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Home Furnishings eSeries – Find Online and Buy In-store: An Interesting Path to Purchase Furniture

There’s much talk in the world of digital commerce about the great need for “convergence” between the online and offline buying experience. How does online shopping from the comfort of my living room translate into my in-store shopping experience, and vice-versa? Being in the eCommerce profession, I tend to find the buying journey (no matter where it takes place) to be as fascinating – if not more so – than  the product for which I am shopping.
My appreciation for this “seamless” online/offline buying experience was renewed when I think back on my recent experience of purchasing a new piece of furniture (couch).
The journey started, ironically, in my living room sitting on the very piece of furniture that I wanted to replace.  I began by cracking open my laptop, which was actually an interesting decision in and of itself.  Somehow, I had conditioned myself into thinking that using my phone or an iPad would make this an instantly frustrating experience. Furniture shopping, like many other experiences, is very visual and data rich. After doing the mental math – a larger screen plus keyboard and touchpad equaled less frustration – I went with the laptop.
Next, I decided to keep my search local so I could take my shopping journey into a physical store. I visited three web sites of local furniture stores/dealers.  The sites all had varying qualities of usefulness and the ability to make informed choices easily.
I only found two couches that matched the style I wanted. However, I did find a couple of other manufacturers on those sites that also had interesting styles. This led me to visit the manufacturers’ websites and figure out what other choices I had. Could I find a couch that I could order through my local store for delivery?  How quickly could the store get it? How long would I have to return it if I didn’t like it?
I was pleasantly surprised by the rich experience provided by the manufacturer.  Instantly, I had tools that allowed me to filter and narrow my options, select and see color choices, view and zoom 360-degree imagery (thanks laptop!), and design “My Space” to determine fit within my living room. They also provided great content on dimensions and configuration options.
I quickly found better options and ultimately THE couch for which I was looking. Then, after a few quick Google searches to determine if price and my budget aligned, I quickly moved to how (or where) to purchase it.
A fast click of the “Find A Retailer” button brought up my local furniture dealer and an option to “Contact the Store.”  I anxiously clicked on the contact link thinking I could send the specific details of this couch to my local dealer and then get a call on pricing and availability. Unfortunately, the only thing I could do was get an address, phone number, and map.  Still determined to make this work, I clicked back to the product page on the manufacturer’s site, reached for my mobile phone and snapped a picture of the page.  Off I went to my local furniture dealer to see how to make this happen.
Upon arriving at the local furniture dealer, I was greeted by a very nice sales person. Not too pushy and very helpful, as she asked if I’d like to look around or if I was searching for something specific. I shared that I was on a mission for a couch from a manufacturer the store carries but might not have in stock.  She asked for the product information, which I showed to her with the “screen capture” on my phone. With a trusty pen and paper, she took down all of the information she needed and went to check if they could get it, how long it would take, and how much it would be.
While that was happening, I wandered into the sofa section of the store and came across a couch VERY similar to the one I wanted to order. The sales person returns with the information on the couch, and I inquired, “Why didn’t I see this one online?”   To which she replied, “You are correct.  It’s not on the website, and I don’t know why.”  She discovered that I could get the couch in the store within a week while the couch I wanted to order would take six to eight weeks until it was delivered. At the end of the day, I bought the couch in the store.
So let’s recap, and understand why path to purchase matters for eCommerce in the furniture industry:

  • A search on my laptop led me to local furniture dealers’ websites where I found a manufacturer, not necessarily a product, that matched what I was looking for.
  • Visiting the manufacturer’s website, I used its tools, content, and rich media experience to find the couch I was looking for.
  • I had to use my phone to take a picture of the specific item showing on the web page that was on my laptop just to see if my local dealer can order what I want. (Exhausted yet?)
  • A salesperson in the store used pen and paper to write down information from a picture of a webpage on my phone for someone else to search and eventually place the order.
  • I found my couch online but ended up buying a different one in the store that wasn’t featured online.

Yes, there were many different directions or paths that my journey could have taken. The point is, this “convergence” of online and offline buying is tricky and still requires some heavy reliance on the end consumer to see it through.
The furniture industry has a great opportunity to be a leading, disruptive innovator in how consumers complete the buying journey through digital channels and physical stores.  We are fortunate to be working with clients every day in the furniture industry to continue developing and implementing innovation through user experience design, content and commerce, and technology.
Over the next few weeks, we will explore digital strategies being pursued within the furnishings industry and the buying experience and technology driving those strategies. And, keep up with the latest news, trends, and insights on eCommerce by subscribing below to receive our weekly Commerce Digest.
To keep up with this eseries, latest news, trends, and insights on eCommerce by subscribing below to receive our weekly Commerce Digest.

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John Ambrose, Senior eCommerce Consultant

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