Based on sales receipts, Americans were thankful for those Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, with nearly $7 billion spent across the two days
But the question remains: How can companies best capture deal-hungry holiday shoppers?
The best way to attract Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers may be through omnichannel strategies. With more than 154 million consumers making a purchase from eCommerce sites on Cyber Monday — a 3 million-person increase from Cyber Monday 2015 — retailers are eager to capture their slice of the online retail pie.
Omnichannel initiatives had some big benefits for traditional retail giants during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Both Kohl’s and Walmart, for instance, saw an increase in online shoppers.
Furniture eCommerce platform Blueport Commerce also used omnichannel strategies to find success on Black Friday. The company reported that sales on its online furniture sales platform rose by more than 50 percent on Black Friday, with online sales and mobile sales both increasing over 2015.
Blueport President and CEO Carl Prindle told PYMNTS during a recent interview that online and mobile sales are becoming an increasingly important part of success in the furniture industry, despite its history as a brick-and-mortar business.
“This weekend [Black Friday through Cyber Monday] shows the potential of an omnichannel shopping experience — one that seamlessly connects shopping in stores, online and via mobile devices — for brick-and-mortar furniture retailers,” Prindle said. “They are giving today’s shoppers what they most want — an easy furniture shopping experience.”
Online sales have become a crucial part of the retail economy in the United States. ECommerce accounted for more than $100 billion in the third quarter of 2016 alone, according to research published by the U.S. Census Bureau. What’s more, online sales have grown every year since 2011, according to the same study.
Furniture retailers have largely not felt the effects of the online boom, however. According to Furniture Today, just 26 percent of all furniture retailers are enabled for eCommerce, and less than three-quarters of the top 100 furniture retailers offer online sales.
Prindle said that several obstacles have stopped furniture sellers from realizing their full online potential. The biggest challenge lies in overcoming consumer preferences, as most customers prefer to preview and test big-ticket purchases, like furniture, in person.
“The store plays a huge role,” he said. “So, what we focus on is: How can you enable a best-in-class research process online that enables customers to make purchases from their home or lead them into your store?”
Despite the importance of brick-and-mortar stores for furniture retailers, Prindle said: “Furniture is in many ways the most omnichannel-ready of any category. People truly do move back and forth between the store and do enormous amounts of researching before a visit and after a visit to a store.”
As a result, he said, furniture retailers should look to use their online stores to drive shoppers into their physical stores. For example, Prindle said his team offers a tool that enables customers to enter information about what they are shopping for and book an appointment with a salesperson who can help them learn more about a company’s products.
“Then, they can give them a link that allows them to go back and purchase any of the items they were looking for right from their computer or mobile device without having to retrace their steps or find the item again online,” he said.
While obstacles may stand in the way, there is a market for online furniture sales in the United States. According to Statista, furniture and home furnishings eCommerce sales totaled more than $26 million in 2015, and online sales revenue is expected to grow higher than $42 million by 2019.
Despite the challenges that persist, Prindle noted that there are several ways furniture retailers can look to eCommerce and online sales to boost revenue.
“Omnichannel remains a tremendous opportunity for furniture retailers,” Prindle said. “Offering an exceptional online experience is one of the clearest, most compelling ways to differentiate yourself in today’s marketplace. Retailers who do so generate outsized results like we saw [over the holiday] weekend.”
He noted a few strategies that created success over the holiday weekend and said that they largely lead to increases in sales during non-holiday-related times as well.
One of the most profitable solutions as of late has been personalization and recommendations, Prindle said.
“This is a category where recommendations and data-driven suggestions of products shoppers might like are really, really powerful,” he said. “People’s connections with a piece of furniture are very personal, and if you can provide a path to a shopping experience that’s guided by past shoppers, like the one that is shopping right now, it can give the customer a discovery process that leads to more and more suggested items that seem just right.”
He also noted that giving customers a simple way to purchase online the items they viewed in a store is crucial, as most furniture shoppers visit multiple stores before making a purchase.
“You want them to come back to your store, be able to find the item they liked and make a purchase, rather than going to another retailer to make that purchase,” he said.
Prindle noted that furniture retailers also need to embrace mobile strategies if they hope to obtain omnichannel optimization.
Twenty-two percent of online sales during the Black Friday weekend were made on mobile devices, an increase from 15 percent the year before. He noted that, while many of the same challenges that hinder online success for furniture retailers can also cause friction when it comes to mobile sales, it is an increasingly crucial channel for merchants to get right.
A quarter of the sales revenue collected during the holiday weekend came from mobile sales, and Prindle said he expects mobile to be an even more prevalent mode of shopping in the coming years.
It seems that, with a successful omnichannel strategy that embraces both online and mobile sales, furniture retailers and online merchants of all varieties can turn shopping holidays into omnichannel bonanzas.
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