The digital revolution isn’t really revolutionary any more. It has become part of normal everyday life. It has eroded the distinctions between bricks-and-mortar retail, e-commerce and marketing, and it enables customers, manufacturers and retailers to communicate with each other on many different channels and across former boundaries. They can embark on a journey together that can be a valuable experience for all sides.
Discovering striking new furniture or trends on Instagram, Pinterest or Snapchat, finding out more on the brand’s website, perhaps even using an online configurator or an app to see how they might work in their own home – these are the first steps in a journey that, if they are successful and appealing, will bring customers into a furniture store.
If they head to the online store, they can order directly and pay easily, or if they make their way to the furniture showroom, they can browse at their leisure, touch products and try them out, get expert advice and purchase directly in store or at home.
The items can be shipped to any address and delivered at any time the customer wants – in short timescales and with flexible payment options, that goes without saying. If the customer has any further questions, there are chatbots on the manufacturer’s or supplier’s website to assist, or even better still, real staff who answer queries promptly on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Xing, LinkedIn and other social media networks and maintain contact with the customer.
Social media will (finally) live up to their name when they enable direct contact between customers and companies, and open up an opportunity for the latter to demonstrate their expertise and exceptional service to all their followers.
This or something like it captures the many steps and paths on the customer journey today, and the more consistent they are, the more successful the journey promises to be and the greater its potential rewards. They create a connection between consumers and producers that can be very fruitful for both sides.
Using as many different media as possible is important, not just for generating new customers, but also for maintaining customer contact and showing existing customers how much they are valued. After all, digitalisation offers all competitors in the industry the opportunity every day to reinvent themselves rapidly and present an attractive image.
And for customers, digitalisation offers a host of opportunities to find out about new offerings from competing suppliers and check out their profiles, compare them and possibly even switch to another provider.
Accompanying customers on many different paths from the initial stimulus to the purchase and beyond is something trend watchers call seamless commerce. They see it as a megatrend that has been gathering speed for years together with digitalisation and can no longer be stopped. Negotiating and doing business with each other is increasingly becoming an interaction between all those involved that companies can skilfully control.
They can take potential customers on a customer journey and provide them with satisfying experiences so that they want to return and share their customer experience on social media and forums. In this way, companies and their customers can become a community where marketing and commerce take a back seat and shared, positive experiences are the drivers.
Keeping an eye on all channels and having a presence on each of them is not easy for companies. But furniture manufacturers and retailers can use digital tools and support systems such as CRM (customer relationship management) systems to maintain customer contact and interact directly with existing and potential customers. These tools document everything that has been exchanged during previous contacts and highlight the opportunities not yet taken up.
How buying furniture can be transformed into a seamless shopping experience, what infrastructure – analogue and digital – manufacturers and retailers can and must build up to enable seamless commerce in the furniture industry, the points they need to bear in mind and which industries are already successful with this strategy – all this will be revealed in our next ambista Businessletter.