Engaging today's consumer to boost sales: Digital Marketing


By Calista Sprague


Like it or not, the digital revolution has taken hold, and there is no going back. Americans spend an average of 60 hours a week viewing content on their digitized screens—phones, tablets, computers and televisions—and today’s consumers prefer businesses that offer the same digital fluency that they experience with large national chains like Target or Best Buy. 

Retailers who hope to stay relevant must invest time and resources to develop and maintain a compelling digital strategy. Although the overwhelming majority of final flooring purchases still happen in-store, retailers must engage consumers in the digital realm in order to coax them into their brick-and-mortar stores.

Nielsen’s 2014 Digital Consumer Report reveals that more than 70% of the U.S. population owns a smartphone and almost half access social media every day. And 80% of American homes now have Internet connected computers. These statistics have been growing at mind-boggling rates. Consider that in 2000, only 42% of American homes were connected to the Internet, social media didn’t exist, and the iPhone wouldn’t hit the market for another seven years.

In the early days of the Internet, no one cared if a business had a website or not, but before long a web presence became an expectation, although sites were little more than electronic brochures. Early users visited websites much like a phonebook, mainly to get basic contact information. Next, social media burst onto the scene, led by MySpace in 2003, and people began connecting and interacting through Facebook, LinkedIn and a host of other networks. Meanwhile, mobile devices and their apps proliferated and evolved, bringing the Internet and social media into the palm of our hands. 

All this technology has dramatically changed the way we shop. At the Solutions convention in December, Mohawk informed its dealers that five years ago, the buying process for flooring took 65 days and 10% was spent researching online. Now the process is over 110 days and 60% is spent online. Again, the rate of change is swift and continuing to swing toward consumer preference for virtual shopping. 

Industries around the world have taken note of the burgeoning digital usage. “If we look at all the industries out there, all of them spend greater than 6% of annual revenues on information technology and have for the last 20 years,” announced consumer shopping expert James Dion in an education session at Surfaces. “And all of them have had double digit productivity increases every year for the last 20 years.” He went on to explain that retailers collectively spend less than 2%, recommending that they spend at least 2% to 3%, which is only half of other industries. Dion, who has written three best sellers about successful retailing, warns that the longer flooring retailers delay participation in digital marketing, the farther they will fall behind. 

Already stretched thin from running a small business, retailers now face the daunting task of assembling a comprehensive and cohesive digital marketing strategy, replete with a multifaceted website that is search-engine friendly and tied to active social media outlets and lead generation programs, all of which must work on any platform of desktops, laptops, tablets and phones. And all of which take time to implement, time to learn and time to maintain. It’s no wonder retailers have been reticent to launch fully into the digital realm.

As technology has changed, so have people. Consumer research psychologist Dr. Kit Yarrow spoke at the Shaw Flooring Network Convention in January about her new book, Decoding the New Consumer Mind. “Our use of technology is really changing the way that we think,” she explains, saying that our brains are functioning differently. “We have shorter attention spans; we get bored more easily.” 

She says that anxiety and anger are also increasing in society, brought on in part by technology with its information overload and lightning speed. Although digital users demand access to more and more information, Yarrow says that psychological research shows people actually prefer fewer choices. Today’s consumers often feel overwhelmed and welcome help in narrowing down their field of options. 

Technology has had deep effects on community as well. “We used to see our community as the people we saw in our lives, the people we saw in church, at school, at the Rotary Club,” Yarrow says. “Now our community is online. The word of mouth today is not just in the physical community, but also in the virtual community, so things like ratings and reviews are so tremendously important.” 

The increased use of social media has also minimized in-person communication, making connections more superficial, so people now crave a sense of belonging as a result. “They need to feel relevant, seen and respected,” Yarrow notes.

These new consumers have new shopping habits, too. “Just like it is in our life now, digital is ingrained in every aspect of the shopping process,” says Kent Clauson, VP of brand and digital at Mohawk Industries. He points out that digital resources allow the consumer to stay out of the store longer, but says that the process is not a linear one from Internet to brick-and-mortar to purchase. “We know they go online; they go into a store; they go into a home center. They go back to the computer; they do more research. They try to validate their decision, then they go back into a store.” 

