05 Aug

From The Office Of The President:

For months, we have been talking about the choices major furniture suppliers are making about selling furniture online. Here is another example.
Picture1   issue date 8/4/2009 FROM THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT Thomasville.com To: All Thomasville Authorized Retailers Thomasville.com went live in 1995. Think back. Fourteen years ago, Google and Yahoo didn't exist. Consumers were wary of buying online and connections were exhaustingly slow. In our category, e-commerce seemed like science fiction. Today, as we all know, the interactive world is no longer futuristic. In 2008 we had over 4 million Thomasville.com visitors with just under 200,000 page views per day, on average. Over 1 million visitors used the store finder tool to seek out your retail locations. I am emailing you today to share our short and long-term Thomasville.com goals. We are ALL invested in the Thomasville brand. I want our dealer base to be full partners and participants in our growing web strategies:

CREATIVE RELAUNCH APRIL-AUGUST 2009: In April we introduced a new consumer-tested Thomasville.com navigation. These were architectural changes, a necessary platform for continued site development. Coming in late August, you'll see the next phase of a site upgrade which focuses on creative. This will include landing page refreshes which change with every promotion to keep consumers interested and coming back.

ECOMMERCE PILOT LATE-AUGUST 2009: Simultaneous with the late-August creative reskin, we will begin piloting e-commerce in Company Store markets. Consumers will be able to purchase casegoods, married frame-fabric upholstery and selected accessories online. Order confirmation and entry will be managed at the corporate level. The individual company stores will manage the delivery process...and cultivate a relationship with the consumer to win future sales. Based on these learnings, we will broaden the ecommerce roll-out in late 2009 in all Company Store markets and consider other test markets where we presently have no distribution.

INDEPENDENT DEALERS & ECOMMERCE: In 2010, Thomasville will open up the ecommerce test to selected independent dealers on an opt-in basis. We are looking at a number of different customer service and delivery models for this broader roll-out. ALL include significant revenue share with the retailer. ALL include strategies for connecting an e-commerce experience to the retail store, where Design Consultants can engage with consumers to more fully address their needs and desires.

You may have seen the recent Furniture Today story on July 16th reporting that online furniture sales totaled $4.6 billion last year -- 6% of total consumer spending on furniture and bedding. FT cites an HGTV study indicating that 44% of US adult consumers have purchased furniture online. Generation Xers no longer kids but 34-44 years old in peak household formation and furniture-buying years -- are most interested in the online channel. This is not isolated data. Today we know that 75% of furniture purchasers use the web before visiting a store. They often return to the web after a store visit, moving fluidly between virtual and store experience. All consumer usage and trending research clearly indicate that online is hugely important in the furniture category. Is it mature? No. Will it replace traditional furniture retailing? No. Can any of us afford to ignore it? Again, no! To continue to earn our status as one of America's best known furniture brands, Thomasville needs to be where customers are. Online and ecommerce are part of the equation today. Thomasville Company Stores are going to pilot a program that will ultimately be to the benefit of the brand and all our retail partners. I look forward to sharing more details on our plans and earning your support for this exciting new endeavor. Best regards, Ed Teplitz President Thomasville Furniture
Please note the FT story he references from earlier this summer. 75% of the customers are shopping online before theyt ever get in their cars! Now is the time, folks.

6 thoughts on “From The Office Of The President:

  1. Tom McMinn

    This model can work. Whether it will or not depends on a few factors.

    Will consumers be willing to order off of a vendor’s website and wait for the merchandise to ship when they seem so uncomfortable doing that in my store?

    I have no problem handling the delivery for the vendor and taking part of the profit.

    This may be the eventual evolution of the independent furniture store.

    I will say, however, that automobiles have been on the internet a long time with very transparent information, and I still see dealships in my town.

    While it is certainly possible to create a network of “delivery vendors” across the country, I’m not sure the vendors are prepared to handle all the service issues we handle routinely. Once again, assuming the consumer doesn’t change and become satisified with less service.

    It’s an interesting time to be in this business.

  2. David Post author

    I think it is very important to look closely at the research quoted Ed’s newsletter, he says;

    “You may have seen the recent Furniture Today story on July 16th reporting that online furniture sales totaled $4.6 billion last year — 6% of total consumer spending on furniture and bedding. FT cites an HGTV study indicating that 44% of US adult consumers have purchased furniture online. Generation Xers no longer kids but 34-44 years old in peak household formation and furniture-buying years — are most interested in the online channel.”

