Digital Marketing: As the shopping journey evolves, digital tools are creating a seamless experience – June 2023

By Jennifer Bardoner

The overriding theme for digital marketers in the past few years has been “Connect your in-store and online experience,” and retailers have worked to update their presence to offer a seamless experience through branding and sales tools. “You can’t think about online and in-store differently-that’s your brand,” says Broadlume vice president of marketing Jeff Bieber. “It’s all about the brand experience.” With that has come a number of enhanced sales tools, both in-store and online, some of which are already becoming ubiquitous, and others that are emerging as retailers seek ways to differentiate themselves while streamlining the shopping journey. “It’s not something you can set and forget, because the technologies and platforms are changing so fast,” says Mobile Marketing founder and CEO Carole Cross. “That means you have to test and learn, drop some, keep some, take on new ones to test. There’s a continuous evolution, and it’s moving very quickly.”

Though offered for years, visualization tools have come a long way in the recent past. Initially, it was manufacturers that operated the systems to showcase their products, connecting shoppers with a host of nearby retailers where they could buy. That took the focus off the retailer and provided a somewhat impersonal approach.

With visualization tools now fairly commonplace-and expected by the younger generation-retailers are beginning to implement their own versions on their website, helping create a relationship with the customer earlier in their shopping journey and setting them apart as a professional and trusted resource.

“If they’re on my site, they’re staying within our relationship,” says Jason O’Krent, director of sales at O’Krent Floors, a National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) member in San Antonio, Texas. “With Covid, it really showed the importance of accessibility to the customer, whether it be creating a first appointment or starting the conversation.”

O’Krent is one of the roughly 5,000 flooring retailers that utilize Roomvo’s visualizer, which features product catalogs from a growing list of over 100 manufacturers. Using its online visualization services, consumers spend roughly twice as long on a retailer’s website while looking at an average of 26 products per visualization session, resulting in five times more conversions, says Roomvo senior director of strategy Brandon Shidlowski.

“We do this all the time, so we’re better at visualizing what a product is going to look like,” says Laura Taylor, showroom manager of NFA member Ambassador Mid-West Floor’s Chesterfield, Missouri location. “A lot of times that’s why we can’t close the sale, because people can’t visualize it to pull the trigger.”

Bieber says an SEO-driven website generates, on average, 40 to 45 leads per month and the typical conversion rate for those is around 1%. Adding a product visualizer and catalog bumps that up to around 4%.

“I could spit out 15 different stats on how many hours people spend online doing research versus in person,” he says, noting, “Things were already heading this direction, but the pandemic was like a tank of gasoline on the fire.” 

With shoppers comfortable visiting stores again, Broadlume and Roomvo recently debuted in-store visualization kiosks that enhance the offering consumers have come to expect online. Ambassador Mid-West Floor and O’Krent Floors just added Roomvo’s in-store visualization kiosk, which offers the opportunity to browse the catalog of products or scan in favorites from the show floor and see them applied to pre-selected room scenes or uploaded photos of the customer’s home. Broadlume is working on adding product QR codes this year.

“Being able to see it on the larger screen as opposed to a phone or iPad really helps,” Taylor says. “It just shows them a bigger scale of what the flooring is going to look like. Having that affirmation gets them excited about their purchase.”

Taylor and O’Krent say this is helping upsell patterned goods, which are hard to visualize in scale. “What’s been great with the visualization is staircases-they used to be impossible to do,” O’Krent says. “Instead of doing a regular solid carpet throughout or just having hardwood on the stairs, it’s, ‘Let’s get a really cool pattern on the staircase.’”

They also note the assistance the visualization tool offers less experienced or design-savvy sales staff. In addition to making them appear more professional, with a bevy of enhanced service offerings up their sleeve, it also helps them feel more confident. “If you can say with confidence, ‘This is the color that’s going to look great,’ you have a higher closing ratio,” says O’Krent.

Following the training Roomvo provides customers for its visualization tools, Taylor says Ambassador Mid-West has started sending shoppers follow-up emails that include a link to the visualizer, if the product is represented, along with suggestions for “good, better, best” offerings based on their initial selection. But no matter where a customer is in the shopping journey, the visualizer helps generate qualified leads that retailers can follow up on. Whether in-store or online, shoppers can email themselves favorite products and room scenes, and their email then gets shared with the retailer.

While the list of suppliers signing onto retailer-hosted visualization services is growing-with Shaw, Mohawk, Dixie and Stanton set to add their catalogs to Roomvo in the coming weeks-Taylor says it’s important that more follow suit. If a customer falls in love with a product that isn’t represented, it can impact the sale to have to switch them to something similar.

Being able to initiate a relationship with consumers earlier in their shopping journey provides retailers more lucrative opportunities, and pairing an online visualizer with a real-time messaging tool can help cement that relationship.

“The most important element of a website right now is having the ability to immediately engage with the consumer, whether that be an incoming phone call directly from the website, forms on your site, promotions, the ability to text message, and more,” Cross says. “Websites should not overlook avenues to engage and communicate with consumers.”

Broadlume, Roomvo and Mobile Marketing websites can integrate communication software like Podium or LiveChat to allow customers to ask questions that are then passed to the sales staff. O’Krent says the direct-messaging capability has helped build a rapport with customers, in line with the personalized service he seeks to provide. Even in cases where the human touch is preferred, additional chatbot software can help with communication and filtering inquiries.

AI-based marketing and sales tools are becoming mainstream, with chatbots a common offering, and Cross believes their use will continue to grow. Later this year, Broadlume will unveil its Broadlume X program with AI built in to help retailers comb through data, scouring the Internet and their own sales to reveal trends and other helpful information relevant to the dealer. 

