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Enabling Omnichannel Commerce: The Next Big Thing in Furniture Retail

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 by

As I read the buzz these days about other companies in our space like Wayfair and One King’s Lane and about e-commerce and the future of retail, it’s clear to me how “hot” the home furnishings industry has suddenly become for e-commerce. While I’ve long believed in the opportunity to bring furniture online in a meaningful way, other retailers (and wise investors) are finally catching on, and shoppers, naturally, are following suit.  A recent visit to an investor conference in San Francisco validated much of this thinking – unlocking furniture online is the next big (billion dollar) opportunity in retail.  

Is it just enough for retailers to simply offer furniture for sale online like any other industry using a similar e-commerce model? For us, we’d say that selling furniture online requires a different model – and ours is one that enables omnichannel commerce for this $78B furniture industry and seizes its full potential. Have we piqued your interest yet? Read on to learn more.


Enabling Furniture E-Commerce

Blueport does not aim to disrupt the furniture industry by displacing brick-and-mortar stores with e-commerce, but rather to enable furniture retailers to expand their reach and multiply sales through omnichannel commerce. We’re modernizing furniture retail in an age where next-day delivery for online purchases is the norm and pre-schoolers are operating smartphones before learning to read.

What does this mean for furniture, exactly? For furniture, local stores and local delivery still matter. People still need to touch and feel furniture with great customer service and product expertise. And when it comes to delivery, they want it fast, and they want it to be easy to ship and return. And, when I say ‘furniture’ I mean fully assembled, hard-to-ship furniture, which is fundamentally more difficult to sell online. Unlike other categories, this overall experience won’t and can’t be entirely replaced with technology and UPS.[1] Furniture retail works best when stores work in harmony with desktop, tablet and mobile devices. Omnichannel commerce through Blueport’s cutting edge technology and services achieves that experience for our furniture retail clients in ways that have never been done before.

Capturing the Omnichannel Opportunity for Furniture

Currently, only 4% of the $78B market[2] is online. This makes furniture one of the largest untapped retail opportunities left online. Blueport’s technology is transforming furniture retail – for the 4% of sofas that sell online, and the 96% that don’t,[3] and the demand for our expertise continues to grow. Currently, our two omnichannel technologies – Store-Sync and augmented reality, enable a truly omnichannel experience by leveraging mobile technologies to bridge the gap between in-store and in-home shopping.

Solving For Furniture Retail in the Absence of Brick-And-Mortar

What about pure-play/online-only furniture retailers? Our online-only retail site, Furniture.com, acquires new customers and delivers in days. And where we don’t have the luxury of omnichannel with stores, we solve for shoppers’ needs with local inventory, local delivery and the use of technologies like augmented reality to bring the furniture shopping experience into the home. On Furniture.com, we aim to leverage massive retail brands to deliver a transformative online furniture experience, even in the absence of brick-and-mortar.

Overall, as we look at where our business is today and where it’s headed, our mission is simple – to unlock furniture online and show the world that this next big thing has been our “thing” all along.


[1] Goldman Sachs
[2] Forrester Research
[3] Forrester Research


About Blueport Commerce
Blueport Commerce is the omnichannel solution for the $78B furniture industry. We marry retailers' bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology and unique marketing and sales solutions to create modern, efficient, easy shopping experiences. $6.3B in furniture retailers choose Blueport. For some retailers, Blueport's SaaS omnichannel platform powers their branded websites, driving sales online and in their stores. For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many retailers, we do both. Our technology is transforming furniture retail, for the 4% of sofas that sell online and the 96% that don't. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our available jobs on our careers page.

Role Reversal: Why Pure-Play Retailers are turning to Brick and Mortar to Engage Consumers

Tuesday, April 8, 2014 by

Piperlime, Birchbox, Warby Parker…What do all these pure-play retailers have in common? They are investing in brick-and-mortar stores.

Not too long ago, showrooming, the act of browsing in-store before purchasing online, was seen as a retailer’s worst nightmare. So much so that one brick-and-mortar retailer tried to charge customers for looking without the intent of making a purchase. But now online-only retailers are realizing the advantages of having a store presence. Blueport breaks down how brick-and-mortar stores have evolved to suit e-commerce and tips on how furniture retailers can stay ahead. 

Pure-Play Retailers Hop on the Brick-And-Mortar Bandwagon

Birchbox is the latest pure-play retailer to hop on the brick-and-mortar bandwagon. But instead of just adding another outlet to sell products, they are utilizing their store to engage shoppers and build a lasting relationship with them. The store will also utilize technology to create an engaging and memorable experience, such as allowing shoppers to look up product descriptions and reviews on iPads.    

So why are some retailers turning back to brick-and-mortar stores? Recent studies show an increase in webrooming, or the act of browsing online before purchasing in-store:

  • 78% of US shoppers engage in webrooming, compared with 72% who admitted to showrooming
  • Consumers increasingly expect consistency online and in-store when it comes to products available (51%), pricing (69%) as well as deals and special offers (57%)
  • 71% of consumers expect to view in-store inventory online

Whatever path shoppers take to make a purchase, it is clear that a combination of online and in-store shopping increases consideration and most likely conversion.

Omnichannel is Not Just About Stores and E-Commerce

While having a brick-and-mortar presence and an e-commerce website is a start, it doesn’t mean your business is omnichannel. Here are a few tips to help you get on the omnichannel track:

  1. Treat your stores as fulfillment centers. Location is key to speedy delivery and likely your stores are located in densely populated areas. Make your stores work harder for you by housing enough inventory in-store to make faster deliveries to your shoppers whether they purchase in-store or online. Allow the option of in-store pick-up and cross-store shipment and you’re golden.
  2. Give your shopper the ultimate in-store experience through customer service. Having a positive experience in-store will make shoppers more likely to visit you again on their digital devices, even after they shop around or don’t make a purchase with you right away.
  3. Sync up your delivery times, pricing and promotions everywhere. Shoppers have come to expect consistency in their desktop, tablet, mobile and in-store experiences. Make it easy for them to shop anywhere, on any device – the ability to do this is the true linchpin of what it means to be omnichannel.

In furniture, we know that stores still matter – they will never be replaced by technology and UPS because shoppers still like the store experience and to touch and feel before they buy. However, they also demand the convenience of shopping anywhere at any time. This is precisely why furniture incumbents are fortunate to have the infrastructure in place to enable a modern and engaging furniture shopping experience. By embracing both showrooming and webrooming, you’ll be well on your way to being at the forefront of furniture commerce.


About Blueport Commerce
Blueport Commerce is the omnichannel solution for the $78B furniture industry. We marry retailers' bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology and unique marketing and sales solutions to create modern, efficient, easy shopping experiences. $6.3B in furniture retailers choose Blueport. For some retailers, Blueport's SaaS omnichannel platform powers their branded websites, driving sales online and in their stores. For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many retailers, we do both. Our technology is transforming furniture retail, for the 4% of sofas that sell online and the 96% that don't. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our available jobs on our careers page.

Blueport Picks Three Highlights From eTail West 2014: Conversion, Customers and Content

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 by

Each year, eTail West brings together senior-level e-commerce and marketing professionals from various industries (apparel, consumer electronics, home furnishings and office products to name a few) to network, share best practices and showcase leading technologies. This year, eTail West focused on the overall theme of multi-channel/omnichannel and what it means for retailers. Couldn’t attend this year's conference in San Antonio? No problem. Blueport highlights our top three important takeaways for furniture retailers: conversion, customers, and content. Read on to learn more.

Highlight #3: Mobile And Email Can Live In Conversion Harmony

When it comes to offering an omnichannel strategy, email conversion on mobile devices proves to be a whole different animal. Consider how today’s consumers are constantly checking, scanning, and (maybe) reading a barrage of emails on their mobile. What will actually get them to click and ultimately buy? During the Email Summit of eTail West, Alaa Hassan, VP of iNetVideo, shared these tips on how to improve your email marketing to increase mobile conversion:

  • Analytics: Target your emails based on data surrounding customer behavior
  • Design: Your website must be mobile responsive, engaging and simple
  • Content: Test and repeat subject lines as much as possible and combine promotional with value-added content
  • Email lists: Your conversion rates can only be as good as the quality of email lists you use
  • Landing pages: Any landing page you drive to, even in email, must also be responsive to mobile

Our takeaway?

Shopping for furniture on a mobile device requires an even more superior experience to encourage conversion for product that is often larger, more expensive and requires more consideration than the average online purchase. This is exactly why Hassan’s tips are especially important for furniture retailers to note. Additionally, Blueport recommends linking to or offering free downloads of interactive apps within emails to encourage further mobile engagement and conversion. See how Blueport’s furniture e-commerce site, Furniture.com, makes use of an augmented reality app allowing shoppers to “view” how furniture will look in their home through a mobile device. Try out augmented reality through our Furniture.com app available on iTunes and Google Play.

