Put yourself in your customers’ ‘booth’

As featured in Furniture Today – A retired restaurant manager taught me to put myself in the customer’s “booth.” A restaurant is often a bustling place, with dim lighting and high expectations of cleanliness. Employees scurry about noticing things that the customer rarely sees. A restaurant server is likely to notice the tops of the light fixtures, the backs of the booths and, unfortunately for some of us, an occasional thinning crown of hair. But these are things we, as customers, rarely see. We notice the underside of the light fixture, the startling feel of something gooey under the table’s edge and an unsettling wobbliness of a chair. To gain the customer’s perspective, this restaurant manager would sit in every chair, booth and stool. This exercise gave him a sense of what the customer noticed to make sure their experience matched his expectation.
Restaurants have an advantage over furniture store websites because the customers have already made a significant effort to get to the restaurant by the time they notice the problems, and they aren’t likely to leave unless the offenses are egregious. But your website can be abandoned in seconds in favor of another, if your menu is sticky and gross. When was the last time you “sat in the booths” of your website?

Finding the perfect piece
Go through the process of searching your website for something specific. Sure, some customers land on your website early in their decision-making process when they may be just looking for inspiration. But many are there on a specific mission — to find a caramel color leather sectional with two recliners, power headrests, a chaise on the left and cup holders.

Search for some exact pieces on your site and note how easy, or difficult, they are to find. Ask yourself if the process of locating a precise item will lead to delight or frustration, then exert the same level of effort to make it as easy to find online as you would in your showroom. The process will be different, of course, but the attention you give to the project should be the same. Remember, your website is most customers’ first impression of your store and can often lead to their decision to come see you in person, or not. Compare this to the equivalent of a disorganized menu that has too many choices. How often do you get frustrated and close the menu feeling overwhelmed?

To price or not to price
You’re a buyer as well as a seller, and odds are, you’ve done some shopping online as well as some pre-shopping online that led to you visiting a store. Many furniture retailers are reluctant to display prices on their website for a plethora of reasons. Perhaps their products are custom-made and the available configurations and options make it difficult to provide an accurate price online. Or maybe prices are hidden for competitive reasons.
Regardless of why prices aren’t shown, consider the reaction this may cause from the customer. When shopping for a new TV or pair of shoes online, are you more likely to visit the store that shows a few models, only a little detail about each, and a promise that “we have a huge selection and the best prices in town?” Or would you be inclined to go to the store that showed all the available models, with the features and benefits listed along with the price?

Now imagine you’re located in between those two stores and have to choose a direction of travel. Your time is scarce, and your customer is no different. They’re making these choices every day; make sure you’re giving them enough reasons to choose your store. Just like how the server-recited “Daily Specials” sound so delicious, but ordering feels like a bit of a gamble because many won’t ask, “how much is the bacon-wrapped Wagyu filet.”

Getting answers to questions
Now, suppose you have a question and how you’d go about finding the answer. Are common things one might want to know simple to find? Product dimensions, in-stock status, delivery fees and return policy are each things a customer might be curious about that you can address within the pages of your site. But customers may have questions you never thought of. In which case, they want a quick way to get an answer. You wouldn’t expect your customer to wait a day, or more, to get a response to a question inside your store; which is precisely why stores are staffed with salespeople.

Consider “staffing” your website the same way during business hours to provide customers the answers they’re looking for. There are online chat widgets that can easily be added to most websites, allowing your customers to initiate an instant chat to get their questions answered. Don’t risk them leaving your website to look for answers on your competitor’s site. “Excuse me, garcon… Umm, garcon?! GARCON?! May I have a spoon for this soup, PLEASE?”

Checkout time
Whether you offer online checkout or your customers come into the store to buy, go through the exercise yourself. Experience how it feels for the customer to make their purchase. Pay attention to parts of the process that could create uncertainty or, worse, obstruction of completing the order. This applies to your in-store checkout procedure as well since that’s ultimately how most customers will consummate their purchase. Make sure your checkout routine is quick, easy, friendly, simple to understand, accurate, thorough and without irritations. We’ve all felt the anxiety of hurrying to get to a movie while the server was nowhere to be seen with our check.

Your website is no longer just a place for shoppers to get information about your store; they expect to actually shop on your site. They don’t necessarily expect to buy on your site, as 83% still make their purchase in store. But with more than 74% starting their furniture purchase journey online, your website deserves as much attention as you give your showroom or more. Without a functional, informative and helpful website, potential customers may never make it into your building.

Make sure your website is a delightful place for your guests, and maybe they’ll stick around for dessert.

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