Striking the Right Balance: E-commerce vs. Stores

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three-part series that explores how home retailers are shifting their strategies to accelerate omnichannel success. Next month’s column will highlight how a few retailers are doing it right.

In this new era of fast and free delivery, it is not a given anymore that consumers will visit a store—no matter if the purchase is big or small. Instead, retailers need to be creative and lure customers in. Those that are finding success are offering a differentiated and enjoyable experience combined with superior customer service, and are making their stores more connected by adopting new technologies.

Home furnishings retailers are well positioned to attract consumers to their stores. Purchases for large-ticket items such as sofas and bedroom sets are infrequent and many consumers like to feel and touch the products. Others need advice when decorating a home and can benefit from inspiration or an interior design consultation. Since many purchases now start online, retailers can help drive traffic to stores by having a website that is mobile-enabled, easily searchable, rich in inspirational content, detailed in product descriptions and provides easy transaction processes.

Below are some examples of events and services that are being offered, as well as technologies that have been adopted, to make stores more experiential and connected:

•In-store events and product demonstrations: Retailers that sell housewares and cookware can host cooking classes and food tastings, following in the steps of Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma. A newcomer to retail, Pirch, employs a chef at its stores to show consumers how to use the luxury kitchen appliances it sells. These types of events can be successful throughout the seasons, such as showing guests how to set an Easter table, decorate a Christmas tree or plan the menu for a Super Bowl party.

•Interior design services and in-home consultations: Shopping for furniture is difficult and consumers often need assistance with room layouts and mixing new pieces with old ones. Crate & Barrel, Ethan Allen, Pottery Barn, RH and West Elm all have design studios in stores and provide in-home consultations free of charge.

•Mobile devices to show an expanded assortment and speed checkout: The use of tablets and smartphones is on the rise with an increasing number of retailers enabling associates with devices that allow them to showcase a wider range of products, check for inventory availability and finalize a transaction. At some retailers, kiosks with computers allow shoppers to place online orders while in the store.

•In-store enhancements: Many retailers now offer buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) and accept returns of online purchases in stores to create a truly seamless omnichannel experience. BOPIS is a key driver as it provides the ease of shopping online and the satisfaction of obtaining the product on the same day.

•Creating an emotional connection via social media: A greater percent of marketing spend is moving toward social media sites, like Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. By sharing the story of a brand’s history and values, as well as new products and events, an emotional connection between retailer and consumer can be created.

•Other services: Retailers are increasing other services to broaden their customer experience beyond shopping. Examples include beverage bars, cafes and partnerships with vendors, such as RH’s Chicago flagship that has a restaurant and wine bar, and Target’s new urban store in New York City with a Chobani café.



• Stores must become more experiential and connected to attract customers and build loyalty.

• Home furnishings retailers can offer in-store classes and provide decorating assistance.

• Mobile devices can be used in stores to showcase products, check on inventory and finalize a sale.

• A true omnichannel experience involves the ability to pick up and return online items in stores.

• A social media presence can help build an emotional connection between retail and consumer.

HFN Staff | News & Commentary

HFN provides detailed information on the key home classifications: Housewares, Tabletop, Floor Covering & Rugs, Furniture, Home Textiles, Lighting, Home Decor, Mattresses & Bedding, Gifts, Major Appliances and Consumer Electronics as well as Business, Finance and Retail.


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