Once the purchase is made, the transaction may be complete, but the shopping process is not. “The digital component is now integrated into the shopping experience at all points, even post sale,” Clauson says. “Now post sale, they’re going in and writing ratings and reviews. They’re posting on social media about their new floor. They’re talking about their experience with their retailer.”

Newly armed with a wealth of information and choices, consumers demand more and more from their shopping experience. “The bar gets set from the consumer’s perspective by major retailers on the web and in-store,” says Clauson. “The story is the same, the messages are the same, the products are the same, so that consumers have a cohesive omni-channel experience wherever they encounter that brand.” 

Todd Callaway and Misty Hodge oversee the digital programs for Shaw Industries. Callaway points out that not only do consumers expect digital marketing to be cohesive, but they also expect it to be omnipresent. “With the digital revolution, consumers expect to find whatever they’re looking for wherever they look. Whatever channel is their favorite, they expect to find you there. Those are high expectations to fill.” 

Beyond demands for information, today’s consumers also want the shopping process tailored to their needs. “Personalization is a very important part of what the consumer expects,” says Hodge. “It’s not one fits all, it’s one fits one. Everybody expects their own personal experience.” So rather than view generic design ideas, they want to see products matched to their individual color scheme, or visualize flooring superimposed in their own environment.

“The consumer is in control,” agrees Christine Whittemore, founder of Simple Marketing Now. “She is going online on her time, when it’s convenient to her. She’s going to start searching to get information and educate herself about her options because no woman wants to go into a store and have the same experience she has when she goes to the mechanic.” Whittemore admits that for a retail sales associate, an informed consumer can be scary, “because sometimes the consumer comes in knowing more than he or she does.” 

Whittemore says that these changes in the shopping process, brought on by technology, indicate a paradigm shift for retailers. “In flooring, we tend not to think of the customer first. We tend to speak in code: short staple and BCF and LVT. We’ve not made the adjustment to speaking in customer friendly terms and focusing on the customer experience.” She sees the educated consumer as an opportunity rather than a threat, allowing the conversation to move from price range to inspiration: “What are you looking to achieve? What’s your dream? How do we make it happen?” 

However, Whittemore says that the time consumers spend educating themselves online does present a challenge. “Up to 90% of the decision making process is done before they even speak to a sales associate. That doesn’t leave much room for a retailer to develop a relationship that goes beyond the transaction.” 

She recommends that retailers ask themselves new questions. “If people can go online to do so much, yet we’re selling a physical product, how do we make that physical experience mind blowing? How do we make it so it’s talk worthy and worth coming back to as opposed to a painful, boring, utilitarian experience?” 

If retailers want to engage the new consumer, they cannot continue doing what they’ve done in the past. They must evolve with the technology and with the consumer. In his Surfaces presentation, Dion quoted Lou Pritchett, a former VP at Proctor & Gamble: “If the rate of change outside your company exceeds the rate of change inside your company, disaster is imminent.” Although the quote is 25 years old, it was never so apropos as today. 

For many retailers, especially those slow to join the movement, catching up to the digital revolution seems like a daunting task at best. “It’s difficult for the retailers,” Shaw’s Callaway empathizes. “They are trying to juggle so many things day to day. That hasn’t changed. They are managing logistics, financials, human resources, growing the customer base, and now they’re expected to be digital marketers, as well.” 

Dion sets the stage, saying that in the last two or three years, retailers have begun to realize that they need strategies for social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Yelp. They need a robust website that is mobile friendly with phone and tablet applications for heightened communication with consumers. “And is that a seamless experience for the customer?” he asks. “Is what the customer saw on the phone what they are experiencing in the store? And are you using technology in the store to more deeply engage the consumer?” 

A growing list of digital marketing service companies have sprung up to “help” retailers navigate these high demands of digital marketing. They bombard store owners with daily emails and phone calls to tell them that they need website development, search engine optimization, lead generation, email blasts, point and click ads, and social media management. 

“In the good old days, there used to be this thing called the mass market,” explains Dion. “Today, digital is giving us the ability to market to a specific individual. The digital strategy is far, far more complex. If you choose the wrong technology partner, you can go down the wrong path. And consumers are not very forgiving today, so if you go down the wrong path, it could have serious implications for your business. And if you don’t go down any path, that could have even more serious implications.” 