Highlight #2: Serving Customers Everywhere Is The Key To Creating A Raving Fan Base

Kicking off day one of eTail West, keynote speaker Brad Wolanksy, CMO of the Yankee Candle Company, shared “16 keys to creating ‘raving’ and long-lasting fans”. Here are our favorites:

  • Raise the bar on customer service reps: Always hire someone better than the person they replaced
  • Paralysis by analysis: There are too many data points for you to be analyzing all of them. Identify the ones that are the most important to monitor.
  • Everyone has a role in customer service: Challenge the entire company to think like a consumer
  • Invest in the right tools: Like live chat or social monitoring

Notice a trend?  Serving customers is key to creating raving (profitable!) fans.

Our takeaway? 

For furniture retailers, every touch point matters – you never know when a customer might need another sofa or refer you to a friend. Making sure high-quality service is consistent and maintained over time, anywhere your customers are (whether in store, online, or on the phone) is critical. This goes for all activities among your store associates to your website to your social channels.

Highlight #1: No One Will Read Your Content If It Sucks

No business wants to hear what they are doing wrong but according to speaker Jonathon Colman, Content Strategist at Facebook, there are six main things every business should know when it comes to dealing with content. The pitfalls:

  1. Seeing content as just another commodity instead of a business asset
  2. Publishing as much content as possible versus valuable content your customer’s want
  3. Not scheduling or editing content before it is published instead of planning when, where and how it’s going to be published throughout the year
  4. Releasing content that is useless and inconsistent versus focusing on content that is clear and complete
  5. Designing with placeholder copy first, instead of designing with the real content in mind
  6. Allowing your platforms to define how content works versus content shaping your platform

Our takeaway?

For furniture retailers, the omnichannel opportunity can be further propelled by content. Content and promotion strategies that previously worked well in stores may not translate directly to an omnichannel strategy that incorporates the intricacies of online and mobile. Listening to what your customers want to hear and make content part of your overall business strategy.

Overall, we can’t help but be excited by the omnichannel trends occurring across the retail industry, and look forward to more widespread adoption of strategies and solutions that enable mobile conversion, consumer-centric service, and effective content. In the meantime, we’ll be working closely with our own furniture retail clients to help them take advantage of the $78 billion omnichannel opportunity in the marketplace.

About Blueport Commerce

Blueport Commerce is the omnichannel solution for the $78B furniture industry. We marry retailers' bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology and unique marketing and sales solutions to create modern, efficient, easy shopping experiences. $6.3B in furniture retailers choose Blueport. For some retailers, Blueport's SaaS omnichannel platform powers their branded websites, driving sales online and in their stores. For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many retailers, we do both. Our technology is transforming furniture retail, for the 4% of sofas that sell online and the 96% that don't. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our available jobs on our careers page.

Lights, Camera, Action! - Why Video Marketing Should Be a Top Priority for Furniture Retailers

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 by

If you are a furniture retailer, you know how important style and quality is to your consumer (in addition to price of course!) Highlighting style, quality and workmanship in your online catalog is important in gaining consumer trust in your products ensuring their peace of mind while avoiding surprises when your product arrives at their door. Unfortunately in today’s busy world, consumer attention span continues to decrease and using verbose text to describe a product is no longer a viable solution for retailers. Video has become a popular trend among marketers and online retailers to showcase products and services in an engaging way. 76% of marketers are making video a top priority. The team at Blueport has looked into the numbers and shares four tips to help you get started.

                        
The Data Behind Video

Why are marketers making video a top priority? Let us break down the numbers:

  • About 87% of the U.S. Internet audience viewed online videos in 2013
  • On average, consumers who watch product videos on a retail site are 64%-85% more likely to purchase than other visitors and are more likely to stay on the site longer 
  • 52% of consumers who watch product videos say videos make them more confident about purchasing a product online
  • Videos of products increased sales for Zappos by between 6% and 30% back in 2010 according to Econsultancy

The numbers clearly show that video sells. And if you’re a furniture retailer, you should probably start thinking about how to incorporate video into your online strategy (if you haven’t already). Here are four tips to help you get started.

Tip #4: Videos Should Be Simple, Short And Sweet

Remember when we said consumers have a short attention span? Well that attention span doesn’t just apply to reading text. The general rule of thumb is to not share a video that is over a few minutes as consumers are most engaged in the first 1-2 minutes. Therefore, the shorter the video the better. Start with outlining the objective of the video and make sure the content aligns with your objective. If you are showcasing a product, think about the questions a consumer would ask about it and key attributes to highlight.

Tip #3: Videos Should Appear Professionally Done

Producing videos has become extremely easy to do in-house. But if you go that route, make sure you put in the time and effort to make them appear professionally done so that you consumer is engaged, rather than distracted by production quality. It is important to make sure you have the right equipment for sound, lighting and location. A poorly produced video can impact not only a customer’s decision to buy, but also their perceptions of your brand.  It might be better to outsource video production until you have the necessary resources on hand to take over that responsibility.

Tip #2: Video Is Not Just for Showing off Products

Considering video as an overall part of your content marketing strategy is a great way to drive engagement and develop trust among your core group of consumers. For furniture, this is especially important given that consumers on average only shop for big-ticket items like appliances and furniture once every seven years. Videos can help bring consumers back to your website more frequently, even if the original intent is not always to buy. Consider posting educational videos in addition to product ones with this in mind. A blog or resource center, for example, are great vehicles for sharing educational videos, such as design tips.

Tip #1: Don’t Forget About Search Engine Optimization

Video tends to be SEO friendly. Google places emphasis on the amount of time people spend on your site and, when people watch videos they typically spend more time on a site compared to those who do not watch them. But there is still some work that needs to be done to make sure Google is tracking your video content. Be sure to stay up to date on SEO tips for video, such as posting a separate video sitemap, to ensure you get the added SEO benefit of video content on your site.

Now that you are armed with some information you need to get started with video, get out there and do it. Retailers who get on the trend first are sure to have an advantage over those who lag behind. Lights, Camera, Action!


About Blueport Commerce
Blueport Commerce is the omnichannel solution for the $78B furniture industry. We marry retailers' bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology and unique marketing and sales solutions to create modern, efficient, easy shopping experiences. $6.3B in furniture retailers choose Blueport. For some retailers, Blueport's SaaS omnichannel platform powers their branded websites, driving sales online and in their stores. For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many retailers, we do both. Our technology is transforming furniture retail, for the 4% of sofas that sell online and the 96% that don't. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our available jobs on our careers page.

Five Favorite Highlights from the MITX E-Commerce Summit: Part II

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 by

In part I of our MITX E-Commerce Summit wrap up, we discussed how redefining a customer experience can be huge for online retail, the importance omni-channel plays in e-commerce and how data-driven personalization requires attention, flexibility and speed. In today’s blog post, we highlight mobile and 2014 trends we learned from leaders in e-commerce. Read on to learn more.  

Highlight #4: Mobile Enables A Clearer Path In The Customer Journey

In the panel, “The Rise of Mobile,” e-commerce executives, including Blueport’s Carl Prindle, discussed how adoption of mobile has impacted the customer journey. CVS Caremark, for example, notes customers often open their branded app while shopping in-store. For PayPal, being everywhere for everyone differs among the many different sized businesses who use PayPal, and how their consumers behave, whether it’s through mobile check-ins, logins, app usage or other methods.  

At Blueport, we use mobile for three purposes:

  1. Real-time availability in stores and online through geo-location
  2. Mobile as a marketing platform to close the consideration funnel
  3. Camera functionality to be used in a unique way, such as augmented reality

Overall, the mobile path is different based on each business and its customers – those that choose a path best suited for their customers is a step in the right direction. There’s still a lot of unknowns in mobile, so businesses shouldn't be afraid to come up with a story, try it, test it quickly and if it doesn't work, move on and try something new.

Highlight #5: 2014 Trends In E-Commerce

E-Commerce is expected to grow from $260 billion to $370 billion by 2017. Just ride the wave, right? Not exactly. VP, Principal Analyst from Forrester Sucharita Mulpuru discussed some hard truths and myths to pay attention to in 2014:

Truths:

  1. The biggest threat to e-commerce is not Amazon; it’s the Postal Service. Postal Service debt is expected to reach $15 billion in 2014, and will likely increase the cost of shipping parcels, squeezing retailers trying to offer free shipping.
  2. Peak e-commerce volume can’t be sustained through other shipping methods. During the 17 peak holidays in 2013, daily package volume was 46 million packages. The problem? Shipping hubs couldn’t keep up with the demand and there isn’t enough ROI to sustain additional hubs throughout the rest of the year.
  3. The SECOND biggest threat is Amazon. Amazon has a break even business model even with offering Prime for free two-day shipping.
  4. Every Day Low Pricing (EDLP) dies. People showroom – 35% use phones to research prices in stores and 37% plan to research more in the future. On average, prices through Amazon for products were 30% cheaper. Unsustainable, yes, but proves the value of EDLP for other retailers

Myths:

  1. Everyone's investing in mobile. Digging into the numbers, just 27% invest more than $1 million in revenue to mobile today. In spite of this, web revenue by device is 21% (13% for tables, 8% for smartphones). Consumers are still spending more than retailers are investing, so a relatively conservative approach to mobile investment is not such a bad idea.
  2. Big data is your savior. Finding valuable insights isn’t easy when there’s 280+ exabytes of data in the cloud. Use existing solutions to drive value; there’s not many new unfounded solutions out there.
  3. Bitcoin is the bomb. Bitcoin’s value is not totally clear to customers yet. It’s disruptive, but not immune to competition. It is a form of anonymous payment, but customers have concerns about security.