    In Feb of 2009 The Lively Merchant completed a study with Neilson/Claritas of 80+ markets around the country. We requested information based on only one question- Have you purchased furniture online in the last 12 months? Our results prove that 9% of those questioned confirmed they did. We have now created a persona for this consumer and have developed a detailed strategy to satisfy her desires.

    This data is NOT theory. These are hard numbers that can easily be backed-up. I’ll be talking about this consumer at Web Summit 3.0 on 9/13 in Las Vegas.

  3. Mike Huber

    Thomasville has a minimum retail price that provides a “level” playing field for retailers. A wide open selling strategy would be a detriment to the industry as the consumers (and retailers) do not understand the level of service required to maintain an ongoing relationship. Costco recently demonstrated that they could not compete on price alone by the closing of their full line stores.

    Manufacturers should produce product specifically for various channels. If the product lines did not cross-over then internet companies, clubs like Direct Buy, and full line furniture stores could concentrate on their unique selling propositions without cannibalizing the industry.

    Food for thought.

  4. Julian

    “It’s an interesting time to be in this business.”—Tom McMinn; Change is opportunity; adapt, evolve or perish.

  5. Joe Capillo

    There’s no question that some consumers will purchase furniture online. There’s also no question that some consumers will not. It is logically probable that those consumers who need more help making their decision, or who are very relational in their purchasing decisions, will continue to seek help from stores. The question is, will they get it?

    As online tools like 3-D room planners and other such design aids become available, and are made easily usable on vendor’s websites it’s entirely possible that the online experience will be enhanced beyond the store experience. This would be a shame.

    One question I have is: If so much furniture has been sold online already, what has been the consumers’ feedback to those vendors? Has service been an issue? Are they satisfied with their experiences? I don’t see any reports on these things though some may exist. Anyone know?

  6. David Lively

    There are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of ways to see the direct feedback from customers who purchased online as well as offline. Frankly it is so easy it is scary. I believe this is the “main” argument retailers are holding onto. “Customers want service!” Unfortunately we (retailers) have become jaded and confused and downright distorted in of definition of service.

    Honestly, does anyone believe that all 6-15 salespeople on their floor is providing the level of service you intended to deliver the day you opened your doors for the first time? Seriously, who is kidding who? As recently as 2005 when Amy and I sold our last store the greatest sense of daily frustration came from the shady service we were providing our customers if certain sales people waited on them. We tried. I mean seriously tried to train staff. We had weekly sales meetings. We had daily one-on-one’s with the sales manager. We offered to pay for their membership in the IDS. We offered to pay for their certification.

    Often it didn’t work.

    I know the same is true for every retailer in America. I’m in stores weekly. I see poor treatment weekly.
    So let’s all get real, in store service leaves a lot to be desired even to relational customers. A consultant of mine once explained that we asked salespeople who have never met the person they are about to talk to be in relationship with the customer. This isn’t possible at least 75% of the time because the two people are not personality matches. And as long as they are not they will struggle to communicate. Training helps. Procedures improve the situation. Policy keeps the folks together. But relationships AREN’T being formed. Just good salesmanship is taking place.

    Now off my soapbox.

    Please check out http://www.insiderpages.com/ and search for “furniture stores” in your city. Visit http://furniturefromhome.com/pages/customer-feedback or http://www.totallyfurniture.com/why-buy-from-us.html. It is key to understand point number 4 on their reasons page. There are currently 238 reviews from customers who have purchased from these guys. You can read them all here. You’ll be able to get a stomach full of what customer are saying about their online and their offline experience. I think it will be a real eye opener. I think it’s a lot easier than we want it to be to find out what the customer really thinks of our life’s work.

    The furniture store.

    I seriously don’t believe anyone wants to debate these issues with facts and research. We believe what we believe because that is the way we all have always done things.

    If customer service feedback is the reason retailers are waiting to sell online they are simply NOT being honest with themselves. Service is good and bad online and offline. I’ll keep proving it if that is what it takes.

    For more real live customer feedback, visit http://shopping.yahoo.com/merchrating/

    You can also do a simple Google search of “customer feedback furniture stores.” If you chose this option get ready to have your ears pasted back.


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