Dion recommends that retailers hire a professional to help implement digital strategies, but he cautions them to do their homework. “There are a lot of bad agencies out there. Rely, as you always should, on fellow companies and retailers. Find somebody who is doing well in a non-competitive market and ask them who they use.”

Not all retailers are behind the curve. Clauson says that more than 1,300 retailers, which represents approximately 75% to 85% of aligned and Karastan dealers, have signed up for the Mohawk Social Media Tool, and more than 85% of those who signed up actually utilize the program on a monthly basis to push content to their social media sites. “The response has been tremendous, but it hasn’t been without a lot of learning,” he admits. 

Retailers aligned with large companies like Shaw or Mohawk and buying groups like Carpet One or Abbey Carpets can plug into comprehensive digital marketing programs designed with the latest technologies, which gives them access to customized web pages, content for social media sites, search engine lead generation and much more, but very little of it is completely automatic. Retailers still must invest time and energy.

It used to be that retailers paid for advertising and waited for people to come through the door. With consumers spending so much of the shopping cycle online, retailers need to actively find and engage consumers online. “That’s been a big shift, and we have a training program around this,” Clauson explains. “You can’t just have leads generated; you’ve got to follow up on them. You’ve got to pull people into your store. It’s a much different model than our industry is used to.” 

Today’s consumers are no longer content with landing pages with basic contact information. When they look businesses up online, they expect to find fully integrated websites with a cornucopia of information, including a full product catalog with high quality images and interactive apps to allow them to visualize the products in their home. And they expect all these bells and whistles to work on any device, anywhere, any time. Putting a website of this caliber into place may be a tall order, but it comes with benefits for those who manage it. 

A compelling website can give a company a strong head start against competition with a lesser online presence, and it can set the tone for your relationships with consumers. “Your website may be the first impression that anybody has of your store before they ever see your actual location, before they meet a single employee,” says Shaw’s Callaway. 

“I like to refer to a website as your 24/7 sales associate who never sleeps and you don’t have to pay,” says Whittemore. “Your website needs to work very hard on your behalf. It needs to be there educating. It needs to be there communicating who you are as a company. If you’re a people business, then you need to have a page on your website where everyone in your store has an image and some information about that person, maybe a link to that person’s LinkedIn profile and an email address, so you start trust building before the customer comes in.” 

To grab the new consumer’s attention and engage them, a website needs to include high quality images. Imagery, visualization and video have become more integral to the Internet experience and the shopping experience. Shaw Web Studio, for example, now includes photos of every style color in high resolution, allowing the viewer to zoom into the fiber. 

Jay Flynn is VP of sales and marketing for Creating Your Space, an online marketing company that specializes in retail flooring and related interior finishes. “Make sure you have a website that represents your business and will engage the consumer,” he recommends. “I still run into a lot of retailers who will spend thousands and thousands of dollars every month driving leads to a landing page with a photo of their store and their hours, their phone number and their address. What a lost opportunity. It’s essential that you’re representing the products and services that your business provides.” 

Flynn points out that consumers use websites to not only narrow down product preferences, but also to narrow down business preferences. Only about 1% to 2% of shoppers actually buy flooring online, “They’re not looking to finalize the purchase, but they are looking to narrow down who they’re going to buy from,” Flynn says. He suggests retailers include a custom catalog of products, rather than everything the manufacturers make. Include tools for consumers to save favorite products, ask questions and set appointments, and give consumers several opportunities to share their contact information to generate leads. 

Technology gurus like Flynn don’t suggest relying 100% on digital marketing, however. “Our successful clients don’t replace all their traditional marketing, but it has shifted. Just a few years ago, people were doing 90% to 95% traditional and just a little bit online. Now a third to a half of their advertising budget has shifted to online marketing.”

He points out that digital marketing provides a much broader reach. “Think about the limitations of a billboard or a 15-second TV commercial—the cost of doing those things versus driving people to a website where you can have pages and pages of products, galleries of photos from installations, and testimonials from customers. That’s what consumers are looking for.” He says that when retailers choose to do traditional marketing, they should make sure their websites are prominent. “You’ve only got a few seconds of their time. You want them to easily find your website where you can really make an impression.”

