You walk into a showroom and a digital sign welcomes you with an interactive map of the store and information about the current promotion. You click on the map and are directed to the dining room displays. As you move into the formal dining room an electric fireplace lights up and images of candlelight appear on the walls, giving the room the soft glow of an elegant dinner party. In the home office area, financial news streams across a ticker, interspersed with the latest product and sale information. In the casual dining area, images of freshly-baked pastries and fresh fruit appear on the walls, evoking a feeling of that perfect family brunch. Touch-screen panels invite you to click for more information and send a signal to the sales desk that a sales associate is needed for assistance.
This interactive, visually dynamic and creative showroom is a little bit of theater, a little bit of merchandising and a lot of technology combined into a customer experience that engages, entertains, educates and sells.
Customers want a great shopping experience, and new research from the Retail Council of Canada shows that several key elements — engagement, product knowledge and brand experience (exciting displays and atmosphere) — are at the heart of how customers define their ultimate shopping experience. Without adding a lot of staff, however, can a furniture showroom provide these elements? Yes, by designing technology into the showroom.
When designing a showroom, most of us think of the physical layout, wall placement, lighting and where to place the customer service desk. If technology is considered, it’s usually no more than a list of how many computers we need and where they belong. When planning a customer-centric showroom, however, it’s critical to keep technology in the forefront. With a little creativity and planning, technology can be used to increase visual impact, establish ambiance and keep your showroom fresh and exciting while building brand and store loyalty.
Set the Stage and the Mood
Customers buy furniture when they feel an emotional attachment to an item, or when they can imagine that sofa, wall unit or chair being part of special times in their homes. Use technology to help create these feelings by setting the mood and creating ambiance. Keep using your wide-screen televisions for display, but consider changing what you show. Instead of the latest action film, match the movie to the style of the furniture. A black and white silent movie is a great way to add old-fashioned ambiance to a traditional leather room setting. (Silent movies also eliminate the loud volumes that can be distracting for some customers and for your sales team.)
If a wide-screen TV doesn’t fit the décor, use flat-panel screens, which can be hung on virtually any wall in the store. Loop the latest cooking show in your casual dining area. Have an old-fashioned love story from the 20s or 30s (think Casablanca) playing in the bedroom area with the sound turned down. Show muted images of stars and clouds in a sleep center.
Warm up your dining area by projecting images of lit candles onto a simple screen made from wax paper. The wax paper softens and diffuses the light, creating background interest and ambiance. The dance of the candles’ fire will catch the customer’s eye, yet it won’t distract from the furniture. In the bar area, use flat-panel screens to show wine being poured, glasses raised in a toast or other animated images to help set the tone of “good friends, good times”. All of these techniques help create an emotional attachment to your products and emotions sell.
Help set the mood and you’re a lot closer to making the sale.
Uptick the Level of Interest in Your Home Office Area
Create interest in the home office area by streaming Wall Street news or stock prices on a ticker. There are companies that specialize in customizing the news stream (see TickerTech.com for their line of customizable tickers) so you can also include promotions, company news and other information. (Use the same technology to stream sports scores in your home entertainment area.)
When it comes to engaging customers in a home-office environment, prop electronics just don’t cut it. Replace the fakes with real computers and wide-screen monitors. Invite the customer to log on to learn more about the configurations available in that setting. By encouraging your customer to sit at the desk and “play” on the computer, they’re actively engaged in the product experience and engagement helps make the sale.
Pique their interest. Engage them. Let them play. Use technology to draw them in then use it to educate — and sell.
Use Digital Signage to Inform and Educate
The old days of paper POP, product signs and the weekly ad pinned to a poster frame are gone, replaced by digital signs and interactive media used to inform and educate customers. This fast-growing segment of retail media allows you to relay product, store and brand messages specifically targeted at different customers in different areas of the store — at different times of the day. You may choose to have a digital ad promoting the latest bedroom line or product features, while simultaneously airing a recliner promotion in another part of the store.
But don’t stop with promotions — use digital signage to educate your customer on product features and benefits. Better yet, incorporate touch-screen technology that allows the customer to choose from a menu of information, from special-order options to the latest payment plan.
Kiosks — Silent Salespeople
Kiosks are great “silent salespeople” and should be prominently and conveniently placed throughout your showroom. Have a good web designer build you some interactive Flash-based modules to give your customers access to product information, room-planning tools or interior design tips. Interactive is the key here!
Conveniently placed kiosks can help make special order transactions easier by allowing the customer to search for more product information or search for trim and finish options. In fact, kiosks can be used for almost any form of communication from advertising messages to requests for assistance or information on a delivery date and time.
Take the Pain out of Accessorizing
Walking a customer all over the store to pick out accessories is likely to result in tired feet (yours and theirs) and lost sales. Once a customer has chosen their primary furniture pieces, lead them to a conveniently-located kiosk to surf your accessories offering via a website or intranet. Make sure you include images of the accessories used in numerous settings so your customer can visualize the final effect. Build your accessories site with a “wish list” feature so customers can tag the items they like while they surf through their options. (This is also a good way to build future business. Your sales team can use the wish list to let customers know when their favorites are on sale, or when you receive a shipment of new accessories that fits the customer’s style and budget.) You may even want to create an “Accessories Register” so friends and family can pick out a piece for a housewarming or anniversary gift.
Use Automatic Sensors to Spotlight Products
Automatic lighting sensors, easily installed in walls, can turn on spotlights or lamps when a customer walks into a vignette. Strategically-placed spots can help you focus the customer’s attention on a given product setting, and the sensors allow you to keep your energy costs in line because the lights can be turned off once the customer leaves the room setting. Sensors can also be used to turn music on or off when a customer leaves an area.
Putting it All Together
Today’s customers are tech-savvy and easily bored. The creative use of technology in your showroom can turn your store into an experience that entertains and engages the customer. Whether you use computer-generated images to create ambiance in a room or the latest in digital signage and touch-screen technology to educate your customer about products or promotions, technology should be one of the first things you consider when planning your showroom or store layout. Make sure you have a comprehensive plan that encompasses visual imaging, digital signage, Internet-based music and an interactive website. Bring the IT team into the very beginning of the design stages so they can understand your vision and help you plan for the technology that will take your store, and your sales, profitably into the future.
Create visual impact. Engage your customers. Let them play and educate them at the same time. Set the mood. Sell more product. It’s all possible through the creative use of technology.
Pat Ferrell is a consultant specializing in merchandising and marketing for Profitability Consulting Group. Combining an extensive background in furniture merchandising with experience as a corporate trainer and college instructor, she is extremely effective at helping her clients address today’s merchandising and marketing challenges and in coaching others to maximize performance.
Pat’s career in retailing includes over 15 years of merchandising as a senior buyer in case goods, bedding and upholstery for several major retailers, including 11 years with federated department stores. Visit Profitability Consulting Group’s website at www.profitabilityconsulting.com or call (801) 763-7663.