How independents can punch above their (digital) weight

  •    Author: Mike Jasfer

EKM.com’s Rachel Smith explains how independent retailers can make the most of digital opportunities to compete in today’s complex omnichannel buying environment.
Much has been written about how furniture buying has become an omnichannel process, with digital and online customer experiences and buying processes converging (possibly more than in any other industry).  
For many customers, buying furniture is now a multichannel process. Increasingly savvy customers will often research online, then visit a store to touch and feel the goods, before finally buying instore or online. 
Blending digital and tactile might seem to provide advantages to the multiples, who can offer a consistent in-store experience nationwide, their digital and in-store experiences aligned – yet there are ways in which independents can turn their own strengths to their advantage …
Photographic inspiration
Photo quality cannot be overemphasised. You can get to the technical details of goods deeper in your website, but the first feeling a customer arriving at the site should experience is inspiration. 
With great photography, it’s arguably possible to hit higher than you can in-store. While products must always be truthfully represented, great photos can provide a more inspirational experience than even the best roomset under standard store lighting. The first impact your online store should aim to make must always be more emotional than practical.
Measure up
Once you’ve got your customer’s emotional attention, it’s time to cater to their practical side. If they cannot actually come in-store to measure up for themselves, it’s important you provide them all the technical details they could possibly need. 
While you should never stint on the practical details, you don’t want to clutter the aesthetic impact of your customer’s online experience. Good website design should make accessing comprehensive technical details intuitive and easy, without compromising aesthetics. 
Get physical
In a digital world, seek ways to get physical wherever possible. Just because you don’t have stores throughout the country, it doesn’t mean you can’t provide a tangible experience for customers shopping online. 
Offering free fabric samples is a great way to allow customers to make physical contact with goods they’re considering. Although there is a cost for you, it’s a lot cheaper than running stores nationally, and often provides a psychological way of moving a customer a stage further towards a sale.
Localise digital
If you’ve got a physical store, localising your digital marketing is a smart move to entice more customers across the threshold.
Get out into the world
When marketing your products, think beyond your own website and store. Ways to get out in the world include loaning pieces to lifestyle magazines for roomsets. Do some research and reach out. Most will pay you a deposit and provide you with a photo credit. Reach out to housebuilders too. Many new-build home buyers decide on their furniture after visiting the show home.
Customisation
One area where smaller independents can compete against multiples is the ability to customise. Make sure customers know that customisation is a possibility – many customers are happy to pay a premium for flexibility.
Cash in on niche
Celebrate your niche products. They are what make you unique, and are the very reason customers would come to a smaller independent over a multiple. Niche keywords are also easier to compete for when it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO).
Make it personal
Sometimes your niche can be you yourself. Providing customers with an understanding about you, your working methods, and what makes you unique means they’ll feel a more personal connection with you.
Be smart with influencers
Influencers are a controversial subject in marketing. When reaching out to them, go for quality over quantity. An influencer strongly aligned with your brand values with a few dedicated followers is generally better than followership alone.

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