Got the message? Retail panelists dish on changes in communication tactics, e-commerce, more

LAS VEGAS — As digitally savvy customers spend more time online and on their mobile devices, the expectation is that their favorite stores keep up with them.

That was a takeaway from a panel at the Furniture Marketing Group Symposium on Jan. 27 in Las Vegas. Moderated by keynote speaker Annette Franz, panelists included Jack Freed, marketing manager and senior buyer from American Home Furniture & Mattress of Albuquerque, N.M.; Jacob Sizemore, director of marketing for Ohio’s Big Sandy Superstore; and Shane Pohlman, director of furniture for Nebraska Furniture Mart, based in Omaha, Neb.

All three panelists agreed that in order to win the day (and the sale), you have to meet the customer where she wants to be. Text plays a big role in that.

“We started a real emphasis on text communication a few years ago. The average email open rate is 13%, but 98% of individuals who get a text at least open it to see what it’s about,” Sizemore said. “We do text almost universally from pre-sale, post-sale, follow-up to delivery services to set the right expectations.

“It was said earlier, you have to meet your customer where they are,” he added. “As we’ve seen customers move platforms and how they digest media, it’s streaming and through social media. We’ve seen our budget shift in response to that, and ROI is growing.”

NFM’s Polhman said retailers who might have been less reliant on communicating sales with customers during the pandemic are now finding themselves thrust back into those familiar messages.

“Things have changed a lot. During the pandemic we all relaxed a bit; customers were coming in, and we didn’t have to do much,” he said. “At NFM, we had a softer message around services and what was happening. I think we’re back to pre-pandemic (messaging), price and selection. More and more has happened going back to the sales themes of the past to drive customers in.”

Franz asked the panelists about the importance of their respective stores’ websites and how they’re harmonizing the physical and digital experiences. Freed noted that in order to put an item in the cart on the American Home site, customers must first log in. If they abandon the cart and come in the store, a salesperson can pick things up from there.

“We’re finding guests want the omnichannel experience,” Freed said. “For us, it’s the storefront so they can see what the promotion is, they can see the product and (see)b if there’s anything they like. If they like a couple of things, they’ll come in.”

Sizemore said retailers have to treat their website like it’s their most important location.

“Your experience, as much as possible in store and website have to line up,” he said. “Everything from financing to product displays. One problem we had was website search. Understanding how customers behave on the website; website serves as a salesperson. It needs to be searchable. You have to treat your website as your first and most important showroom.”

Pohlman said by paying attention to the website, retailers can learn valuable clues and cues from their customers.

“Omnichannel is relevant, but there are things you can apply from that. Customers start the journey online, and there’s a lot you can learn from that,” he said. “If they’re engaging with a purple sofa online, but they’re not buying it online, maybe you need to put it on your floor.

“The customer who shops both channels is a higher value customer,” Pohlman added. “We look at repeatability. They’re engaging between those in store visits, and they’re buying online.”

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