Chris Marsden-Jones, business development director at Swan Retail argues that, to succeed in a competitive marketplace, retailers need to offer that personal touch.

As choice in the furniture sector grows rapidly, so does the need to persuade the customer to buy your products. With a wide range of buying options becoming available and both online and offline specialist furniture stores popping up all over the place, the market is becoming increasingly competitive. Furniture is becoming a fashion, and this means that retailers are pouring more and more resources into their marketing efforts in a bid to gain and retain a customer’s attention to inform them of modern trends.

First, we have to gain the customer. Whilst there are many marketing strategies to accomplish this, a big retail trend at the moment is to allow customers to personalise their products. You see it everywhere in many other sectors, such as Nike with their customisable shoes, or Coca-Cola with the ability to print a name on the side of your bottle.

“A big retail trend at the moment is to allow customers to personalise their products” – Chris Marsden-Jones

Offer Choice

This is relevant in furniture as well. Perhaps the simplest way of doing this is by offering many different colours and materials for a particular product, allowing the shopper to choose exactly what they want to go with their living room or kitchen. Most, if not all stores offer this, so it’s important to try and step this up a notch. Maybe you can allow your shopper to choose and create their own patterns for materials to really put their own spin on the item. You could move toward a more modular furniture system, allowing the customer to choose different styles, pieces and aesthetic of the same product – and, for example, giving them the option to customise their new purchase to make no two the same.

This sometimes isn’t feasible for smaller stores, but there are other ways that this can be accomplished. One example is by offering suggestions to make a product more personal post-purchase, by showing fun projects that can be undertaken with the product. Another could be showing the product with different styles of add-ons. For example, a sofa with different cushions or a bed with multiple styles of bedding. It’s all about showing your customer that they can have a unique product that is perfect for them. More subtly, you could invite the customer to try the product and ask them to imagine having that piece of furniture in their home. This will help inform their decision and will make the product feel much more personal to them.

Personalisation is much more than just the product, however. It’s as much about tailoring the actual retail experience to the customer.  This is to retain the customer. This can be done in several ways but the idea is to make the customer’s shopping experience feel unique to them, instilling a sense of trust and importance in them. This could be through ensuring that your staff are knowledgeable and can engage with the customer effectively. They want to be able to recognise a customer and their requirements. Another way could be through using phone and tablet apps, putting your entire product database at your fingertips.

App Support

Apps could also be customer facing, giving them the option to browse your product range beyond just what you hold in store. This could even be taken one step further by offering a catalogue app with augmented reality support, allowing a customer to superimpose, say, a sofa live onto a photo or video feed of their own living room. An opportunity to see the product live in their home before purchase will really entice a perhaps more hesitant customer.

One of the most prominent ways of doing this is through an effective loyalty scheme. I’m sure that if you were to look through your wallet or purse right now, you’d find a plethora of plastic loyalty cards that allow you to accumulate points or stamps that give you a free coffee. There’s a reason that so many companies do this: it works. These cards serve as a reminder that you are a valued customer and give you a reward for shopping in a particular store.

Unfortunately, this tends to be a strategy that is underutilised in the furniture sector. It’s easy to see why: these sorts of programs are more suited to regular purchasing habits, such as books or the weekly grocery shop. However, there is certainly a place for loyalty schemes and CRM in the furniture industry – it just has to be gone about in a different way.

Loyalty Schemes

Whilst there is room for a point-based loyalty system in a store that perhaps sells more small-ticket items, and is an option that should by no means be overlooked, loyalty for big-ticket items can be handled more personally, and a bit more work should be put in to keep those customers coming back

Firstly, you have to make sure that your customer feels that their purchase is unique. This could be done by ensuring that they have a pleasant and efficient shopping experience, and after purchase, by sending a quick email thanking them for their custom. This allows you to get your foot in the door and really start the hard work.

As customers consider furniture to be a fairly irregular purchase, the goal of your CRM efforts should be to ensure that their next buy is with you. There are several ways in which this can be done – and the idea is to make them feel like you’re the only choice for them. Firstly, think of complementary items they might like, and make sure to follow up with an email offering this to them soon after their initial transaction. An example of this could be offering a mattress after a bed purchase. The beauty of a CRM system is that you can record all purchases from a customer, so you know what they already have and what they’re likely to want in the future. Learn your customer.

Tailor Made

Now that you know what your customer likes, you can start offering even more tailored options. This could be in the form of sending a personalised email, offering them further furniture pieces in the same style, colour and material as the first purchase, or even offering discounts on those items that the customer is likely to want on their birthday. You could even send them a voucher for a cake and a coffee in your café if you have one, it’s all about being creative.

All of this can be done with an effective Customer Relationship Management system in place. Swan Retail has a CRM module built in, bringing customer contacts together into one central area for loyalty accounts, web accounts, store accounts, customer orders and enquiries. These are used for promotions, customer prospecting, sales campaigns, promotion analysis, data mining and loyalty schemes.

Consider a fully-featured CRM system, and you will really be able to get to know your customers, ensuring that they have the best retail experience possible, and keep them coming back. Now that you know what your customer likes, it’s time to maintain.

Gain, retain, maintain.