There is still a considerable potential for furniture in the online retail trade – GALERIA Karstadt Kaufhof believes so too, and has recently announced that it intends to expand significantly in this area in the coming months.
Furniture is expected to be a key feature of its future e-commerce site, which is currently under construction: proof that the furniture industry can no longer survive without online platforms.
The crucial question is: what do potential customers expect from an online shop offering furniture products? The answer: a great deal. The requirements are exacting and call for a comprehensive strategy. From detailed product information and the right shop system through to logistics, everything has to be right.
After all, there is increasing competition. In addition to large retailers like IKEA, Amazon and others besides have also discovered furniture as a growth market and are basing their offering on low prices, user-friendliness and short delivery times.
Furniture industry has some catching up to do
How prepared is the furniture industry for the increasing online demands? Raimund Welzel works in key account management at Düsseldorf-based Sepia GmbH – a company that specialises in software development for PIM (product information management) systems.
He thinks that the sector in Germany is still strongly focused on bricks-and-mortar business. “But many customers want retailers to provide them with consistent product information – that is to say, it should be fully synchronised between their physical stores, online shop, print publications and digital channels.”
Experts believe that what is most essential is that the product information is right. In contrast to a printed brochure, for example, where just a few facts such as price or dimensions can be mentioned, customers shopping online expect as much information as possible – and it must be presented simply and clearly.
According to Raimund Welzel, “high-quality data for the relevant marketing channels and the shop environments” are also vital for e commerce projects. That’s because “detailed product information guarantees better purchasing advice.”
Another advantage is a central product database that is not tied to a particular online store. This way, various e commerce platforms can be used. A further point to consider is that return rates reduce when detailed product information, including pictures, is provided, so that customers know exactly what to expect.
Breaking down the divide
Just as customers sometimes shop on the high street and sometimes browse for products on the Internet, it makes sense for the furniture industry to take a multichannel approach.
For example, when the product the customer is looking for isn’t available in-store, in ideal circumstances, they can order it right there and then via the Internet. It will then be delivered to their home address or can be collected from the shop. At the same time, looking around an online shop can whet the customer’s appetite for a visit to the bricks-and-mortar store.
There are further parameters of importance when setting up or expanding an online shop. In addition to the basic strategy – including transport and logistics – you also need the right pricing policy and end-to-end marketing concepts.
Exploration of virtual worlds
All the tools that make the shopping experience more informative and exciting for customers are also important for the furniture industry – most notably, virtual reality. This technology can be used to present products in a realistic manner and in appropriate settings.
“The feeling of walking through a virtual home and seeing the products there, or diving into themed furniture worlds can be a strong pull factor for users and thus become an incentive to buy,” explains Kim Bottek, online marketing expert at Düsseldorf’s Sinclair & Spark agency.
Technology can therefore be a real competitive advantage, especially in the furniture industry. Another point to consider is that VR can help to link the bricks-and-mortar retail trade with the online world, because the entire portfolio can be experienced on all platforms.
Implementing VR projects calls for products to be precisely measured and photographed in order to create 3D models. In addition, special software is needed to convert these models into VR-compatible formats. “There are already numerous providers and options for this,” says Kim Bottek.
When it comes to the technical possibilities, we’re only just getting started. In the future, even tactile experiences and sensory stimuli will be transmitted via the Internet, for example, via gloves that allow the wearer to feel materials.
This may sound like a futuristic fantasy, but the process of change in the furniture industry began some time ago – and a professional online shop is the first step.