Aug 19 2020

Beyond the showroom: creating new buying experiences

Bricks-and-mortar retail is changing. More and more brands are coming up with solutions that connect the point of sale with the digital world – and not just since corona. These ideas put the customer at the heart of all the company’s activities. Is the showroom being replaced? Here we present examples of innovative product presentations.

Everybody is talking about the customer experience and the customer journey, two concepts that are poised to have a lasting impact on the buying experience in both bricks-and-mortar and digital stores. How is the furniture industry putting this trend into action? Outer, HAY, Bauknecht and Thonet are four brands that are showing how it’s done in exemplary style. 

For a long time, no one in physical furniture retail had any interest in digitalisation – how quickly things have changed in the space of the past few years. This shift has been driven by changes in customers’ purchase behaviour. The Internet no longer merely serves as a source of inspiration for our homes: Online stores are increasingly also used for digital window-shopping trips.

But bricks-and-mortar stores are still a relevant sales channel for furniture purchases even in the digital age. Customers like to try out big-ticket items such as kitchens, upholstered furniture and beds in store to make sure that they have covered everything before they buy.  

Companies that want to stand out from the crowd in the furniture market need to come up with ideas that wow their customers, both at the point of sale and in their online stores. The customer experience and the customer journey are the keywords here.

Customers should be able to experience the brand and its products, and be captivated through a variety of measures, whether they are browsing in real life or digitally. Enhancing the buying experience is many manufacturers’ goal. Companies like Outer, HAY, Bauknecht and Thonet show how this can be put into practice. 

The sharing economy: the neighbourhood showroom 

Our personal boundaries have shifted with the advent of the sharing economy: It’s now normal for us to share rides with strangers or invite them into our homes as overnight guests. But we still had our barriers when it came to furniture purchases. Until Outer came along.

The outdoor furniture company sells and markets its products exclusively in its online store. Parallel to this, it recruits customers as brand ambassadors who turn their own gardens and balconies into Outer showrooms. Certified showroom hosts get discounts on the brand’s products; they are paid to give tours – either digitally or in person in their own garden – and they receive style advice to help them create their own summer paradise. 

The neighbourhood showroom programme is extremely simple: Anyone who wants to check out an Outer product for themselves can book an appointment online with a host in their local area. The start-up has already certified large numbers of hosts and can offer new customers neighbourhood showrooms in more than 12 US states.

In an age in which authenticity is all-important, the programme is a smart marketing plan that connects existing customers with potential customers. After all, what could be a better sales argument than a customer who is so happy with their choice of product that they invite others into their personal showroom in their own backyard? 

At home with Scott L. in New York City, USA. The Outer collection can be enjoyed in a stunning ambience at his neighbourhood showroom: on a roof terrace in the heart of historic Tribeca with a 360-degree view of NYC that takes in the One World Trade Center, the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Hudson River and the East River. © Outer

Cross-border cooperations: the HAY LAB 

Danish design brand HAY paired with the Swiss Textile Institute (STF) to create the HAY LAB in June 2020. In the Open Space at the STF, visitors can experience the brand’s furniture in an authentic environment. HAY, which launched in Copenhagen in 2002, has set out to create a space for creativity by attracting a design-savvy audience and offering customers the chance to experience its products for themselves.

“This cooperation between an international furniture manufacturer and a textile and fashion institute is a first for Europe. It opens up many creative possibilities, and we’re proud of it,” explains Sonja Amport, CEO and Director of the STF. “The groundbreaking cooperation gives both partners access to new knowledge, innovative concepts and new target groups.” 

Members of the public can visit the Open Space from Monday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The products on display are not, however, intended for direct purchase – interested customers have to head to their local HAY retailer after their visit if they wish to buy.  

Connected worlds: the digital showroom 

Product launches are a challenge in the coronavirus era. It’s difficult to invite retailers, architects, the press or customers to an event without breaching the social distancing regulations once it reaches a certain size. Home appliance specialist Bauknecht has therefore decided to launch a digital showroom.

Under the banner of “Enjoy home – cook smart”, the showroom offers cooking lovers the chance to discover the brand’s new products on a guided tour or on their own. “As we had already significantly expanded our activities on digital channels before lockdown, we can now use our online expertise and further strengthen the focus of our trade fair appearances on digital formats,” explains Jens-Christoph Bidlingmaier, General Manager Northern Europe at Bauknecht.

Creating a digital showroom enables participants to discover the new products in a completely relaxed way. They can visit the digital showroom anytime, anywhere, and they can return as many times as they like.

The Bauknecht digital showroom focuses on its latest smart products. One of the highlights completes the connectivity range in its Collection.07 of modern ovens. The new BlackLine from the Collection.09 and the Total Steam oven from the Collection.11 are also presented. © Bauknecht

Furniture manufacturer Thonet has also developed a digital concept for its products. An emotional, informative and service-oriented customer experience interactively presents the company’s intelligent and flexible solutions for living and working spaces and the contract sector. It is currently focusing on work in the context of New Work and the age of the remote and home office.

Design classics and contemporary pieces are presented in a new light in a modern home workspace: How can the S 285 tubular steel desk, designed by Marcel Breuer in 1935, be integrated into the home, for instance? Or how can the iconic bentwood chairs act as elegant companions that complement a timeless life/work style? “The world of work is changing, and with it, our workplaces,” says Norbert Ruf, Creative Director and joint Managing Director of Thonet GmbH. “For us, the concept of New Work is more than just a trend in which the workplace is shifting to an office at home.

Offices are the new coffee houses, and who knows these environments better than Thonet? Every piece of furniture can be integrated into a room in a variety of ways. That’s why we display our products in our new digital showroom in a variety of settings, to provide our customers with a digital experience and allow them to visualise the products.” 

Thonet, one of the oldest furniture manufacturers in the world, is developing an online experience world with its website relaunch. The brand is focusing on showcasing its furniture collection digitally more than ever before. © Thonet

Focusing on what customers want 

Customers want to discover products, try out their features and benefits, and experience them in an authentic setting before they decide to bring them into their own homes. With so much diversity in furniture, it is vital for manufacturers to create sales incentives that inspire potential customers’ curiosity and create a lasting impression.

The ideas and solutions for enhancing the buying experience so that it captivates customers have many different aspects. Outer, HAY, Bauknecht and Thonet have already taken an important step towards a 360-degree customer journey.  

Author: Bernadette Trepte

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