While we could go on forever, we could only share our five favorite highlights from the summit from part I and part II. Videos from the whole event are expected to be posted on the MITX YouTube channel soon. 


About Blueport Commerce

Leading furniture companies work with Blueport Commerce to capture the billion dollar furniture e-commerce opportunity.  We marry our clients’ bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology, and customized marketing services. For some retailers, the Blueport e-commerce platform powers their branded omni-channel websites, driving sales online and in their stores.  For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many, we do both. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

 

Making Omnichannel Shopping for Furniture a Reality

Saturday, December 28, 2013 by

It’s been a record breaking holiday shopping season so far. E-commerce came out on top with mobile shopping reaching new heights. But probably the most touted buzzword for the 2013 Holiday shopping season, omnichannel, has retailers racing to create a consistent experience across all shopping channels. And they should—omnichannel shoppers are more likely to spend compared to those shopping through one channel. Not to mention, 84% of shoppers note that the most important aspect of an omnichannel strategy is a consistent customer experience across all channels. In the realm of furniture where omnichannel consistency is more important than ever, Blueport has a groundbreaking solution.

Quite simply, for most furniture shoppers, stores still play a critical role in the shopping process. Computers, tablets and smartphones are often used to research, find deals and even make a purchase. Introducing Store-Sync, part of Blueport’s comprehensive online furniture platform, where omnichannel is not just a buzzword but a reality in the furniture shopping experience. Store-Sync is a revolutionary new technology for retail, which, for the first time, champions the role that in-store shopping provides and bridges online convenience automatically. This in turn, drives both in-store and online traffic.

Store-Sync is the easiest way to shop for furniture ever, marrying local stores and sales staff with the online convenience today’s busy shoppers expect.

Watch the latest video on Store-Sync to learn what all the buzz is about. 

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

About Blueport Commerce

Leading furniture companies work with Blueport Commerce to capture the billion dollar furniture e-commerce opportunity.  We marry our clients’ bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology, and customized marketing services. For some retailers, the Blueport e-commerce platform powers their branded omni-channel websites, driving sales online and in their stores.  For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many, we do both. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

There’s Something In The Water At Furniture.com

Saturday, November 30, 2013 by

There’s a saying in Brooklyn, New York that Brooklyn bagels are the best because of their water. Well there is definitely something in the water here at Blueport Commerce. No, we don’t have better bagels. But we do have a vision for the future of Furniture e-commerce.  

Blueport Commerce has recently re-branded our in-house brand, Furniture.com. You may be thinking to yourself, “this is fantastic!” or, “hm, I didn’t even notice” or your feelings are somewhere in between. For us, it is a monumental step to greater things - A gateway to better serve our customers and how we will ratchet up the opportunity for selling furniture online in a big way. Intrigued yet? Here’s why you should be:

Tapping Into The Potential Of A Category-Killer URL

For years we’ve recognized the potential Furniture.com has as a domain and have invested a lot of time and effort in realizing that potential. The Furniture.com re-branding effort is only the beginning of the road to success, coming on the cusp of what is sure to be a promising season for e-commerce. We hope our new brand helps customers say to themselves “This is a place where I want to shop.”  Our customer is and will always be our focus, and it’s up to us to deliver on the promise of providing an exemplary experience for buying furniture online, unlike any retailer now and in the future.

Creating A Brand That Serves Our Customers Even Better

Now that we have a new brand to stand behind, we’re focusing our efforts on the entire site experience for our customers – this may mean simple changes to our checkout process to implementing new tools like augmented reality or completely reinventing the experience of shopping for furniture online. We want our customers to not only consider shopping with us, but love going to our website and buying the great products we sell.

(Really) Seizing The Opportunity To Sell Furniture Online

For large furniture retailers, Blueport Commerce offers something unique. We not only provide a full e-commerce solution, but also own and operate Furniture.com to give furniture retailers an opportunity to drive incremental sales online. We bring our experience and technology unique to furniture to create a targeted customer experience online. Our ability to tie-in our platform with even the oldest inventory systems allows for a seamless integration and an omnichannel customer experience. Retailers, in turn, bring their assets to bear in fulfillment. And, for our clients with branded sites on our platform, the stores are an integral part of doing business online. We love show-rooming for that reason. 

While our new brand is a monumental step, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what selling furniture online can offer. But the combination of our recent efforts and efforts over time will make the difference, so keep a close eye on us. With a little blood, sweat, tears, a solid model, and of course the water, you can be sure we will seize the billion dollar opportunity furniture e-commerce presents.


 

About Blueport Commerce

Leading furniture companies work with Blueport Commerce to capture the billion dollar furniture e-commerce opportunity.  We marry our clients’ bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology, and customized marketing services. For some retailers, the Blueport e-commerce platform powers their branded omni-channel websites, driving sales online and in their stores.  For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many, we do both. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

Five Tips for a Successful Online Peak Season

Saturday, November 2, 2013 by

The peak season for all retailers is coming upon us rapidly. And with the shortened holiday season this year, it is even more important to have an innovative and aggressive promotion plan set in place to capitalize on peak season e-commerce sales, which by the way are expected to jump 15 percent from last year. While it’s important to be aggressive in your plans, Blueport Commerce has seen several retailers make common mistakes in their execution online. Here are five key tips furniture retailers can follow to ensure a successful holiday online strategy and maximize ROI this peak season.

  1. Have a plan put in place. If you don’t have a digital plan by now, you’re behind. These next few months are expected to account for 20-40 percent of annual retail sales. Preparation is key.
     
  2. Stay aligned with your brand strategy. In order to stay ahead of the game and with the dynamic retail landscape this holiday season, retailers are anxious to try out new promotional campaigns and strategies. While innovation is a good thing, make sure each of your promotional campaigns are aligned with your brand strategy for 2014 and promotes the types of furniture products your shoppers want to buy. Don’t alienate your core group of consumers by veering too far off from your brand.
     
  3. Don’t try to fit too much into peak season. With the rise of mobile traffic and omni-channel shopping, especially in furniture, you should try new things. However, make sure you don’t overhaul your strategy with all new promotions that have not been tested. A completely new plan can have a negative impact on sales. Instead, weave in a few ‘test’ campaigns with traditional strategies that have proven successful in the past.
     
  4. Email is your best advocate. Email campaigns should be as much priority as your other promotions. Optimizing emails for mobile this season is key to ensuring continued consumer awareness of your promotions. Nearly 54% of smartphone users and 63% of tablet users will use a mobile device to check store hours, compare prices and buy items this holiday season.  
     
  5. Don’t forget about January and February. Furniture retailers often see sales peak around January and February in addition to the holidays. Plan for those peak times accordingly in your holiday strategy.
Let Blueport Commerce Help 
 
Transitioning your marketing strategy from in-store to online can be a daunting task. With Blueport Commerce solutions, you are able to align your furniture e-commerce site with your in-store events and promotions. Plus, our full service team is poised to help you with your online promotion strategy, website content, pay-per-click, search engine optimization, and email marketing for your furniture business. Our expertise in the furniture industry ensures you start at the top of the online marketing learning curve, maximizing your ROI this holiday season.
 

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

Data Analytics: Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital World

Saturday, August 10, 2013 by

 

News from MITX: How Care.com and Constant Contact Are Making It Work with Analytics

 

Last week, Blueport Commerce attended the MITX Summit The Science of Marketing: Using Data & Analytics for Winning. While there, we received some great insight on how to manage our data and analytics better. Here are some of the issues and solutions shared in a session by speakers from Care.com and Constant Contact, many of which are applicable to what furniture retailers can do to tackle analytics.

 

Challenges with Implementing Analytics

In the session Leveraging Data and Analytics for Your Marketing Strategy, Dave Krupinski, Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer from Care.com and Jesse Harriott, Ph.D., Chief Analytics Officer of Constant Contact and author of Win with Advanced Business Analytics, discussed the opportunities companies have with analytics and the challenges they face. Krupinski reported from Gartner that 70-80% of business intelligence projects are not successful. He believes that these challenges are organizational, specifically around:

  1. Weak executive sponsorship
  2. Failure to align analytics priorities with corporate priorities
  3. Analysts need to balance a combination of science and business – the best are those with consulting backgrounds
  4. Weak alignment from the technology support function
  5. Lack of formal data governance
  6. Weak alignment with existing analytical resources

Six challenges can seem like a mountain of issues to overcome before an analytics function can run like a well-oiled machine. However, to ignore them doesn’t achieve the full potential that insight and wisdom around analytics can bring.