Since most consumers start with keywords in a search engine, Flynn and others recommend starting with search engine optimization (SEO). A website that is optimized for important industry keywords will show up sooner in the search results and garner more attention. 

“If you don’t have a really incredible website, then you’re really far behind,” Dion admonishes. “That’s retail 101 today, and if you haven’t invested, you better right now. He says to look at competitors’ sites for ideas, and attend workshops and seminars at conventions and shows like Surfaces and Coverings. “Even if you’re just getting established, your website has to be a really engaging way to connect with that customer. And as we see more and more mobile devices, a mobile application is almost a must.” He ends with good news for retailers: “It’s not going to cost you a fortune.”


Secrets to Creating Remarkable Customer Experiences 
April 14, 10:45 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. 
Speaker: Sandy Smith of Sandy Smith Seminars 
Location: S320ABC 

The emergence of the Internet has shifted the balance of power from seller to buyer, creating the age of the customer. This presentation will identify the escalating expectations of today’s 24-hour customer and highlight the best practices of organizations that consistently deliver remarkable customer experiences. 

Content Strategy on a Shoestring Budget: 
You can be as successful as the “other guys”
April 14, 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. 
Speaker: Melissa Harrison of Allee Creative 
Location: Social Media Lounge - Booth 3659 
Everyone knows the examples from big companies with large marketing budgets and multiple marketers on staff. What if you don’t fit that bill? This session focuses on the truths about time, resources and what you can focus on in order to have a kick-butt content strategy. 

Heart and Mind Selling: Making customers for life 
April 14, 2:45 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. 
Speaker: Sam Allman of Allman Consulting 
Location: S320EFG 
We live in the Google Age. We want to be able to type in our problem and find a solution. Customers don’t want to be sold, they want to be serviced, helped. Love is the difference. Use your customer’s love language to tap into one of their basic needs. 

Image is Everything! How Houzz and Pinterest steer clients to your tile/stone business 
April 15, 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. 
Speakers: Apri Nalbandian of Tileometry Christine Whittemore of Simple Marketing Now 
Location: Social Media Lounge - Booth 3659 
The tile and stone business is all about visual inspiration. How do you incorporate that online where 80% of potential customers begin the buying process? This session will explore making the most of Pinterest and Houzz and integrating the social networks into your online strategy.  

In addition to providing an engaging website, retailers need to interact with their virtual community through social media. In pre-digital days, business owners networked through community activities to be top of mind when someone needed or recommended a flooring retailer. Social media is the new way to network. 

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Houzz, Instagram and LinkedIn are just a few of the sites that have emerged in the past decade, connecting people all over the country, and all over the world. Consumers routinely use social media to share new purchases with their friends. They brag about great experiences with retailers or complain about terrible ones. They throw out questions asking for product recommendations. They pin and share product photos. They post photos of completed renovation projects. And perhaps most important, they engage with companies that make them feel special or capture their attention with engaging content.

For retailers just stepping into the social media realm, the pros recommend starting with one or two networks and choosing wisely based on demographics and store goals. “There are so many channels,” Shaw’s Hodge says. “We never recommend tapping into every single one of them, because nobody has that kind of time. We don’t do that ourselves. We try to pay attention to the channels that we really feel like have most of our consumers in mind.”

Some retailers misconstrue the goal of social media marketing. They expect that if they put up a Facebook page and announce new products and sales campaigns, an influx of traffic will pour through their doors, but it doesn’t work that way. “People either try to get it to do something that it doesn’t do or they dismiss it because they don’t understand its place and its role,” Flynn explains. 

“Social media is much more of a brand and relationship building tool than traditional marketing,” he continues. “I would compare it to a dealer who would go to a Kiwanis meeting to introduce themselves and get to know people, answer questions and be a resource. You are building your community. You are supporting the consumers by giving information and answering questions.”

Callaway encourages Shaw retailers to think of social media as an extension of skills they already possess. He says that the concept is intimidating to people who haven’t had personal experience with the sites, but retailers participate in networking every day. Social media just allows them extend their reach. 

Unlike traditional advertising where you sign up, pay and then walk away, social media requires constant monitoring. Some retailers choose to monitor activity themselves, others delegate it to a trusted employee and some hire professionals. Experts warn that it is worse to neglect a Facebook page than to not have one at all.

