June 12, 2013, 9:21 AM

Unexpected shopper behavior drives changes at HermanMiller.com

Sales opportunities come from tracking visitor activity, an IRCE speaker says.

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Your online customers will tell you who they are—if you watch what they do. And what you find may go against your own perceptions of your business. That line of thought led to web site changes that produced a 30% to 40% online sales increase in the small business category for Herman Miller, the manufacturer and retailer of office furniture, Herman Miller e-commerce channel manager Michael Blum told attendees at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago last week.

Blum spoke in a session entitled “Designing for the intersection of one brand and many customer types.”

A closer examination of who was buying directly from the company’s e-commerce site led to a realization that the site had a more diversified customer base than the company expected to attract, according to Blum.

“We thought that the only customers who would come to the site would be those buying for their home, but that was wrong.  People were buying for everywhere in their day,” Blum said.

On-site merchandising of its 200-plus products was organized around five industry-specific vertical markets, such as health care and educational settings.  But Herman Miller began to understand that shopper behavior was defining a new customer segment—those outside of those verticals, such as small business owners— who didn’t want to have to switch among the different vertical categories on the site to find everything they wanted.

“The lines between living and working are blurring. We found we can merchandise to our customers that same way,” Blum said.

Among the site changes Herman Miller made over the past few months, photos on the site now combine products once categorized as being for home use with products categorized for commercial use. For instance, a red Eames sofa displayed in a loft-like office setting may appear along with a sleek frameless-backed Sayl chair. That’s forced the company to rethink how it photographs its products. “In the past, some of the products we use in a photo shoot now never would have been together,” Blum said.

“Herman Miller has been around for 100 years, but the way business is being done is changing,” Bum added. Based on its success in identifying and merchandising its site around new ways and places customers are using its products, Herman Miller will be looking to identify additional new customer segments  “where we can be relevant in people's lives,” he said.

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