Five Stages of Analytical Companies

In addition to recognizing and overcoming the above challenges, companies need to identify and understand where they sit among the following five analytical growth stages:

  1. Analytically Impaired
  2. Localized Analytics
  3. Analytical Aspirations – centralized analytic support
  4. Analytical Company – executive sponsorship
  5. Analytical Competitor – where everything is clockwork, you have full alignment and are using analytics to drive real value for the business

Krupinksi self-admittedly noted that Care.com was only in stage three, “Analytical Aspirations” and had a lot more work to do in the space of analytics, so the company hasn’t figured it all out just yet.

Where to Start? Key Best Practices

When it comes to analytics, Harriott shared five key tenants to avoid just reporting on data, and champion the insights gleaned from it in the following ways:

  1. Establish Meaning
  2. Develop Context
  3. Be Predictive
  4. Create a Bias Toward Action (generate revenue, save costs)
  5. Enable Communication

For furniture retailers, e-commerce analytics can seem daunting, but like most businesses there’s always a starting point. For furniture retailers looking to tackle analytics and take advantage of all the available data out there, they can start in the following ways:

  1. Recognize any operational challenges impeding analytical growth
  2. Understand what analytical stage the company is in
  3. Take steps to correct challenges
  4. Use the data that’s appropriate once it’s available to create meaning, context and action

There was so much covered in the MITX Summit The Science of Marketing: Using Data & Analytics for Winning we couldn’t imagine scratching the surface in this blog post. However, MITX will be posting videos on its YouTube channel soon. In the meantime, we’re going to get back to improving our own analytics…

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

 

About Blueport Commerce

With Blueport Commerce, furniture retailers can build an integrated, branded e-commerce platform online, elevating their brands and creating an ultimate online superstore. Blueport Commerce is the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes furniture retail online. We serve the top furniture retail chains with billions in sales interested in selling furniture online. Blueport Commerce is a full-service solution that combines a decade of experience, innovative technology and customized marketing services to meet the unique, localized needs of furniture retail chains. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

Achieving an Ideal Customer Experience Is Like the Stanley Cup of Retail

Saturday, July 6, 2013 by

Back in the day, retailers only had to focus on getting shoppers into their stores. Now, people are shopping online, in store, and everywhere in between. They demand (whether they know it or not) their own experience to convince them to buy retailers’ products. Retailers must innovate and optimize the customer experience in order to drive business growth. Some succeed and many others don’t quite get there. Here’s what we’ve found enables our furniture retailers to get close to the Stanley Cup of retail customer experience.

Customer Service Is the Ultimate Power Play

Customer service in the current retail age is not just about ensuring a call center is staffed 24/7 for phone inquiries. The combination of technology innovation in e-commerce and consumer behavior dictates that customer service be all about the ability for customers to call, email, chat, interact on social media and beyond, all at a moment’s notice. One slip in the supply chain of customer service can cause catastrophic results for a retailer and impact consumer brand loyalty. Social plays a large factor in customer reputation as well. It’s hard work, but the right strategies to turn a detractor to a promoter in social can make a big difference in the bottom line. UPS has their own Twitter handle, @UPShelp just to handle customer support, concerning questions on tracking numbers, delivery dates, lost packages and all things related to shipping. To avoid any privacy issues, UPS responds using the direct message feature and an email address just for Twitter users, twitter@ups.com. Furniture retailers can take advantage of the opportunities that technology and social media can provide when it comes to optimizing the customer experience.

 

A Team Approach to Outreach: The Absence of Channel

More than ever before, consumers are shopping across multiple channels: online, in store, social, and mobile. The Pew Research Center found that 46% of smartphone owners used their device to look up reviews while shopping in store. Retailers must ensure that their experience delivered to the customer is consistent and relevant. Therefore, activities and data should be integrated under one umbrella, rather than across multiple channels. Often, strategies are defined by a channel, i.e. “we need a mobile strategy” rather than a channel agnostic approach. To that end, store to online integration is a key part of this omnichannel approach, allowing shoppers to get what they need whether they are in your store or shopping online, such as pick-up centers or digital kiosks, or the ease of cart integration both online and off. We focus on the omnichannel frequently when it comes to our furniture retailers, allowing customers to shop easily online and in store.

Global Readiness

Because e-commerce has a much broader reach than any store, the potential for global sales can be realized in a matter of months.  Retailers must be prepared to do business in global markets and build their e-commerce systems to scale at a global level with simplicity and cost efficiency. This includes the areas of language, currency, tax and regional requirements like trade compliance. Furniture retailers take note: while store locations may only expand domestically, opportunities lie in the years ahead for furniture e-commerce abroad, particularly in Europe, so having a solid global readiness strategy is imperative to taking a slice of the GDP long term.

Implementing an ideal customer experience can be daunting, but with the right attention to strategy, service, and scalability, retailers can gain a competitive and financial edge. 

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

About Blueport Commerce

With Blueport Commerce, furniture retailers can build an integrated, branded e-commerce platform online, elevating their brands and creating an ultimate online superstore. Blueport Commerce is the e-commerce solution for the furniture industry. We serve the top furniture retail chains with billions in sales interested in selling furniture online. Blueport Commerce is a full-service solution that combines over a decade of experience, innovative technology and customized marketing services to meet the unique, localized needs of furniture retail chains. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

Insights from the eTail 2013 Retail Technology Spending Report

Saturday, June 15, 2013 by

In an effort to uncover technology spending habits, eTail surveyed over 100 retailers in a number of verticals in apparel, sporting goods, consumer electronics, travel and hospitality, mass market retailers and specialty retailers. Among the key trends of interest to us are what retailers plan to spend the most and least on in the next year, and what primarily influences their purchasing decisions. Furniture retailers take note: efforts in the online channel win best in show.

Retail spending over the next year

It’s not surprising that retailers surveyed in the eTail Retail Technology spending report are taking advantage of online opportunities to spend their hard earned dollars.



Here are the numbers:

  • 58% of retailers are planning to spend on online video
  • 55% on content management/e-commerce platforms
  • 40% on merchandising and visualization

In addition, 60% of respondents are planning to spend more in the next year on SEO, SEM, personalization, mobile (site design) and social engagement (earned). Areas that didn’t make the cut and that retailers will certainly spend less on were CRM systems, display advertising and media (paid advertising).

For Blueport’s furniture retailers, enabling their e-commerce platforms is top of mind for business success, but merchandising and promotions in unique ways (like with online video) go hand in hand with the effort.

Influences on Purchasing Decisions

When it comes to deciding on what areas will most benefit retailers, there are several influences in purchasing decisions. The ones that are most paramount to us are:

  • 36% of overall spending decisions are based upon a management decision
  • 12% mobile site design decisions are made based upon time to market
  • 25% mobile apps are based on competitive pressures
  • 15% of content management solutions are based on ease of execution

So what does this information mean for furniture retailers? 36% of content management/e-commerce platform and global technology decisions are also based upon a management decision. Furniture retailers who are looking to take advantage of enabling their businesses for e-commerce not only have to compete with overall spending decisions at the management level, but also the decision to enable their platforms for e-commerce. And, as we’ve discussed time and again, mobile plays a large factor in retailer success. An overwhelming majority of retailers surveyed answered that mobile would see the most growth in the next year.

No matter where retailers are planning to spend on technology in the next year, the front runners are clearly in many aspects of the online channel. And, at Blueport Commerce, we’ve got our furniture retailers covered on their e-commerce platforms, merchandising, mobile and content management needs.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

About Blueport Commerce

With Blueport Commerce, furniture retailers can build an integrated, branded e-commerce platform online, elevating their brands and creating an ultimate online superstore. Blueport Commerce is the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes furniture retail online. We serve the top furniture retail chains with billions in sales interested in selling furniture online. Blueport Commerce is a full-service solution that combines a decade of experience, innovative technology and customized marketing services to meet the unique, localized needs of furniture retail chains. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

E-Commerce Merchandising: For Furniture Retailers Image Is EVERYTHING

Saturday, June 1, 2013 by

In our two-part blog series in May (read part one here and part two here), we shared how mobile is having a true impact on our world for furniture e-commerce. Another area that is of huge importance to Blueport Commerce, even more so than other e-commerce players and retailers alike, is making sure furniture merchandise is so online-ready that shoppers can practically feel the fabric they are touching. Here, we spend countless hours trying to get our merchandise just right. In fact, it’s a critical factor to doing business with us. In short, an image for e-commerce merchandising is EVERYTHING to our business. Here are two catalog imaging guidelines Blueport Commerce follows for our retailers in order to increase conversion rates and post-purchase satisfaction.

