Working WITH the web: getting people to shift from online to in line

By Sarah Stowe | 06 Nov 2015 View comments

Online isn't the enemy of bricks and mortar retailing.

Whenever a business owner is asked about the retail landscape today, a few roadblocks to profit can sometimes pop up: the GFC, the Australian dollar, the cautious consumer. And of course, the dreaded rise of online — stealing customers from shopping centres and tempting them with cheaper products shipped in from overseas; cheapening the value of real customer service, it is said. But what of the benefits that online can do for your business? The beauty of being part of a franchise system is that you often have access to a head office team who will manage your online presence and ensure you’re making the most of this valuable marketing tool.

The home and garden industries in particular can often rest assured that people will come in-store, because the products within these markets are the kind that need to be seen, touched or tested.

 

Connecting with the consumer

Carpet franchise, Carpet Court, is in the process of relaunching its website to include a broader range of product information, giving the consumer everything they need to know before making their purchase in-store.

 

“I think a lot of people who are time poor are starting their purchasing journey at the online site, and there they get the initial information that they need to progress,” says Carpet Court chief executive, Andrew Brand. “I think our work on the website is making it much more friendly in terms of consumer engagement, and I think it’ll actually allow us to progress the consumer down the chain and into our store.”

Brand says the internet is simply another marketing and advertising opportunity for the franchise, and it’s one that retailers really do need to be a part of, especially considering today’s time poor, information hungry consumer.

“If we engage the consumer on the internet we are then creating a link so they can actually ask for a quotation or ask a question and we send them, by postcode, to the appropriate store, so it’s very important to us in the lead generation phase. The consumer then goes into the store and the store asks questions, creating the relationship with the consumer. It’s just another lead in for us,” he says.

Unlike other, more temporary or intermittent forms of advertising, an online presence is constant and can be accessed by the consumer when and where they like. Brand says the benefit for franchisees is obvious — it all comes down to exposure.

“We’re everywhere at once. The penetration into the consumer base is huge. If we adopt any of the other types of advertisements that are available — pay TV, free to air, catalogues, or any of those other vehicles — they tend to be specific markets, whereas we’re in the cloud, we’re out there, so it doesn’t matter what time the consumer wants to engage. We’re always in that space.”

 

Tried and tested

If there’s one purchase you don’t want to gamble with, it’s a bed. Customer service and staff expertise are essential when looking for a good night’s rest.

 

Gavin Culmsee, BedShed’s chief operating officer, recognises that this gives the bedding franchise some immunity to the threat of online retailing. However, that doesn’t mean BedShed can dismiss the online space entirely. It needs to capitalise on it and use it to expand its customer base, he says.

“We’ve just relaunched our website and we’ve probably seen about a 60 percent increase in traffic to it and more click-throughs as well as a lot more time spent on there, so we’re starting to see a real trend towards more research being done on the web.

“Our current strategy is about continuing to educate consumers via our website and making sure people know what’s going on, but driving them to our stores to get the right expert attention and the understanding they need to get the right bed,” Culmsee explains.

“You might spend $2,000 or $3,000 on a mattress for your master bedroom and you might have problems with your back or shoulder pain or something like that, so you want to talk to an expert.”

Culmsee says BedShed franchisees don’t need to worry about managing their digital presence. That’s the beauty of being in a franchise system and paying a franchise fee – you’re entitled to that kind of support by head office. Even if BedShed starts to retail online, franchisees will still benefit.

“We have an agreement with our franchisees that they won’t be disadvantaged by any activity we do on the web, so if we start retailing on the web then our franchisees will share in whatever success that brings. That’s our agreement and our commitment with them,” he says.

Like BedShed, King of Knives is working to disprove the idea that online retailing is a threat to bricks and mortar stores, by giving franchisees a cut of each online sale.

Customer service is a big focus at King of Knives.

“We have addressed this problem with our franchisees. What we offer them, I think, is terrific. It is more than most [franchises] will offer their franchisees. Basically we give them the sale. If you own one of our stores and if the product purchased comes from your postal code, then that sale goes to you. The selling price, less the GST, less the cost of goods and five percent handling, goes to the store. They’ve done no work for it and in addition there’s no royalty or advertising paid on that sale,” said Ron Baskin, CEO.

King of Knives’ online presence includes a website from which they retail and an email database that receives alerts on special offers and promotions.

“The purpose of [being online] is to sell products,” Baskin says. “It also directs a lot of business in-store. We’ve done tests running online specials where you can pick up in-store, and it’s very heavily weighted to people going in-store, seeing the product, trying it on our demonstration table and buying it in-store rather than online.”

 

The basics still count

Once a customer is driven in-store from the website, it all comes down to good old fashioned customer service, Baskin says. When online, customers want lots of information easily and quickly, but when they come in-store they still want lots of information, but it needs to be delivered with a smile and a sense of professionalism.

 

“We’re in the advice business. Our products require a certain amount of advice, we sell quality products and the people coming in are seeking expertise,” he says. “In-store, most of our customers come in for the high level of service that we offer in terms of information and product knowledge. You don’t get that online. So the service level in-store is a very important component of our business. Online it’s not. They may look up products, but the ability to ask questions doesn’t exist.”

Independent retail network Home Timber & Hardware specialises in a variety of products and services including hand and power tools; paints; garden equipment and advice; outdoor furniture; timber and building products as well as information and advice on DIY projects.

Home Timber & Hardware's loyalty program has an online component too.

With more than 220 stores in the group and plans for more, Home Timber & Hardware uses a loyalty program to drive customers in-store and keep them coming back.

“Our Home Team consumer loyalty program also has an effective online component,” says Andrew Senyard, national marketing manager. “We send regular email newsletters to loyalty members highlighting exclusive deals and discounts. Home stores also have the ability to use the email broadcast templates and send tailor-made emails to their own members database. This can be used to celebrate the anniversary the customer joined the Home Team with a special discount, or to communicate with loyalty customers in-line with a store event.”

While Home Timber & Hardware customers inevitably end up in-store, the company has put a wide range of information and ‘how to’ guides online to prepare them for their purchase and/or their DIY project. This includes digital copies of the group’s renowned ‘dogalogues’ — catalogues featuring Home Timber’s two canine mascots.

Having the dogalogues online isn’t an indication that the days of hard copy catalogues, have passed, it’s just more exposure for the company, Senyard says. “Consumer research tell us the Home dogalogues are the most liked in the hardware category … Our dogalogues are all about providing consumers with the right product offers at the right time of year, at the right price.

“They are a great way to build awareness of the Home brand at a local level, but more importantly they are a great way to generate in-store traffic for our store owners. Catalogues will continue to be a key part of our marketing mix for a long time to come,” he says.

Embracing online and its ability to boost sales in-store, combined with exceptional customer service and experienced staff is what home and garden retailers like Home Timber & Hardware are doing to ensure their stores remain profitable.

“Our store owners are great at delivering proper service, proper advice, local knowledge and the right range of products at store level,” says Senyard. “They know this is what sets them apart, and that staying relevant is dependent on continuing to deliver all of these things”.