Editor in chief Bill McLoughlin chats with Aaron Levine, EQ 3 vice president of information technology and digital commerce, and Catherine Colwell, Interior Define vice president of technology.
HIGH POINT — Although the customer journey can be circular at times, there are ways to use new technologies to support shoppers during the buying process, whether it’s in-store, online or a combination of both.
That’s according to the panelists in the Furniture Today webinar entitled ‘Omni-tech’: How technology is smoothing the seams between bricks and clicks.
Editor in chief Bill McLoughlin spoke with Aaron Levine, EQ 3 vice president of information technology and digital commerce, and Catherine Colwell, Interior Define vice president of technology, about the latest technologies that are helping to integrate e-commerce and in-store selling strategies to provide consumers with a seamless path to purchase.
Both Colwell and Levine said their companies initially had to pivot due to the pandemic but over time they were able to learn a great deal about how customers shop from home.
“During the time that our stores were closed, we added virtual design specialists who worked remotely with customers using a variety of technologies to help them provide shoppers with the confidence to make a purchasing decision,” said Colwell with ID. “When the stores reopened, we kept those specialists in place and the program will likely continue.”
Levine from EQ3 said that another challenge is that we are living in a post Amazon world where customers have their shipping and other expectations set by the e-commerce giant.
“Three years ago, we made the decision to start building e-comm and digital into the mix,” Levine said. “Then, during the pandemic we made it possible for online customers to connect directly to a retail associate in a nearby store who could then use visualization technology to help the customer remotely.”
Visualization technology is a becoming a necessity for digital shoppers, according to these experts.
“How good the product looks on the website makes a big difference,” Levine said. “We noticed that consumer behavior changed and the amount of time they spent iterating or configuring products grew.
We then implemented augmented reality and added that to the visualization technology, which made an even bigger difference since customers could then put the product in their own space.”
As a digitally native company, ID started with visualization technology but also paired it with the ability to send 10 free swatches to the customer to give them a sense of the color and feel of the fabric.
“Swatches connect the physical and digital realms,” Colwell said. “We also help customers visualize scale and how the piece fits in their space along with the other pieces they have. We create a floorplan that is impactful from a conversation perspective since there are so many elements that go into making the decision to purchase a sofa.”
After doing some research, EQ3 made the decision to custom build its e-commerce platform since the retailer is based in Canada and needed the ability to have multiple currencies and several languages on the site.
“We decided not to use a ready-made platform, and there’s a real advantage to the approach that we took,” Levine said. “We have algorithmic decision making, and we are able to have integrations with other tech partners so we can either work on the same level or flex and do something that’s more unique.”
Levine said one of the advantages to the custom built site is using machine learning to be able to get in front of customers who are in the investigation and discovery phase.
ID decided to leave space for experimentation when it came to reaching consumers in the initial buying phase.
“We ran our first TV commercial this year on HGTV, and sent out mailers, we also brought a lot of that creative development in house,” Colwell said. “We are doing all of our own ad buying which allows us to be more reactive to what’s going on in the market.”
Looking ahead, both experts say they are anticipating advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve personalization and site customization. “This will help with customers being the same person both in store and online,” said Levine.
Colwell also sees increased use of text messaging to conduct commerce. “We are starting to see where the entire experience is over text,” she said. “And we aren’t to the point where you can buy your sofa using voice but we do see voice becoming more important in the way we interact with technology and especially as we move away from screens.”