1. Properly Color-Corrected Images Increase Conversions

It may seem par for the course online for shoppers to simply expect that when they navigate to any website, what they see is what they are going to get. However, with merchandising furniture catalogs, it must be even more exact. This is because furniture for any shopper is immensely personal and a part of the fabric of someone’s life. And when it’s not accurate, it can influence a shopper’s decision to ever purchase from you again, never mind conversion rates. According to Practical Ecommerce, image quality significantly impacts conversion.

Making sure the online channel is optimized for selling furniture effectively over the internet will aid the overall shopping experience for customers. According to Furniture Today’s consumer report, 44% of consumers have purchased home furnishings online, yet only a fraction of those home furnishings are furniture. In order to clear this hurdle, Blueport Commerce invests hours per collection, making sure that every aspect of our visuals is accurate, from the color swatches down to how the light hits a piece of fabric in a living room set.

2. Omnichannel Catalog Experiences Are Critical for Furniture Retailers

E-commerce merchandising for Blueport’s furniture retailers is also unique from other e-commerce retailers simply because it’s almost never pure play. Many shoppers view the process of buying their piece of furniture as an experience, which almost always involves going to a brick and mortar store. An even better experience is bringing the tactile benefits of a physical furniture store with the online component of convenience to create an optimal way for furniture retailers to go the e-commerce route. In fact, convenience is a major component of a shopper’s decision to buy online, according to a study conducted by Continuum.

Ensuring that images are consistent both in the online channel, as well as the offline channels of flyers, direct mailers and even storefronts is critical for furniture retail success. As we discussed earlier this year, smartphones and tablets are integral to furniture e-commerce platforms and retailers must be able to align and maintain their visual integrity.

For Blueport Commerce, image really is everything for our retailers, both online and off. And because when a consumer is buying furniture, whether digitally or in person, the experience is inherently emotional – consumers fall in love with furniture’s style first, and adjust their budgets and delivery expectations accordingly. By creating a positive and beautiful online experience through both realistic and gorgeous images, e-commerce furniture retailers are enabling more conversions and post-purchase loyalty. 

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

About Blueport Commerce

With Blueport Commerce, furniture retailers can build an integrated, branded e-commerce platform online, elevating their brands and creating an ultimate online superstore. Blueport Commerce is the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes furniture retail online. We serve the top furniture retail chains with billions in sales interested in selling furniture online. Blueport Commerce is a full-service solution that combines a decade of experience, innovative technology and customized marketing services to meet the unique, localized needs of furniture retail chains. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

Translating Hockey Success to E-Commerce: How Canadian Retailers Can Beat Their US E-Commerce Counterparts

Saturday, May 25, 2013 by

 

Canadian Furniture E-CommerceFor years, Blueport has been following the fledgling and humble beginnings of e-commerce in Canada, as well as the rise of the connected Canadian consumer, making Canada seemingly the ideal destination for an imminent e-commerce shopping explosion. Yet despite all this promise, Canadian consumers’ needs aren’t being met, and thus they are finding the products they need elsewhere: across the Canadian-US border. Currently, 68 percent of the online shoppers surveyed said they have shopped at a web store based outside Canada.

Principal Analyst Peter Sheldon of Forrester Research reports in The State of Canadian Online Retail –  2013 that one of the biggest factors hurting Canadian retailers is their seeming disconnect between physical and digital retail; the lack of a true omnichannel organization.

The report (funded in part by Canada Post and Shop.ca) is based on surveys with 1,103 Canadian online shoppers and concludes that U.S. retailers are in a strong position to steal online revenue from Canadian retailers. Part of this is that many Canadian retailers currently don’t embrace the two key drivers critical to the omnichannel: customer-centricity in all forms of fulfillment and payments.

1. Mastering Shipping, Pick Up and Returns the Canadian Way

It is a myth that Canadians require free shipping – consumers from Canada are actually more concerned with flexible pickup options than expedited shipping. Canada Post, in a model similar to Amazon Locker, allows consumers to pick up their orders in different nearby locations, such as local pharmacies or convenience stores. And 57 percent of consumers polled said they would be somewhat or very likely to abandon cart if a Canada Post nearby pickup option wasn’t available, with 48 percent saying the same about an online retailer’s physical location.

Canadian shoppers are also adamant about their need to both buy and reserve online and pickup in-stores. In fact, 47 percent of those surveyed are somewhat or very likely to abandon cart if they cannot buy online and pickup in store, and 40 percent said the same about reserving online and picking up and paying in store. Sites such as Best Buy® and Future Shop allow these options, and Future Shop even allows for pick up a mere twenty minutes after placing an order.

In the case of returns, 43 percent of Canadians demand free returns as a mandatory condition of shopping online. However this has been slow to catch on with Canadian retailers, and as a result, business is not booming, and Canadian dollars continue to get spent overseas – 25 percent of online spending by Canadians goes through international websites.

If US retailers in Canada and the Canadian Post can adjust to this customer-centric business model, Canadian retailers must adjust their shipping, pick up and returns policies to match.

2. Payments

In a positive trend, PayPal and Interac Online are getting adopted by more and more Canadian e-commerce retailers. However, retailers must remain flexible with regard to payment models, and offer more omnichannel payment methods. Of consumers polled, 52 percent were somewhat or very likely to abandon cart if they could not use a store gift card online, 41 percent felt the same about store credits and 37 percent felt similarly about loyalty points. The best thing Canadian retailers can do? Consider every payment option not enabled as lost revenue, and work to implement payment methods that work both online and in store.

Overall, The State of Canadian Online Retail - 2013, stresses the importance of all retailers offering an omnichannel experience – a seamless blend of physical and digital retail. However, progress is being made in the Canadian furniture world: many homegrown Canadian furniture retailers have the option to reserve online, as well as pay and pick up in a local store. Additionally, free shipping is offered once a furniture order reaches a certain minimum, though for big-ticket considered purchases, that minimum is harder to meet than for apparel. All are great starts – but for Canadian retailers to stand strong against foreign retailers, the focus needs to be on meeting their local consumers where they are – by being world-class, customer-centric organizations.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

About Blueport Commerce

With Blueport Commerce, furniture retailers can build an integrated, branded e-commerce platform online, elevating their brands and creating an ultimate online superstore. Blueport Commerce is the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes furniture retail online. We serve the top furniture retail chains with billions in sales interested in selling furniture online. Blueport Commerce is a full-service solution that combines a decade of experience, innovative technology and customized marketing services to meet the unique, localized needs of furniture retail chains. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

7 Things Blueport Learned at the MITX: What’s Next E-Commerce Summit

Friday, February 8, 2013 by

MITX E-Commerce SummitRecently, eight members of the Blueport Commerce team attended the MITX: What’s Next E-Commerce Summit (Twitter hashtag #MITXECS) to learn about the latest trends and technology in Boston-based e-commerce. Below are seven highlights we took away from this high-energy, informative and inspiring e-commerce experience.

  1. Biggest Recurring Theme: Big Data
    The phrase of the day was definitely “big data”. This was a key focus of Wayfair’s panel to kick off the event. Ben Clark, Director of Software Engineering at Wayfair, spoke to the need to structure the data post-capture and being able to create a tailored experience via tactics like clickstream tracking. By creating a record of how people interact with an e-commerce website, such as their products and interests, retailers can create a truly customized experience that is better than any canned solution. We appreciated the focus on consumer behavior pre- and post-purchase and optimized your e-commerce site for maximum revenue generation.
     
  2. Most Fascinating Technology Application: Mobile App Segmentation
    One of Blueport’s favorite quotes of the day came from SapientNitro’s Mark Berinato, Associate Creative Director, Experience Design, who said “Your customers aren’t monolithic,” referring to the need for retailers to meet their customers where they are. During the “Building the Next Wave of Great Mobile User Experiences” breakout session, various mobile experts discussed the need to create different levels of apps for different fan bases. For example, designing a full mobile app with each device getting its own platform works for a client like NASCAR, who has some of the most passionate fans on the planet. In contrast, for the casual Indianapolis 500 fan, NASCAR also commissioned a hybrid mobile app which used a combination of an app plus HTML to engaged mobile users who didn’t require the full functionality of a full mobile app. At the end of the session, the panel concluded that designing a mobile app was all about “choreographing the customer journey,” a phrase we at Blueport really loved as it speaks to the heart of the true customer e-commerce experience, not just purchase.
     
  3. Best Example of Customization in E-Commerce: Boston Fashion
    One of the most “tailored” presentations was “Boston Fashion Gets Personal with Gemvara, Blank Label, CustomMade, Bow & Drape”. All four companies cater to a more affluent and unique type of customer that wants the highest level of personalization possible in jewelry, furniture, and fashion (men’s and women’s), respectively. Blueport Commerce really enjoyed this panel for its focus on extreme personalization, loyalty tactics and high-end service. For example, Bow & Drape has photorealistic technology which allows a woman shopping for a custom-made dress to virtually “try on” the clothes on a body that mimics her measurements. Bow & Drape also has an at-home-try-on program, where muslins in up to three different sizes will be sent to potential customers, complete with seamstresses’ marks, in order to ensure the best fit possible. These “fit kits” lead to a whopping 60% conversion rate. Also impressive was Bow & Drape’s surprise post-purchase gifts to their loyal customers. We at Blueport Commerce loved the concept of learning to emotionally connect with highly selective consumers pre-purchase to establish trust, something essential for selling big-ticket items such as furniture online.
     