Another social media mistake some retailers make is handing the responsibility off to an intern or a low-level employee. “The misconception is: my 16-year-old uses social media, so it must be simple and easy and cheap,” Flynn says. “It can be, but then it’s going to look like your 16-year-old who knows nothing about flooring did it.” He says that retailers need to either dedicate their own time and energy to maintaining social media or find someone they trust who understands their business. “Just like if you had some intern write your TV spot, guess what that’s going to look like.” 

To get to know customer social media preferences in their market, Whittemore tells her Simple Marketing Now clients to chat with customers in the store. “Use every interaction as an opportunity to learn more about what your customers are doing. Where are you getting ideas? What sites? I have a hypothesis that as a retailer starts to speak to his or her customers, visual network patterns will emerge. It may be that Houzz and Pinterest come up repeatedly. If that’s the case, then start experimenting there.” 

Whittemore says that the increased use of images on social media creates prospects for connecting with consumers. She recommends using Facebook to post before and after photos of recent projects and Pinterest to pin photos of new products.

Bringing social media into the store can put shoppers at ease and give sales associates an instant connection. Whittemore cited an example of a flooring retailer in Portland, Oregon that loves Houzz and views it as a resource for communicating with customers about flooring possibilities. Customers sometimes come in with images on Houzz, as well, asking for help in achieving a certain look they desire. The Portland retailer has plans to hang a big screen monitor in the store and continually scroll Houzz images and her own idea book to inspire browsing customers. “I think that’s a beautiful integration of digital into a store,” Whittemore says.

Some retailers shy away from social media for fear of negative comments and reviews. Dion empathizes, “Consumers can now take potshots at you and not just like you, but also hate you online. If you get bad reviews, now you have to worry about Yelp and Facebook and Houzz and all of these other media that have come along.” 

Contrary to common belief, however, negative reviews are actually important for businesses. At the Shaw convention, Yarrow surprised the audience with her research, saying that consumers are becoming more sophisticated in their understanding of genuine versus “quack” reviewers. “Actually, businesses that have negative reviews, that really take the time to respond, are rated—and this is unbelievable—higher than they were before any negative review occurred.” 

Today’s consumers don’t trust sites with all positive reviews. They are savvy enough to know that no business is perfect. They read negative reviews looking for patterns of serious problems and respect companies that address issues professionally. When mistakes happen, consumers look for evidence that companies genuinely try to make it right, realizing that it’s impossible to please everyone.

Although social media demands time and resources, it can pay big dividends in the long run. And with the momentum growing, retailers who create viable strategies now will be ahead of the curve down the road. “With digital marketing, you can hone in on individuals,” Dion says. “That’s something that in the past simply wasn’t possible.” He explains that if you are willing to reach out to consumers through Houzz, Pinterest, Yelp and Facebook, you can actually engage with individuals, which would never happen with a flyer or a newspaper ad.

More and more people access their social media and shop online through their mobile devices, opening another whole avenue for digital marketing. “As our phones get faster and more powerful, clearly the kind of information and applications you can push out to consumers is just growing exponentially,” Dion points out. 

Dion led a seminar on mobile marketing at Surfaces in January, and only about 14 people showed up. “It was stunning,” he says. “This is probably one of the hottest technologies out there that you need to know about. The reality is there were 10,000 retailers at that show who don’t know what they don’t know. The world is moving on, and they’re not.” 

In the session, Dion quoted a statistic stating that “80% of consumers plan to conduct mobile commerce in the next 12 months,” and 41% of people have used a mobile device to browse for a product after seeing it in a show or advertising.” 

The shift from desktops and laptops to mobile devices has led to an explosion of apps for everything from star gazing to grocery store deals. Websites have to either be optimized to appear on mobile devices or have a dedicated app, and Dion recommends an app since so many consumers now search for businesses on the go with their phone rather than sitting down to a computer. 

He suggests making sure retailers list their contact information, an overview of services and, most important, a link to an interactive map right on the main page of the app, so they can easily find the store. Screens are small, so there is limited room to communicate the necessities on the first page. Subsequent pages can offer additional information.

As ubiquitous as smartphones and tablets have become, it is difficult to imagine that they have been on the scene for less than a decade. “Remember, mobile didn’t really hit until about seven or eight years ago, and tablets really started to take off four or five years ago,” Dion says. “You were really tethered to this work computer, and all of a sudden now you can access the web any time, any place.”

