A Forrester report points out challenges faced by some business-to-business firms working online.
Making home products buyers feel right at home on the web
Selling products for the home online brings its own set of challenges. Whether customers are looking for new furniture, window treatments or decorative items, they’re often considering high-priced goods that complement their home’s existing style and décor and add to a home’s value.
“We recognize that buying an upholstered piece of furniture is a big investment, especially today,” says Tracy Underwood, director of e-commerce at BallardDesigns.com. To help shoppers decide on the right product, BallardDesigns provides an online Custom Shop, which lets shoppers visualize over 150 furniture items in more than 100 fabrics.
At CedarStore.com’s sister site GazeboCreations.com, a Gazebo Wizard lets shoppers pick a gazebo style, select the desired type of roof and building materials, pick customized options, then choose a gazebo size. “We’ve tried to take a complex buying process and make it simple,” president Tim McTighe says.
One of the more difficult challenges in decorating a home is choosing and fitting window treatments such as blinds and draperies. Levolor.com lets shoppers customize window treatments by style, color and operating features, then view their chosen product in sample room settings for which they can quickly change the colors of walls, window frames and window treatments.
Quickly changing colors also improves the shopping experience on the Westin At Home e-commerce site, where mousing over the retailer’s signature product, the Heavenly Bed, colorizes each feature while highlighting adjacent descriptive text.
Among other strategies for increasing online sales are special timed sales that engage shoppers in now-or-never buying opportunities. At OneKingsLane.com, registered shoppers can shop for top-of-the-line brands of housewares products in three-day sales events.
Retailers in this group are also taking advantage of social media and educational content to better engage their customers. Wisteria.com, a retailer of vintage furniture, presents through blogs and Facebook pages the personal and professional lives of the artisans who make Wisteria’s products.
In online retailing of a carefully considered category like home furnishings, the more comfortable shoppers feel with a merchant’s brand, the better.
Multiple search options and fast-loading pages make quick work of picking curtains and blinds from hundreds of thousands of options at AmericanBlinds.com. But keeping shoppers happy doesn’t stop there. Real-time inventory status from wallpaper manufacturers now shows instantly as the item is placed in a cart. That’s decreased refunds issued when a post-order status check shows the item out of stock-and it raised wallpaper sales. AmericanBlinds.com also now lets shoppers order free blinds samples directly from manufacturers. Samples go out to the customer next day and they’re always available as manufacturers always have product on hand to produce samples. “This has allowed us to send free samples without having to inventory them ourselves from every manufacturer,” says CEO Joel Levine.
Home décor devotees fond of French design need to know their Louis, and the furniture style marking each French king is just one example of the impressive educational content on BallardDesigns.com, part of HSN Inc.’s Cornerstone Brands. “We recognize that buying an upholstered piece of furniture is a big investment, especially today,” says director of e-commerce Tracy Underwood. Supporting buying decisions are the Custom Shop, which lets shoppers visualize over 150 furniture bodies in over 100 fabrics, and the Style Studio, which supplies decorating tips and articles and lets shoppers submit photos of their decorating dilemmas. Solutions from Ballard’s design team include links to suggested products. Notes Underwood, “Style Studio builds our brand by building relationships, one customer at a time.”
Environmentally conscious home furnishings don’t have to be drab, say Susan Aplin, president, and Carolyn Wapnick, chief technology officer, who together launched Bambeco.com in April. “We’re not green-preachy, but we want to offer consumers a choice when they make that decision,” Aplin says. The site presents fashion-forward home décor with often stunning photography set off by a crisp design. Each product page explains what makes the item eco-friendly, lets visitors launch a slide show of product images, and offers a Q&A; feature. “Education is an important piece of what we do,” Wapnick says. Aiming to make navigation easy, there are tabs for seasonal items and gift ideas organized by occasion, price and recipient. Video and more social content are coming in 2010.
Selling high-ticket items like couches and bedroom sets online requires a strong relationship with shoppers, and Cymax Stores Inc. creates that connection with an e-commerce site that provides the information and imagery shoppers need to make purchasing decisions. On its recently redesigned Cymax.com, product pages display how many units are in stock, shipping times, delivery methods and detailed images, including a growing number of videos. Items like bed sets are ranked on a category page by how many units are available, so customers are less likely to be disappointed. “We know people want to have that information before they shop for high-ticket items,” says founder and CEO Arash Fasihi. In a challenging economic year, he adds, 2009 sales are running roughly two-thirds ahead of last year.