  4. Most Interesting Presentation: Karmaloop
    A crowd-favorite presentation was the always-entertaining Greg Selkoe, the founder of Karmaloop, a Boston-based streetwear company. In this fireside chat, Greg touched on multiple topics including the fact he hires passionate people who wear his products as his customer service representatives, knowing that it adds credibility to have people that truly care about the brand representing it. Greg also says he doesn't hire experts anymore regarding his site content because they don't know his audience the way his team does. Greg also spoke passionately against rigid Boston laws that he feels prevent Boston start-ups and businesses from thriving, and encouraged people to check out his project, Future Boston Alliance, which advocates for collective action to improve Boston laws and businesses. 
     
  5. Best Vendor Station: STaples
    Thanks to their adorable mini-cupcakes and enormous pastry spread, Staples absolutely killed it in the vendor display department. And who doesn’t love a little conference carbo-loading? Oh, and their panel in the morning on creating an omnichannel experience was delicious as well, touching upon the need for automated metrics around page speed and page performance before even thinking of rolling out new capabilities.
     
  6. Most Controversial Statement: Omnichannel
    Speaking of omnichannel, the most controversial statement of the day belonged to Steve Davis, President of Rue La La, who boldly stated his disdain for the phrase “omnichannel”, insisting that it’s overrated and what really matters is the customer experience. Steve also views traditional customer service as reactionary, while by contrast, a great concierge anticipates your needs. Rue La La is extremely focused on NPS (Net Promoter Score) as a mission-critical metric and feels strongly that customer loyalty must be earned. While we at Blueport don’t necessarily agree the need to be omnichannel is overrated, Rue La La is a great example of a truly customer-centric company that prides itself on and strives for great customer service.
     
  7. Most Engaged Tweeters
    No surprise, but MITX was full of very active social media enthusiasts. Some of our favorite tweets came from the following companies, speakers and audience members:
    @MITX
    @Selkoe
    @drkleiman
    @trishofthetrade
    @bowanddrape
    @karmaloop
    @UsefulArts
    @ScottKirsner
    @sapientnitro
    @compete
    @aubriepagano
    @gemvara
    @blanklabel
    @custommade
    @SteveHaase

Overall, the #MITXECS was a very informative, fun and engaging day that made Blueport Commerce proud to be a part of the fabric of the Boston e-commerce scene. Our hope is that big-ticket retail is an even bigger focus at the next e-commerce event.

Want to read more? Read the MITX Event Recap: Top Tweets from the 2013 "What's Next" e-Commerce Summit (#MITXECS) and listen to Greg Selkoe’s Fireside Chat on Boston.com [may require Boston.com registration].

Selling Furniture Online E-Commerce

 

E-Commerce Hardware: Host vs. Managed

Friday, January 25, 2013 by

E-Commerce Hardware Data Center

Did you enjoy your New Year’s Eve holiday by spending time with your family? Our big-ticket retail clients did, because they weren’t worried about whether their websites would be live during their blowout New Year’s inventory clearance sales. One of the most critical decisions you’ll ever make as a big-ticket retailer looking to transition to e-commerce is whether to host your own website, or to use a managed solution. Blueport Commerce examines the pros and cons of hosting your e-commerce website yourself, or outsourcing it to a managed solution provider.

In-House Hosting Gives You Total Control – And Sole Responsibility

The benefits of an on-premise e-commerce hardware solution include increased control, budget flexibility, owning the source code and being able to make changes at any pace you desire. Because you are hosting the e-commerce hardware yourself, you are able to exert more control over your e-commerce website, and iterate at any time. And at first glance, hosting yourself will allow for lower initial costs.

That said the drawbacks of an on premise e-commerce solution are that as your business grows, the complexities and hidden costs start to multiply. Hosting your own e-commerce hardware means you need a fully trained technical staff to maintain it, servers to keep the website up and running, licenses for all of the hardware and software associated with the website, a budget to stay compliant with federal rules and regulations, and money to stay current with threat assessments. Inevitably, the maintenance, constant availability and security needs of hosting a first-class e-commerce site become something few companies can afford to handle internally, from a resource, bandwidth and cost perspective. You will spend more time, money and effort trying to manage all the disparate puzzle pieces than you would by working with a managed solution provider.

Managed Solution Means Manageable Cost

Blueport Commerce, the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online, embodies the benefits of a managed e-commerce solution. With a managed e-commerce hardware solution, you’re free to focus on what you do best: selling big-ticket items, instead of worrying about keeping a website running at optimal performance. And because you’re not staffing up when you use a managed solution, your overall costs are actually lower – and those savings can be used to grow the business. Additionally, managed solutions like Blueport Commerce have key partnerships and alliances with vendors that allow for enterprise-grade equipment to be purchased at a cost-savings that is then passed on to the client. Blueport’s business partnerships with established best-in-class technology partners like Cisco, Microsoft, Akamai, Dell and F5 include Tier 1/Priority Support, with dedicated local reps and faster response times when needed.

Because Blueport Commerce is an all-in-one managed e-commerce solution, our clients have all of the formerly disparate puzzle pieces already assembled for them – allowing Blueport and our clients to collaboratively focus on customizing their website for optimal return on investment. By figuring out the best way for each particular client to do business online, Blueport Commerce’s managed e-commerce solution sets each client up for success and allows for the one item you can’t really put a price on: peace of mind.

Selling Furniture Online E-Commerce

Furniture Shopping: Major Differences Revealed Between Generations

Friday, January 18, 2013 by

Furniture Shopping Online GenerationalFor big-ticket furniture retailers, it’s important to know who is shopping, where, why and how selling furniture online is part of the equation. This week, we at Blueport Commerce are going to give you insights into all of this, drawing on data from a recent Furniture Today and Apartment Therapy study.

The unlikely pair partnered to complete a 1,600-respondent survey on where, why and how different generations shop for furniture. For this survey, Generation Y includes people age 18-36, Generation X includes ages 37-47 and Baby Boomers are 48-66 years old. While you can read the complete study in Furniture Today’s print publication, we provide some of the highlights and our expert insights.

Where People Are Shopping

It’s rare that in a survey, 100% of one group answers a question the same way, however 100% of Generation X and Y respondents answered that they “frequently shop” at lifestyle furniture stores. These stores are defined as retailers that carry furniture and home accents at full price, such as Ikea, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Restoration Hardware, and Crate & Barrel. Baby Boomers’ preferred furniture shopping source is also lifestyle furniture stores, with 69% saying they regularly shop for furniture there. Ikea is the most popular brand, with 44% of Generation Y and 36% of Generation X saying they regularly shop at Ikea.

Traditional furniture stores, where furniture is the store’s total business or single-largest category, were the next most popular shopping destination for many, but with significant generational differences. Half of Baby Boomers commonly shop at traditional furniture stores, but this number drops to 33% for Gen X and only 23% for Gen Y.

Lagging far behind was the  classic department store (defined as full-line operations carrying a variety of merchandise such as Macy’s, JC Penney and Sears), with less than 10% of any generation shopping there regularly.

Why People Shop at These Stores

We believe consumers of all ages respond well to lifestyle furniture stores because they promote a complete experience. Their showrooms and catalogs tend to focus on the feelings and emotions that the furniture and highly stylized rooms provoke, allowing less visual buyers to benefit from product placement and suggestions. They make the entire furniture decision and purchase process more enjoyable for their customers. Many lifestyle furniture stores also sell a wide range of affordable accessories – letting the aspirational shopper get a taste of the brand without committing to a big-ticket purchase.

Shoppers who liked traditional stores cited the quality product and variety as their reasons for shopping there, as well as being locally owned and having top-notch customer service. Comments such as "the store's customer service and free delivery are great" and "I like to support local, small businesses” are typical reasons as to why shoppers preferred to do business with a traditional store.

Blueport Commerce isn’t surprised by these findings, as the advantage of localized big-ticket retail e-commerce is being able to close the gap between brick-and-mortar showrooms and online shopping. Consumers enjoy the experience of the stores and being able to touch and feel the furniture, while reaping the benefits of easy browsing, knowledgeable furniture sales staff and streamlined checkout.

How Furniture E-Commerce Fits In

One of the biggest surprises in this survey is how “online” was a top choice for furniture shopping across all age groups: 39% of Generation Y, 36% of Generation X and 27% of Baby Boomers regularly shop for furniture on the Internet. Why? Because online shopping is “easy” and “a great resource with a wide range of choices.”

