20.–23.01.2021 #immcologne

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The furniture industry in the age of digitalisation

Video consultations are the sales channel of the future

Crises accelerate innovations. The coronavirus pandemic and its repercussions have forced the retail trade to get inventive. The furniture industry, which is still facing numerous challenges in online retail in Germany, is also investing in the highly promising potential that digitalisation offers. One obvious and surprisingly successful idea is using video consultations to advise customers.

Video consultation: An interior design consultant meets with customers online in video chat

Furnishing advice does not always have to take place in the store: A video chat offers unexpected advantages. Photo: Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

The furniture retail trade in the coronavirus pandemic

The Association of the German Furniture Industry (VDM) estimates that online sales currently account for 18 per cent of all sales in the interior design sector in Germany. And that figure is constantly rising. Compared to the current winners in e-commerce, the furniture retail trade still has a lot of unused potential. After all, the interior design business benefits from personal advice and visual and haptic stimuli like hardly any other sector. Selling high-cost items such as sofas, designer furniture or kitchens online is both a huge challenge and a huge opportunity. One possible solution for the industry is to identify its strengths and deploy them on digital channels. 

The pros and cons of digital customer consultations

The industry had to create new sales channels during lockdown. But even after the reopening of bricks-and-mortar stores, it is clear that digital customer touchpoints will continue to play an important role. The advantages are clear: 

  • Digital sales channels have the potential to reach more customers. 
  • Sales are no longer restricted by local accessibility or opening hours. 
  • Storage and presentation areas can be reduced. 
  • Communication during online sales consultations is two-way: Advisers gain insights into customers’ homes, allowing them to provide more specific assistance and suggest more suitable ideas. 
  • Scheduling consultations enables better planning and more effective advice that is tailored to the customer’s personal needs and wants. 

However, any business that wants to advise customers online and increase its sales has to find new ways to convince them of a product’s benefits. From the properties of the upholstery to the haptics of a material, a number of important components of a sales consultation cannot be completely digitalised and need to be rethought.  

But the industry is creative: Virtual showrooms can stimulate customers’ interest from the first contact. Even entire events such as Maison&Objet have transformed their offerings into a complete digital experience. Getting this right calls for exciting approaches that provide genuine added value for customers.

Digital customer consulting in the furniture industry

Customers can also receive comprehensive - and perhaps even more diverse - advice via video chat. Photo: CoWomen on Unsplash

What makes a video consultation successful?

1. Plan well 
They can research the latest trends and models in advance, and if they know what their prospective customer likes from contact forms or e-mail correspondence, they are better able to tailor their advice to their customer’s preferences. Digital mood boards with colour combinations or an inspiring mix of styles can be useful and highly persuasive tools. Linking to social media platforms such as Pinterest generates added value for marketing. More activity from fans on social media increases the company’s online visibility. 

2. Create emotions
The fine art of e-commerce is and will remain storytelling. A company that succeeds in crafting narratives and communicating emotions will convince customers and persuade them to buy its products with greater success in the long run. During a digital customer consultation, the sales adviser should therefore be approachable and allow the prospective customer to experience the character of the furniture: What does the surface feel like, and how comfortable is the upholstery? What effect does a particular colour create in daylight or artificial lighting? A well-lit showroom is essential to communicate these emotions. 

3. Look professional 
Despite the physical distance, advising a customer by video is quite an intimate occasion that calls for good intuition and professional communication. A professional appearance and a clean and tidy showroom are essential. Providing a service should be the highest priority. While one customer may prefer to be guided with a firm hand, other conversations may be more open-ended. Hosting these new consultations takes real skill. Where necessary, internal training should be provided for sales staff. 

4. Use tools 
Being a skilled user of technical applications is an absolute must for a successful consultation. But there is a multitude of possibilities in the digital world. Recording videos or creating images of a product that a customer likes can give them new insights. With the addition of further elements – such as allowing other consultants to join the conversation, directly linking room planning tools or signing the contract digitally and providing online payment options – interior design companies can build a complete digital experience that adds real value for the customer.

Seeing digitalisation as an opportunity

E-commerce is here to stay: The VDM estimates that online retail’s share of sales in Germany will rise from 18 per cent currently to at least 25 per cent over the next few years. Any business that offers its customers new points of sale that respond to their needs in the long term and captivate them will benefit from this trend. imm cologne is therefore consciously exploring the new post-corona opportunities and examining how a successful restart can open up new fields of business. 

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