“AI will keep evolving to help customers through the shopping process, to find what they’re looking for, educate them and communicate with them,” says Cross. “Consumers will also be interacting with more AI-generated content, including written content and videos.”

Mobile Marketing is in the process of building websites for Alliance Flooring dealers that feature a virtual assistant designed by Alliance as a value-add for its members. The video virtual assistant will interview consumers and ask questions, then, based on the consumer’s responses, recommend products that fit their lifestyle. “For example,” Cross explains, “after some questions, it may respond that it’s good to know you have pets in your family and show you products perfect for pets. But it also goes deeper than that to really find products that work for the consumer.”

O’Krent recently launched an online scheduler and says it’s already proven an effective call to action, an important aspect of websites these days. While he says he was wary of not being able to meet instantaneous requests and skeptical that customers would want to commit to an appointment seven days in advance, the scheduler resulted in two leads for in-home consultations within the first two days of going live. And in the best-case scenarios, it offers him another way to exceed customer expectations, should he be able to send someone earlier than expected.

“Those clients that invite you into their home are a warmer lead than someone just going online and saying, ‘What’s the price of this product?’ ” O’Krent notes.

QR codes became ubiquitous during the pandemic as service providers of all kinds sought to limit germ transmission, but their practicality extends well beyond health measures, and Broadlume chief revenue officer Dan Pratt says QR codes are something more dealers are requesting. The codes can seamlessly connect users to a wealth of information: pricing, visualization tools, stock inventory, favorites, top-selling SKUs and more. The codes can be integrated with various inventory management, CRM and ERP programs, and can be differentiated behind the scenes to offer different users the most helpful or relevant information.

After developing QR codes for her family’s flooring store, Champion Floor Co. in St. Louis, Missouri, Kristen Stensby launched Showroom Pricing, offering multi-use QR codes that allow RSAs to access retail and tiered customer price points, costs-which are updated automatically-and tracks samples that are out in the field. Meanwhile, those same QR codes can be scanned by a consumer or designer to access their designated price, create favorites lists, or see the product in context if the retailer is already affiliated with Broadlume, Roomvo or another web-based visualization tool.

Stensby notes the opportunity to connect with pricing as a game-changer and says many flooring dealers leave money on the table, either through a lack of readily available pricing or by not having immediate and convenient access to updated or varied pricing.

“My dad has been in business almost 40 years, and he said he’s never made margins like this before,” she says, explaining that personal biases and a fear of delivering a customer sticker shock can unnecessarily downgrade sales, while those without customer-facing pricing often spend the entire client appointment simply hashing out budget.

Additionally, QR codes can help retailers track trends and adjust accordingly. For example, they may notice that a product is scanned more often than others but ultimately not purchased, providing them with insight to seek out a more affordable similar product.

Consumers have come to expect things on demand, and Broadlume and Mobile Marketing are responding with their newest additions: sample ordering that provides consumers a quick-ship package of their chosen samples, direct from manufacturers, via local retailers’ websites. 

“You hear about merging the online and in-store experience; it’s more about merging the home and in-store experience now,” says Bieber, who notes that adding sample ordering on top of a product visualizer and catalog bumps an SEO-driven website up to around a 6.5% conversion rate. 

In addition to making the shopping process simpler for consumers, the new service also helps get samples in their hands and homes sooner, Cross says. “It also provides an opportunity to engage with the consumer earlier in the floor-buying process,” she adds. “Retailers know they have a customer seriously interested in flooring, so it is a valuable lead. And consumers have a better understanding of what a product looks and feels like, which is critical to making a decision about new flooring.”

Broadlume has shipped more than 10,000 sample orders since launching the program in late 2022, says Bieber. While the offering is brand-new to Mobile Marketing, Cross says there is excitement around the program, and several manufacturers have committed to supporting its growth beyond NFA members. Broadlume recently added Dixie, Mohawk and JJ Haines to its program.

“It’s warming up the consumer before they come inside your store,” Bieber says.

Cross notes that since such customers may not come into the store before having samples in hand, it’s important for RSAs to proactively follow up on these leads. 

“I’m not as excited about sample ordering, because it makes it more impersonal,” O’Krent says. “You’re not talking with that client, and it is making it more of a commodity purchase. I want to be able to show and romanticize the product versus sending a sample swatch to them.”

O’Krent and Taylor agree that not having to send store samples home with customers is a benefit, as those are limited and a prime selling tool. Though visualization tools help reduce the need for take-home samples, they are often still requested by designers and those taking on a major renovation or a home build, in order to select additional finishes. Whereas Taylor is exploring the new sample order option through Mobile Marketing, O’Krent has signed on for its Samplesapp, which automates tracking and reminder emails for samples checked out from the store.

Similar to the way in which providers are working to marry the online and in-store experience for consumers, RFMS is developing an updated interface that aligns with its in-the-field apps for retailers and staff. RFMS Next will be unveiled in stages, with an updated desktop version of the ERP software expected this summer. Western region director of sales Rahul Karadi says it will use the same code as the apps RFMS has rolled out in recent years, so that it has a similar look and feel.

Some of RFMS’ recent introductions include remote point of sale, estimating, warehousing, installation and CRM tools.

“As we go into the second and third generation of people owning a store, we need to have tools in place that are easy to use, user-friendly and allow you to close more sales,” says Karadi.

Copyright 2023 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Interface, Haines, Broadlume, National Flooring Alliance (NFA), Mohawk Industries, Shaw Industries Group, Inc.