It’s encouraging that each generation is more and more comfortable with shopping online for furniture. The increased comfort level is resulting in a significant likelihood to purchase as well. When asked if they’d be comfortable buying a sofa without sitting on it first, 24% of Generation X, 18% of Generation Y and even 15% of Baby Boomers said they would.

As the only localized big-ticket e-commerce solution company, Blueport Commerce has embraced the trend of the growing number of people who are ready and willing to purchase big-ticket items online. By offering consumers more of a lifestyle furniture shopping experience online – for example, using more complete room images and suggesting accent pieces such as lighting and rugs when looking at larger items – retailers can benefit from increased browsing and conversions online.

Additionally, an e-commerce store can offer a targeted experience to consumers, increasing the likelihood of closing a sale. Targeting consumers by generation, for example, makes sense: members of Generation Y may live in smaller-sized apartments and condos, so furniture specifically selected for them, as opposed to Generation X or Baby Boomers in larger homes, can make all the difference. With 46% of respondents claiming they continuously shop for new furniture, providing an engaging online experience could be one of the best investments any furniture store could make.

Furniture E-Commerce

Canadian E-Commerce: Consumers Are Ready to Buy, But Where Are the Retailers?

Friday, November 2, 2012 by

Canadian e-Commerce Canadians Shop Online

Did you know Canadians lead the world in online engagement, with users spending an average of 45 hours online a month? Consumers in Canada are heavily engaged in social media channels, as well as online search and banking. In 2010, 8 out of 10 Canadian households (79%) had access to the internet, and over one-half of connected households used more than one type of device to go online.

Yet in contrast, Canada's internet economy is expected to grow by 7.4% a year through 2016, better than the country's overall GDP, but still lagging many global peers. And shockingly, only 1% of retail expenditures in Canada are from online transactions, compared to 8% in the United States. Compared to similarly connected nations, eMarketer notes that product assortment, payment paths and the number of online operators still lag in Canada’s e-commerce ecosystem.

So with all of these connected Canadians, one would think the consumer demand for e-commerce is there, yet the retailers aren’t. Why the disconnect? Blueport Commerce, the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online, examines some of the reasons for e-commerce’s failure to thrive in Canada.

Lack of Government Support

The federal government could do a lot more to create incentives for the internet economy to take off, said Tawfik Hammoud, partner and managing director at BCG who worked with Google on a study on Canadian e-commerce. Hammoud points to the governments of South Korea and Australia as examples of countries that worked to get e-commerce up and running.

“Canada needs a bit of a shot in the arm to get its e-economy growing going forward and if we don't do that we'll probably lose even more in terms of the ranking,” said Hammoud.

Canadian businesses are investing 40% less in information and communications technologies, or about $2,400 less per worker, than American businesses, according to Canadian Business. This means potential vendors struggle to justify the expense of building out a channel and lack the tools to overcome the challenges.

Selection, Payment & Technology Options Lag Behind

Canada is currently lacking the large presence of small online retailers that the US has. Although 71% of small businesses purchase products online, only 18% actually sell products online. And in order for a consumer to get the selection they want, they are often forced to shop for products from other countries, such as the US or the UK. There are hefty import and tax fees involved for Canadians that choose to purchase from other countries online using a credit card. For example, a $30 shirt imported from the United States could cost as much as $58 after taxes and fees. The inflated price makes many Canadian consumers decide to visit their local brick-and-mortar retailer rather than order it online, even if they can locate the product for less online (before fees and taxes).

Even in-country Canadian credit card transaction costs are prohibitively high for Canadian merchants. Per CBC News, merchants pay two to four percent of the sale price in various transaction fees whenever they accept a credit card for payment. Money first goes to the credit card network (Visa or MasterCard in the vast majority of cases), the company that processes the payments and the merchant's bank. A Bank of Canada survey looked at the estimated cost of processing a $36.50 transaction, which was the median cash transaction in its survey. Costs broke down like this:

  • Debit card: 19 cents
  • Cash: 25 cents
  • Credit card: 82 cents

Additionally the provincial tax system has been cited as an obstacle – in Canada, different provinces have different retail taxes and it is an onerous compliance burden for businesses to attempt to follow all of the rules, leading to less interest in e-commerce. 

And finally, with Canada being a smaller country, there is a lack of capital for funding the necessary expenditures on new technologies needed to drive e-commerce. With telecommunications, for example, this problem is further exacerbated by foreign ownership restrictions. The cost of implementing an e-commerce platform is high and many retailers are unable to currently accept online payments.

Shipping Challenges

Canada’s low population density makes shipping difficult and highly expensive for retailers – and that gets passed down to the consumers. The result is Canadians tend to research products online, but not actually make purchases via the internet, unlike Americans. Additionally, the poor showing of e-commerce as only 1% of Canada’s annual retail expenditures may also be affected by Canadians who shop online but from US retailers who ship north of the border, thus their e-commerce spending is reflected in the US’s annual retail expenditures, rather than Canada’s.

A Brighter Future

However, there is hope on the horizon. Large Canada-based retailers have begun to compete with US-based Canadian operators such as Amazon, online offerings have begun to expand, and creative solutions to supply chain difficulties have been implemented. One of Blueport Commerce's success stories, Leon's Furniture, has worked for five years to bring their furniture, electronics and appliance sales online. Their e-commerce revenue now holds its own against their physical store locations. And Canadians’ noted preference for going to brick-and-mortar stores to shopping online could work to big-ticket retailers’ advantage. Because of the consumer’s need to oftentimes see the furniture in a physical showroom, Blueport Commerce is able to localize the big-ticket retailer experience, creating an integrated shopping experience. This also applies to shipping, with consumers entering their Canadian postal code to allow for their local supply and local delivery, cutting down on shipping costs. With eMarketer predicting $35 billion in e-commerce spending by Canadians in 2016, it’s in Canada’s best interest to incentivize Canadian retailers to get their big-ticket retail items online.

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Buying Cars Online: Big-Ticket Retail Accelerates

Friday, October 26, 2012 by

Big-Ticket Retail Buy Cars Online E-CommerceIn the mid-1990s, it was inconceivable that people would want to buy shoes online. Yet in 1999, Zappos was born, became a giant in the e-commerce industry and now brings in a cool $1 billion in revenue just 13 years later. Blueport Commerce saw a similar opportunity in 2001 around selling big-ticket items online such as furniture and appliances, and launched the industry's only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online. With higher price points and slower buying cycles, big-ticket retail can take longer to reap rewards. However when a world-renowned company like BMW decides to sell cars online, it makes us feel like we're onto something big.

On June 13 in London, Ian Robertson, head of global sales at BMW, spoke with Bloomberg about online retailing and sales strategy for the new BMW i electric car. Two topics Robertson touched on are particularly relevant to big-ticket retail: pricing for big-ticket items and channel optimization.

Pricing for Big-Ticket Retail

Ian Robertson revealed that BMW will be selling the new electric icars over the internet, in addition to their traditional physical dealerships around the world. "It's clear in my mind that the actual experience that a customer has with a dealer, with a point of sale, is still the backbone of what we're going to do."

When asked if the price of the cars would be discounted online, Robertson responded, "Absolutely not. We have a very clear policy – our dealers ultimately will do the deals for vehicles. What we are not going to do is have different channels offering different price points. Our dealers are responsible for this around the world - this is not new, this is our normal business."

Although deep discounting has come to be associated with e-commerce, for example in the world of online marketplaces such as Amazon, BMW recognizes that price-slashing is not an effective technique for big-ticket retail. Or, in the words of Robertson, "This is not something that people are likely to just look on the internet...and say 'yes, that's for me....this is expensive product, and in many cases, is the most expensive product people buy. And that experience of the product, both in the physical sense and the driving sense, is a fundamental part of that actual decision."

With this insight, it is clear BMW agrees with Blueport's assessment that having two disparate buying channels, with physical stores and a branded e-commerce website competing with each other on price, is not a model for success. Blueport firmly believes that BMW is on the right track by keeping the dealers in control of setting the prices of the cars and the website being a connected and cohesive channel for optimized buying. Blueport frequently advises our big-ticket retail clients to think of their e-commerce website as a branded hub, while also being a tool to help their showrooms compete in local markets. By keeping prices consistent, bi-directional web and physical traffic allows for greater lead generation, as well as increased sales.

From Channel Conflict to Omnichannel Optimization

On the topic of potential channel conflict, between traditional dealers and online stores, Robertson stated, "It's no secret today that a very large percentage of all the customers that buy BMW have done research on the internet so when they arrive at a dealership they've almost made their decision. And we want to actually make sure that the customers have the option to do whatever they so desire."

"The worldwide dealer body remains the backbone of what we're doing with all the products for BMW....the actual availability to experience the car, to sit behind the wheel, to drive it, is a very important part. But we will have multichannel approaches which will be useable for the i products and, in time, other products as well."

