by Rodolfo Ramirez, COO of swivl

Today, we are talking to…

Michael Long

Director of Sales, eCommerce, and Events @ Furniture For Life

Top Tips: 

  • Leverage digital channels to push prospects to retail store
  • Use storytelling to connect with your customers
  • Sales staff need to leverage Customer Education to improve the in-store experience

 

It seems like over the last few years, digital commerce has exploded with thousands of e-commerce businesses flooding platforms like Shopify (+800k businesses), WooCommerce (+2m merchants) and Magento (+250k merchants). According to Oberlo, it is estimated that there will be 1.92 billion global digital buyers in 2019. The fact is, with more and more people shopping online each year, there’s never been a better time to start an online store.

 

A Call for Reinvention

eCommerce will continue to be a driving force in the digital economy, even for home furnishing websites. By 2021, Storis projects that 27% of total revenue will come from online sales. That isn’t to say that online shopping is the best way to purchase furniture today. The key lesson here is that digital channels have an influence in driving traffic to retail stores. Over 90% of customers start their purchasing journey by browsing online. Armed with this knowledge, retailers can leverage technology in their favor.

This is where Michael Long, the Director of Sales and e-Commerce for FFL Brands, believes he can make a difference. Michael believes that in today’s world, you need to do things a bit differently to stand out, especially for a luxury brand. For luxury items, like an Arm-Chair with a $9,000 price tag, social experiences and opinions shared digitally may not be enough for a prospective customer to make a purchasing decision.

“Brands that harmonize the customer experience can keep the shift from physical to digital within their brand umbrella.” – Forbes

Why Your Digital and Physical Buying Experience Should Coexist

In this spotlight, Michael and I dive deeper into why it’s so important to tie together the physical and digital realms in order to enhance your customer’s brand buying experience.

RR: How difficult is it to sell a premium product online? 

ML: The gist of the difficulty of selling any premium product, and especially any products like ours that are experience-based, is that customers want to know exactly what they are getting before it shows up on their doorstep. This is specifically hard when dealing with massage chairs with a $9k price tag.

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RR: This seems like an interesting barrier to entry. How do you address this experience problem in a world that is shifting towards digital channels? 

ML: The traditional way of selling is in a brick-and-mortar retail store. Ultimately what we have found is that using the internet to push customers to retail stores is the best ROI for us. When we do not give them an opportunity to physically experience the chair, our ability to close the sale drops dramatically.

This is interesting because we then have to rely on a retail partner to complete the sale yet not turn the customer to a competitor’s product. That requires a lot of training with our dealer base’s sales staff and it also demands that there is a healthy relationship with the account where they will in good faith try to sell our products versus others they may offer.

 

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RR: It seems to go contrary to the current belief that every product-centric business is moving towards establishing a digital shopping presence. 

ML: This is a great example where retail is not dying at all and is in fact growing our brands and revenue. You can see more and more premium brands going direct to the consumer via traditional retail stores because the issue isn’t the store setting or the product, it is the experience and quality of the sales staff.

You see a lot of high-end brands with their own stores now or more than they had before. When trained and presented properly, people still want a retail experience.

RR: How do you leverage digital content to help your marketing and sales efforts of premium products? 

ML: At the same time we also have to try and create content for online purposes that does the massage chair’s experience justice when a customer wants to learn more about it via the web. Of course, this is ultimately impossible but we can create copy, video, and photographs that tell the story as we believe it should be told. This ends up being very important in shaping how the chairs are perceived amongst the other players in the market despite it being essentially a description of an experience that you have to try for yourself to truly understand. Since the experience is the most important part, much of our content focuses on emotional appeal to luxury and tranquility versus nuts and bolts about features and benefits of massage.

RR: This is gold. I think you hit the nail on the head by focusing your efforts on the emotional appeal of your product. Especially when one starts thinking about conversations as content. Do you see that emotional storytelling is enough to drive leads from digital to retail? Do you see most traffic being generated this way? 

ML: Sometimes it is enough just seeing things online. We can see the traffic to our dealer locator, but we do best when they inquire directly and we can guide them to a store. Customers really gravitate to review and comparison based content as well. They want to know a little more about the nuts and bolts in order to establish a higher value.

RR: What would you say is the key to Furniture for Life’s success in this space? How are you winning?

ML: The customer has to buy into the brand, the experience, the whole idea or they’ll choose an economically priced product instead. This takes the focus off the specifics of the chair functionality, which is ultimately not that different from lower-priced chairs on the surface and sets up the idea of a better brand, a better experience that transcends surface-level comparison you would do using charts of feature sets. Most of these concepts would be applicable to almost any luxury product but we have successfully employed it to create a luxury massage chair market and maintain a preeminent status for over a decade.

A Winning Combination

These days, leveraging emotion and digital channels to push prospects into a retail store ensures an optimal customer experience throughout. After all, adding a bit of “human-touch” will help your brand better engage with customers. It’s 2019, customers look for an emotional connection, one that combines both the physical and digital in a way that enhances their shopping experience while leaving them with a feeling of wanting more.

At the end of the day, the common thread to all these initiatives is listening to your prospects and understanding their present and future needs – making an emotional connection.

Give people a great experience today and tomorrow, and they will convert!

Do you run an e-commerce or hybrid store? What are your biggest barriers leveraging digital channels? Please share your story in the comments below.

 

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