Digital Evolution - July 2011

By Jay Flynn

 

Most of us are aware that the Internet is changing the way consumers shop for goods. According to Nielsen’s Global Trends in Online Shopping report, published in June 2010, 84% of the global consumers surveyed reported that they have shopped online. And Aegis/PeopleSupport reports that 63% of online shoppers are women. In light of these facts, it only makes sense for flooring manufacturers and retailers to promote their products online. However, in the current economy a brochure site (name, address, phone number and not much more) is not enough. Flooring industry players must follow in the footsteps of the best online retailers around, making interactive and informative sites that align with the consumers’ expectations.

As a consumer trend, e-commerce sales, when products are bought and sold online, show slow and steady growth. In 2010, 3.5% of all retail sales (by dollar value) were e-commerce purchases, according to the Department of Commerce, up 1.1% from 2005’s 2.4%. 

But many consumers haven’t jumped into online shopping with both feet yet. Nielsen found that 25% of North American survey respondents spend 6% to 10% of their monthly spending budgets online. Fourteen percent of respondents spend between 11% and 25% online; 5% spend 26% to 50% of their monthly spending budgets online; and 3% spend over 51% of their budgets online. 

While a good amount of money is changing hands virtually, the fact that the remaining 54% of survey respondents spend less than 5% of their monthly spending budgets online means that there is room for growth, if online retailers are willing to offer what the consumer seeks. Consumers who are shopping online for a big ticket item, like a car or a home or a big screen television, expect to see detailed visuals of the products that they are looking to purchase. The same holds true for flooring. 

Since flooring is a fashion item, it will never be sold in large quantities on the Internet. In fact, home furnishings did not even make Nielsen’s list of items that consumers intend to purchase online in the next six months. In spite of this, flooring manufacturers and retailers need to create online showrooms that meet the same standards as those of other big ticket items.

As we all know, a good many consumers do research online before making a purchase at a brick and mortar location. In a late 2010 survey, Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 58% of people use the Internet to do research before making a purchase. In fact, on a typical day, 21% of adults search for product information online, using this information to narrow down their selections prior to physically going to test and view products. It is not a surprise, then, that many companies show vivid, detailed images of their products online in an effort to engage consumers and win them over before they ever visit the store.

Industries that sell big ticket consumer goods recognize that consumers want to see images of the products for which they are shopping. They want those images to properly reflect what they are selling in their business, and, when possible, they want those images to enable them to visualize the products with different colors and textures and in different settings.

Consider how a company like Mercedes-Benz markets its 2011 CL 550 Coupe online. The site includes interactive features that allow the viewer to explore the vehicle’s interior, exterior, safety features, performance features and optional equipment. It offers 360 degree views of the car in a variety of settings and even videos of the car in operation. In addition, it allows viewers to play with the different color and trim options and choose accessories to build a custom vehicle online. Once a customer has built a car, the site allows them to estimate their payment (providing both lease and buy information), allows them to apply for credit, and connects them to a dealer in their area so that they can see and test drive the vehicle. 

Although the flooring industry has lagged behind other industries that market products online, it is beginning to recognize and meet the online needs of consumers, and that begins with the ability to enable consumers to view products and visualize these products dynamically in the home.

Five years ago, only the largest manufacturers, like Shaw and Armstrong, showcased product images online using a catalog and offering visualization tools to enable the consumer to see the product in different room settings. Today, a rapidly growing number of manufacturers of all sizes, like Royalty Carpet, Crossville, Mullican Flooring and many others, are marketing their products via product catalogs and visualization tools on their company websites.

Now the major flooring manufacturers are beginning to recognize the next opportunity to drive their brands—allowing dealers to market their products online. Just as they fight today for floor space in retail showrooms, they will soon battle for space on dealers’ websites, hoping that this will increase the likelihood that consumers will ask for their products when they enter the retail store.

Shaw, via its internal Web Studio program, and Mohawk, through a third party provider, are leading this effort with their dealer website and dealer product catalog programs. In addition, Armstrong is offering an online marketing program to select dealers, and several other manufacturers are also expanding their efforts to support dealers selling their products online via micro-sites that launch from their dealer’s websites and other resources.

Flooring retailers are transitioning from brochure websites to more dynamic website experiences that offer consumers the products they want to see. With the manufacturer website services defined above, there are more options available for retailers to radically upgrade their online marketing experience.

Pierce Flooring & Design is an example of a diverse business that recognized early on that it needed to differentiate itself online. It offers the basics, but it also communicates information about its commercial flooring business; it educates the consumer on all products; it differentiates itself via the “Pierce Promise”; and it prominently showcases product via a catalog and visualization tool.

When considering your online experience as a manufacturer or retailer, ask yourself if your website is an online brochure or if are you providing an engaging, interactive experience that is going to drive consumers to view your products and services—and then drive them to purchase. If not, you are providing an opportunity for your competitor to secure sales that should be yours.

Copyright 2011 Floor Focus 



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