Robertson mentioned the dealers in this equation as the equivalent of local heroes, with higher knowledge than any website could provide, able to interface in real time with the customer as needed and close the deal with their rapport and experience. This sets up the online and physical stores to combine for greater total sales, appealing to consumers who do internet research before arriving at a dealership, as well as those willing to pull the trigger without setting foot in a physical showroom.

Like BMW, Blueport recognizes the need for brick-and-mortar stores to work in harmony with an e-commerce presence. Blueport long ago realized that physical stores were the heart and soul of the big-ticket retail experience, with the online stores acting as an additional channel that allowed for both research, comparison shopping and added purchasing convenience. By coordinating both prices and discounting online and offline, the stores benefit from increased foot traffic of people who have researched online, but want to touch and feel the furniture or appliances in store. The web benefits from being available as a channel for people who are confident in their internet research and are ready to buy immediately, without needing to travel to a physical location or talk to a salesperson. And while it may be awhile before all cars are available online for immediate purchase, it's nice to see a world leader in the automotive industry like BMW taking that step into big-ticket e-commerce retail. 

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Augmented Reality in Furniture Retailing: The Future Is Here

Friday, October 19, 2012 by

A common problem for potential consumers of big-ticket retail items such as furniture and appliances is that it's almost impossible to know how a certain piece will look once it is in their home or office. Measurements can be taken, and photographs can be scrutinized, but it's more often than not a guessing game as to how everything will fit together on delivery day. In fact, one of the biggest e-commerce challenges is that the consumer is often uncomfortable pulling the trigger on big-ticket retail items that cannot be visualized in their own personal space.

At Blueport Commerce we combine the industry's only big-ticket retail e-commerce solution with dedicated e-commerce integration services and personalized service packages to build the right solution for your business. Part of providing all of the components required for a successful e-commerce site is ensuring retailers have the technology necessary to help consumers solve the age-old dilemma of how furniture or appliances will look in their rooms. Here are two hot new furniture retail technologies currently on the market that attempt to do just that.

Augmented Reality 3D


1. 3D Room Designer by Crate & Barrel

Crate & Barrel has introduced 3D Room Designer, an in-store tool which allows a customer to drop a digital photo of a room in their home or office into a 3D room model – without recreating a floor plan. The customer makes an appointment online and either emails or brings a photo on a USB stick to a nearby Crate & Barrel location. The height of the room is the only measurement the customer needs to know. From there, the customer can work with a store associate to transform their space with 3D models of Crate & Barrel merchandise, swapping out products, materials and colors. More than 2,000 Crate & Barrel products are incorporated into the 3D Room Designer, with all combinations of materials and fabrics together. Store associates are then able to print and email photos of the redesigned rooms to the customer, along with a list of all the items chosen.

While this technology certainly aims to solve the issue of visualization, the problem is that the final image can often look cartoonish and not realistic enough for the consumer to want to purchase. And while the goal of this 3D Room Designer is to drive traffic to brick-and-mortar stores, some customers will not want to make an in-store appointment and then go to the physical store. Additionally, by having the product only available in stores, it turns away those customers who may be in the research stage and want to simply “play around” with the tool online, and make a purchase decision weeks or months down the road.

By ignoring the needs of customers who live in rural areas, far from a store, as well as those who simply prefer to do all of their research and shopping online, Crate & Barrel is losing potential customers. In the spirit of true omnichannel retailing, Blueport Commerce recommends that Crate & Barrel creates a web version of 3D Room Designer that allows customers to do the manipulations themselves, as well as purchase the items online, rather than only going to the physical store.

Augmented Reality Big-Ticket Retail

2. Mydeco 3D

Mydeco.com, a UK-based online home store that sells furniture and home accessories from multiple retailers, boasts 3D, an online floor planner that lets customers visualize their home in 3D when buying new furniture. From the comfort of their home, a customer can upload up to 2 floor plans for free and move the walls and manipulate furniture from any of Mydeco’s retailers to their liking. After the customer is satisfied, they will receive back a 3D rendering in one business day. Additionally, the site has a community feel in that customers can connect with Mydeco’s collection of interior design enthusiasts, students, and professionals.

Mydeco.com also has another tool, Moodboard Creator, which is a Pinterest-like tool that lets consumers use furniture and home accessories from Mydeco.com (or any image they like) to get inspired to redecorate their homes. Pictures can be rotated and mixed, along with background and frames.

Blueport Commerce recognizes the value of Mydeco.com’s 3D tool, as the output is more realistic than Create & Barrel’s 3D Room Planner, and it allows users to get more creative, with furnishings from multiple retailers. Additionally, consumers can use the tool from their homes or offices, and not have to make an appointment or drive to a physical store location. The community and social feel of Mydeco’s 3D planner and Moodboard Creator allow for a greater viral reach, encouraging users to share their designs within the Mydeco community, as well as social sites such as Google+, Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon and Pinterest. The only negative is that it’s not as fully visually compelling as it could be yet – it has not achieved the next step of augmented reality.
 

Augmented Reality The Next Dimension

Imagine in the near future a customer being able to walk into a brick-and-mortar store and, with their mobile device or a device supplied by the store, scan and have elements of the display room pop out with information such as pricing, reviews, dimensions, availability and description. Or imagine being able to scan a room in your home or office you wish to redecorate with your mobile device, and have a retailer’s furniture placed into your home, in varying colors and at scale. Hidden Creative has a video depiction that suggests such a possibility here (at the 2:00 minute mark) through the next step of Augmented Reality, called Articulated Naturality Web. As the drive to capture the increasingly-connected consumer continues, retailers will need to stay attuned to technology advancements that can aid them in reaching and capturing tech-savvy consumers.

Blueport Commerce is currently developing exciting new technology that includes augmented reality. Our goal is to help solve the e-commerce challenge of allowing consumers to envision their desired big-ticket retail item in their own space. Let us know if we can help you develop technology to enhance your brick-and-mortar store or e-commerce website presence – we would welcome the opportunity to enrich the consumer experience and increase e-commerce transactions for your business.

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Olympic Gold: Why E-Commerce Companies Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Social Media Either

Friday, August 3, 2012 by

In some ways, the Olympics is just like any business, including your e-commerce website. This year for the 2012 London games, the Olympics and NBC, the network airing the event on TV and the Internet, have social media to navigate.

And the solution for both of them is the same: If you can’t beat them (which you can’t), join them. The reality today is that social media is a part of people’s lives, and the best a marketer of any breed can do is harness its word-of-mouth power.
 
Social Media & the Olympics

Unlike during previous Olympic games, the use of sites like Twitter and Facebook has grown significantly. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Social media usage has surged since the last summer games. In 2008, Twitter had about 300,000 tweets per day. Now it has 400 million. Facebook had about 100 million active users in the summer of 2008. As of April 2012, it had 900 million.” It’s so prevalent that visitors were asked to refrain from tweeting and texting during specific events after the data network was too clogged to send bike GPS data to broadcasters during a men’s cycling race, reports dailywireless.org.

And beyond the personal user, media outlets covering the Olympics are present on these social networks. Contrary to many people’s intuition, the real-time streaming of winners, losers and other Olympic news  as actually led to an increase in viewership at prime time. “In its first three nights of the London Olympics, an average of 35.8 million viewers have tuned in, the biggest first weekend for any summer games on record, according to NBC,” reports the WSJ article. “Average viewership has been 1.4 million more than the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and five million more viewers than the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which was mainly live.”

It appears these “spoilers” and all the buzz  may be getting people more excited to see the games.

Social Media & Your E-Commerce Business

E-commerce marketers can learn from NBC and the Olympics that while a true social media strategy includes relinquishing control, the payoff for that trust is an impassioned community that can powerfully extend your brand.

We know it’s hard to let go, but here are some strategies to help you get started:

  • With social media, it’s always best to start with the reigns the tightest you want them and then let them loose as you become more comfortable. Doing the reverse will upset your brand followers. For example, if you think you might want to approve comments on your blog at some point, launch it that way. But also consider letting this control go, especially once you see the nature of the comments. In most cases, you can easily delete a comment that goes against your terms.
  • You need to really invite the conversation and show your customers you want the back and forth. Ask them to post images and reviews of items they’ve purchased, or allow them to weigh in on merchandise you plan to sell in the future. Show your fans they are a priority by quickly responding and commenting on their posts about your brand. To really put this on hyperdrive, be sure you have a good listening process and reach out to those talking about you beyond your own social network pages. Keep an eye on blogs and review sites.
  • Allow critics to voice their negativity. I know it’s hard to believe, but there will always be haters out there. Don’t close them out. Allow them to say their piece, and openly help them if necessary. If you don’t let them interact in this way on your brand pages where you have the control to interact with them, they will find other public places online to do it. And you’ll be surprised: As you grow your social media brand, when someone posts something invalid, your other fans will come to your aid.

A great social media strategy can equal gold for an e-commerce company. Are you and your e-commerce company ready to embrace and champion this medium to move your business forward?

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