The big benefit of the mobile craze is engaging consumers more fully with brands. “For flooring it’s an absolute must to give the customer the ability to take a picture of a room and see what it looks like with 16 different floors.” Dion says. Manufacturers are taking heed. For example Shaw developed Floorvana, an app that allows the consumer to take an inspiration photo of anything from drapes to vacation scenery and isolate colors. The user can then choose a color and see all the coordinating Shaw flooring options. And soon, dealers will be able to direct the app to show only options carried in their individual stores.

Once a retailer masters a compelling and interactive website and at least one or two social media networks, he or she can choose from many other digital add-ons. Some of them are quite basic, while others are much more sophisticated. 

Google+ automatically creates a free places page with a map for any brick-and-mortar storefront by pulling information from the Yellow Pages listing. Consumers can leave reviews on that page, but many stores have not claimed their profiles. “I like to recommend, step one, Google your name,” Whittemore says. “See what shows up and claim what’s there. Put your information on it and manage it.” 

Pay-per-click marketing is another straightforward option. Retailers simply put out an online ad on a site, like Google AdWords and, as the name implies, pay for each click on the ad. 

Retargeting is a fairly new online advertising phenomenon that captures an online user’s interest in a company or product from activity on the website and then remarkets that product or company on other sites the user visits. For example, if a consumer looks at a Joe’s Flooring site, then leaves the page, ads for Joe’s Flooring will start showing up on sites like Facebook or Google. 

Email marketing through programs like Constant Contact can help retailers stay in touch with previous or potential customers. Retailers can capture email addresses through a website, an app or in-store communication to build a client list, and then set triggers to send new customers a welcome note or customers who have recently made a purchase a thank-you note. “The real low hanging fruit for this industry is after-sale service,” Dion says. “Your next customer is most often your past customer.” He recommends using an email program to trigger follow-up emails not only immediately, but also a few months after each sale. 

Some tools are more complex, and targeted to consumers who are in the market. “There are tools that allow you to find people who are looking for flooring but never clicked on your link, and push ads to them,” Flynn says. “Whether they’re on a website, Facebook or their phones, you know they’re looking for flooring based on keywords they use anywhere online. You being able to push your ads to them is huge from a standpoint of getting your message out to more people who are in the buying process.”

Whatever tools a retailer chooses to buy should be measurable. One of the perks of digital marketing over traditional is that digital marketing produces quantifiable results. Clicks can be counted; email responses can be counted; and, ultimately, sales can be counted. “The biggest opportunity right now for retailers, big and small, is measuring traffic,” says Flynn. “I spent $X getting consumers onto my site. That got me this many leads, which turned into this many sales at $X per sale. That is a big opportunity across the industry, to better measure your leads and how that converts into sales.”

Clients often ask Flynn whether or not they should try an online marketing program. He advises, “Try it out, but only if you can measure and quantify. Every business is unique, every market is unique.”


Dr. Kit Yarrow, author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind, suggests four strategies to reach the new consumer.

1. Technovation 
Yarrow says that people are drawn to technology, so she recommends providing more options for technological assistance in the store. She offers an example of incorporating an interactive technology wall into the store that allows consumers to view and learn about products. She also says, “Showcasing a product’s innovation through technology is really a way of communicating to consumers that your company is cooler, smarter, caring.”

2. The Real Deal 
The new consumer wants to know more about the companies with which they do business, especially when making large purchases. She recommends sharing more about the business with potential customers to give them “the sense of being a real, authentic, more human brand, showcasing the people who represent your brand a little more and being transparent—less about perception, more about values.”

3. Involvement 
“Every consumer can be a champion of your product. Companies need to encourage or facilitate this involvement. Facilitate ratings and reviews or champion them on your website or Facebook page and let them do the talking for you. With large purchases, it’s all about building reputation, building connection.”

4. Intensity 
“Our brains have changed because of our use of technology, so everything has to be faster and more stimulating. We get this super rich, visually exciting environment on our computer in our homes every day. You have to amp everything up in order to get that little bit of mind share.” 

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus 


Related Topics:Karastan, Coverings, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Mohawk Industries, Creating Your Space, Carpet One