COVID-19 has proven to be both a unique challenge and an unprecedented opportunity for furniture retailers. Prior to the pandemic, consumers were already starting to feel more comfortable purchasing furniture online. In fact, spending in the category saw an increase of nearly 20 percent annually. This shift has accelerated even more rapidly in recent months as millions of Americans were stuck at home and looking to invest in their spaces, forcing retailers to quickly scale up their e-commerce offerings and find creative ways to keep their workforce on the payroll. For retailers like Arhaus, BoConcept, Ethan Allen, RH, The Room Place, and West Elm, the answer has been virtual shopping services that connect online customers with associates in their nearest retail store.
One brand that has found particular success with this approach is Design Within Reach (DWR), which fast-tracked a pre-planned virtual shopping launch when it stores were shuttered in March of this year. Knowing the brand’s history and emphasis on design expertise provides useful context for this launch. Since DWR’s inception more than 20 years ago, founder Rob Forbes and his team have been focused not just on selling, but on educating and taste-making, sharing the origin story behind each piece and the individuals who created it. This philosophy extends to the retailer's approach to customer service, which is evident from a trip to a DWR store or “studio.” Do Not Touch signs are noticeably absent in favor of a laid-back atmosphere complete with friendly design professionals who are skilled in helping with everything from completing a room to furnishing an entire house.
In an effort to provide this same unique experience to a wave of online shoppers, DWR turned to HERO® for the launch of its virtual shopping service, which was quickly rolled out to every DWR store and 150 of the brand’s knowledgeable, highly trained associates. The team quickly racked up nearly 750 virtual consultations per week, which translated into hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales. In the months since the initial launch, the service has proven to be a runaway success: shoppers who use it are 31x more likely to make a purchase than those who don’t, and their average order is 25 percent higher. Based on these results, DWR’s parent company, Herman Miller, immediately launched its own virtual shopping service as well as one for its sister brand, HAY.
For other brands looking to replicate DWR’s success, its program rollout offers some useful insights. Prior to launch, associates in the pilot program attended an in-depth virtual training session that included best practices on retrieving incoming chats, initiating video calls, and engaging with customers virtually. Across all product categories, video calling helps store associates convert at twice the rate of regular chats, and DWR’s eager embrace of the feature was critical to its success, as it helped customers better envision how a given piece would look in their space.
While its stores were closed, DWR offered extended hours for virtual consultations to ensure that customers could be helped at a wider range of hours throughout the day and that associates — who were working from home — had more flexibility while continuing to sell. Video calls were facilitated through a rotating schedule that allowed associates into their local store one at a time. Getting employee buy-in was another crucial element of DWR’s success. The results of the pilot program were well-publicized throughout the organization. As a result, associates were clamoring to find out when it would be available in their store when they saw the volume of sales their colleagues were enjoying.
While stores in many parts of the world have started to re-open, two things are unlikely to change any time soon: consumers are spending more time at home and are increasingly comfortable buying furniture and other home-related items online. Given this profound shift, the case for embracing virtual shopping services in this space has become clearer than ever and will evolve into a cornerstone of every smart retailer’s strategy.
Adam Levene is the entrepreneur and creative force behind HERO®, the virtual shopping app he founded in 2015 with a vision to make commerce more human.
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Adam Levene is the entrepreneur and creative force behind HERO®, the virtual shopping app he founded in 2015 with a vision to make commerce more human. In just five years the company has grown to a team of more than 50 across NYC and London, and has forged global partnerships with Nike, adidas, Credo Beauty, Jonathan Adler and Levi’s among others.