovate and find ways to get through this and succeed in the thriving market to come.
Some of our customers have also had to face the question of: How do you remotely manage your supply chain? Retailers need to have visibility into their products, not just at doorsteps, but what’s coming into the country, to their warehouses, to their stores. A lot of owners and managers are using data and technology to get that visibility and manage their operations from home.
We’ve seen a lot of companies turn to drop shipping and touchless delivery, too. Drop shipping lets retailers expand their product offerings, while enabling manufacturers and suppliers to increase the audience for their products, both of which can help your business stay afloat. Drop ship is also great for getting products to the customer quickly, and reducing product touchpoints, because items aren’t sitting in a warehouse and getting moved. Likewise, touchless delivery protects both customers and delivery personnel, who can use tools like photo delivery confirmations to let customers know their products have arrived.
As the industry starts to reopen, it’s still facing a litany of challenges. The furniture industry has historically been touchy-feely; it’s a really tactile process. But the way I see it, not as many people are going to come into the stores, even when they do open. Or, they aren’t going to lie on mattresses and sit on sofas—we're all still scared, and home furnishing businesses need to understand that.
So, what can they do? Well, we’ve seen success so far with customers who are shifting from a shopping process to a buying process. That’s a big hurdle, because traditionally, furniture shopping is a days-and-weeks process, going from store to store, testing out the items in person, coming back. Companies will need tools and a thought process to help people shop remotely and even buy remotely or come in to finish the sale once they know what they want.
The only way to get them to buy through video or remotely is to have a detailed understanding of the products you are selling and make that easily accessible to employees and customers. You need enhanced data that covers feature, and function, but also quality, fit, and feel. This new way of selling is going to force sales associates to use data to get people to narrow their focus, to get people to come in and buy instead of shop around. Having a product information management tool will enable a retailer to enhance the data and thus enhance the entire sales, marketing, and people processes that surround the products.
Myself? I wouldn’t go into a furniture store today and sit on ten sofas. I would talk to somebody and say, this is the seating I like, here are my colors and this is what I want to do. If the associate can answer that, it’s a great experience, and when I do go in, I am ready to buy. That also means you can make appointments and optimize the time people spend in-store.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about the clothing industry, especially women’s clothing. Nowadays there’s a way of buying where women buy 3 or 4 blouses online and return 2 of them. And they can do that because the sellers have very liberal return policies. Furniture companies might have to move in that direction, especially for the products that have comfort and fit needs—sofas and loveseats and bedding. Maybe the furniture industry will do more trial periods, like we’ve seen in online mattress sellers. It’s possible, but it’s very tough, because the products are heavier and way more expensive to move.
When it comes to employees in warehouses and stores and distribution centers, some businesses won’t have as many employees. They’ll have to figure out how to handle their employees and their inventory, while making the most efficient use of them. Technology offers a great way to do that: to optimize internal processes based on what you have and what you need to do. Things like dock scheduling and yard management that let you see which products are arriving when, and allow you to plan ahead, are going to be key to optimizing employee time, working with what you have in the best way possible.
eCommerce has played a huge role in recent months, and it will probably keep playing a big role in the future. Furniture retailers need to be asking, is my eCommerce store good enough? Are my customers’ online interactions going to help with that sale? If not, you need to upgrade or update or change that solution. We offer an immersive and user-friendly shopping experience on our TrueCommerce Nexternal eCommerce platform. In addition to a seamless branded storefront, Nexternal also syncs directly with your systems to make order processing a breeze.
When things get tough, people have to get creative, and that’s what the furniture industry has done and continues to do. At TrueCommerce ecUtopia, we’re excited to have the tools and service that can help our customers survive and thrive as we move forward.
About the Author: Ron Sellers, co-founder and chief revenue officer of TrueCommerce ecUtopia, is a technology advocate and leader for the home furnishings industry. With more than 25 years of industry-related experience, he offers significant expertise as a committee member of the Home Furnishings Association (HFA) and sits on the Executive Advisory Council for WithIt, a women’s leadership development network for the home and furnishings industries. When Ron is outside of the office, he can be found on his Harley Davidson cruising the streets.