I’ll get right to the point. I started my research on this topic by looking up the names of some of the top online retailers that might compete with traditional office furniture dealers. Keep in mind this doesn’t include dealers who have an online presence.
- Sam’s Club
- West Elm
- Urban Outfitters
- Design Within Reach
- The Home Depot
There are plenty more but it gives you an idea of how many well-known companies are selling office furniture online (some have a small sample in their physical stores but offer much more online).
While you might not think of your company as strictly “brick and mortar” or a retailer, in many ways most office furniture dealers with even just an office would land in this category.
My next stop took me to Raydiant. According to their website, they are an “in-location experience management platform for the world’s largest brands in retail, e-commerce, restaurants, and more. The platform empowers organizations to create personalized and meaningful end-to-end content experiences that help foster higher engagement from consumers and employee staff.”
Last year Raydiant conducted a survey called, “State of the In-store Experience Report” and came up with some interesting results. I’ve also added a few of my own thoughts (italicized and bold).
- “The findings confirm our belief that brick-and-mortar retail is not dying, it’s simply evolving, and that the retailers who are focused on creating true in-store experiences are positioned to thrive as the retail landscape continues to evolve,” said Bobby Marhamat, CEO of Raydiant.
- Customer service is still critical. A positive in-store experience is critical to repeat business. This applies not just to a store but also to any sales interaction.
- An important reason consumers prefer to shop in person is that they want to interact with products before spending money (24%). This is especially true of a large purchase.
- Eighty-four percent of the respondents in the study said a positive in-location experience makes them more likely to return, and 64% said it makes them more likely to spend more at their visit. The three defining factors of a customer’s in-store experience are the quality of customer service (31.5% of respondents said this was the most important consideration), the variety, quality, and availability of products (29.8%), and store layout and physical arrangement of products (19.8%). How does your facility stack up?
- One of the findings from the study revealed that 48% of respondents said they prefer to shop in-person at a physical store when given the choice. And 47% of the respondents estimated that they’ve spent more than 51% of their shopping budget in physical locations so far in 2021. Think about these same customers shopping for office furniture.
- 47% of respondents estimated that they’ve spent more than 51% of their shopping budget in physical locations so far in 2021.
- Consumers spending more than half of their shopping budget in physical stores suggests that:
- Consumers are shopping in-store more often than they were in 2020, due to both widespread re-openings and changing attitudes towards the safety of in-store shopping
- Consumers still prefer to buy big-ticket items (furniture, appliances, electronics) in a setting where they can interact with the items before purchase
- The unique appeal of in-store shopping remains strong
To compete with online shopping can you offer a similar experience?
- For those who prefer online shopping, the number one reason was the convenience of being able to buy anytime, anywhere. Shoppers said they found online shopping attractive because online stores are open around the clock (the leading benefit for 19.6% of respondents), it’s easy to use promotional codes when checking out online (16.8%) and online shopping does not require the consumer to leave the house (14%). Doesn’t this also apply to professional buyers looking to furnish a facility? Do you have a website that makes it easy for these shoppers?
- As consumers have grown accustomed to online experiences, they’ve come to expect a similarly digital in-store experience. Physical brick-and-mortar locations—retail stores, gyms, restaurants, or otherwise—must now be digital, automated, and personalized to the customer. The dealer’s facilities should be a reflection of what the consumer’s space could look like.
- 48% of respondents would prefer to shop in person at a physical store if they had a choice. Is your space conducive to on-sight shoppers?
- The preference of online versus in-person shopping is split nearly in half. So what should retailers take from this statistic? Retailers must understand the reasons why about half of shoppers prefer digital shopping—namely digitally-driven convenience. Then, to the extent that they can, retailers/dealers should infuse the best features of digital shopping into the in-store (or showroom) experience.
The true differentiator? Services!
It is always going to be critical to be able to demonstrate the compelling value of your products and services. Purchasing a file cabinet or a desk is relatively easy and can be purchased online with little difficulty. Receiving, placing, and installing that furniture into an office building is a different matter and may require equipment, permission, tools, and trained installers.
Designing and specifying one room with a piece of graph paper is still easily accomplished with a pencil and a ruler. Even using some of the new software for room design can be useful. Laying out an open space that accommodates 10+ people, however, is a much greater challenge that must take many factors into account; aisles, codes, lighting, power, etc. These things usually require a professional designer.
Consider just some of the services you can get from a dealer that are typically unavailable from online retailers:
- Asset management
- Physical storage
Even when online retailers offer a service it increases the price associated with that purchase.
Another major differentiator – solving problems. Packing up or getting a damaged piece of furniture repaired or replaced is a major problem for the average consumer. Calling the dealer who sold it is much easier. Just getting through to an actual person at an online retailer can be a challenge. Never discount the value of convenience, service, and ease of doing business.
There are two aspects to the question of the in-store experience. One is getting the customer to come in and the other is what happens once they’re in your facility.
To paraphrase Richard Kestenbaum, Partner at Triangle Capital LLC and Contributor to Forbes Retail, “To get customers to come in, there’s going to have to be a draw besides the products for sale in the store. Events and education which are related to the purpose or products of the company will draw consumers in. Once they’re there, there is now a need for a higher-level sales associates; just running the register is not going to cut it in the future.” The same holds true for getting clients to come to your showroom/office or even grant an interview at their location. What is the experience and benefit of coming to your location?
“The future of in-store experience is integration powered by choice. The report validated that the ability to shop anywhere is a top decision-driver for shoppers and preferences for online and in-store shopping are essentially tied. The upshot is that retailers must provide options to keep shoppers engaged with their platforms. That equates to options in formats, payment platforms, and both high-tech and high touch experiences.” Carol Spieckerman, President of Spieckerman Retail.
Online shopping is not going away, so the office furniture industry needs to embrace it and demonstrate its unique value propositions and how they benefit their clients.
Jim Heilborn is INDEAL’s Training and Development Consultant specializing in the office furniture/products industry, working nationwide with dealers, manufacturers, and service providers. Jim has been associated with INDEAL since 2011, focused on training and dealer development. Jim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.