July 29, 2004, 12:00 AM

ADVERTISEMENT:Creating a seamless multi-channel sales process

Shopping for complex, high cost, or high consideration products can be daunting for consumers. Research done on the web doesn’t always match products or information found at a retail location-and vice versa. And when retailers and manufacturers work at cross purposes, presenting conflicting information to consumers, the shopping process can be even more confusing.

Now, Wear-Dated Carpet Fiber, manufacturer of fiber that goes into making carpets, and interactive technology developer IconMedialab have come up with a solution to reduce the stress and eliminate confusion. In June, the two began roll out of a web-based system that allows manufacturers and retailers to work together to streamline the buying of carpet and deliver qualified customers to retailers. “Since we are an ingredients brand, we are removed from the customer, yet Wear-Dated is a consumer brand, so we felt it was important to include in our online marketing a way to tie all the partners together,” says Jody Williams, director of consumer marketing for Wear-Dated.

Smoothing the process

Few shopping trips are as overwhelming as buying carpet. Consumers face thousands of choices and are guided through the selection by retail sales associates who can’t possibly know all there is to know about carpets and brands.

IconMedialab’s Multi-Channel Sales System smoothes that process and in the end benefits the manufacturer, the retailer and the consumer. The program combines interactive features at the Wear-Dated web site, a web-enabled kiosk in retail stores linked to a big-screen plasma TV and RFID tag-equipped carpet samples to create an online-offline shopping experience. The first system went into Carpets of Dalton, a retail store in Dalton, Ga., in June.

A carpet shopper starts at Wear-Dated.com, where she can learn about carpet, determine the best fiber for her uses, then create rooms that match her rooms and try out different styles and colors of carpet. She saves the ones she likes and can e-mail them to friends or family.

Once in the store, she uses the web-enabled kiosk to call up her saved room configurations. “One of the problems with online research is that there is very little way to leverage that research in stores,” says Tom Hill, chief technology officer for IconMedialab. “We wanted to take the online experience a step farther.”

When a customer calls up her room configuration, it projects automatically onto a big-screen plasma TV, which creates a great wow! factor. “It’s very visually stimulating,” Hill says. “Customers passing by stop to watch.”

A further wow! occurs when the customer wants to change the carpet style. Carpet samples with Wear-Dated fiber carry radio frequency identification tags. All the customer has to do is carry the sample near the kiosk, and a reader will sense the tag and change the carpet in the display to the carpet the customer is holding in her hand.

A real sales tool

The system also allows the customer to start her shopping trip at the store, use the web-based kiosk to make her selections, then review them again at Wear-Dated.com when she gets home.

One of the major benefits that Wear-Dated achieves is that it gets its products into retail stores without creating friction with its partners. “The stores tell us they’re racked out and the mills tell us they don’t want us competing with their displays,” Williams says. “Rather than compete with what others are doing, we direct customers to the racks and samples that already exist in the store.”

Another benefit that Wear-Dated, retailers and carpet mills get is insight into customers’ interests. “Because customers’ portfolios are stored on our servers, we can analyze the fabrics, colors and other choices that customers are saving,” Williams says. “These are consumer behavior metrics that we’ve never had access to before.”

The system also creates a knowledgeable sales force and consistent presentation for the manufacturer. “This is a way that retailers can keep sales associates trained and up on the benefits of the product,” Williams says. “It also allows manufacturers to present products consistently.”

Because the installation is so new, Wear-Dated and IconMedialab have little consumer feedback so far. But retail sales associates’ feedback has been very positive. “Consistently the salespeople told us, ‘You’re really on to something here. It’s not just another racking system. It’s a tool we can use to sell more product,’” Hill says.

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