A Forrester report points out challenges faced by some business-to-business firms working online.
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That's also the idea at LoveSac Alternative Furniture Co. where sales associates use iPads to help shoppers envision how the retailer's main product—what it calls a sactional, a kind of chair that, when covered in a fabric cover and linked with other sactionals can create a sectional sofa—would look in their homes, says CEO Nancy Shalek.
"We sell two pieces—a naked base and a side—along with covers for those pieces," she says. "With those two pieces you can make what you want. That means associates have to paint a picture of what you can do with the furniture."
Because the retailer's 50 stores are small—the average size is about 1,000 square feet—they have limited inventory. And sales associates often have to explain how the products would work in a shopper's home. Tablets help them show how multiple bases and sides, covered in particular fabrics, would look together.
The retailer trains associates to use an iPad via online training programs on an internal training-focused web site. Because the tablets are new—only 20% of the retailer's stores have them, though all will have them by the end of the year—there are only a handful of tablet-focused training programs on the site. But more are being added just about every week.
For LoveSac, like Tourneau, giving associates tablets is part of a larger companywide shift away from a focus on driving store sales to closing sales in whichever channel the customer prefers.
To make it easier for consumers to shop from a wide range of devices, LoveSac is in the midst of redesigning its web site using responsive design techniques. A responsive site adapts to the screen the visitor is using. For example, it allows a retailer to show a horizontal array of three product images on the larger screen of a PC, then stack those images vertically for the narrow display of a smartphone. Earlier this year it also began making prices and promotions the same online and offline to avoid conflicts.
Even so, the tablets and the software they contain, for example for building sectionals in various styles and fabrics, arm associates with more photos and tools than a shopper can access on LoveSac.com. The aim is to enable associates to better help shoppers find what they're looking for, Shalek says.
"The web helps them sell," she says.
At Marbles, the kiosk serves a similar purpose. It's a tool that helps the associate make a connection and direct shoppers to the right products, while also collecting e-mail addresses and personal information vital for follow-up marketing.
For many retailers bringing the web into their stores, the Internet is making store associates more effective salespeople.