How Fantastic Furniture is making omni-channel retailing a reality

Furniture retailer's head of digital reveals the brand is bringing on a new online-based commerce platform, and shares details of a new in-store tool that bridges the gap between physical and digital engagement

Customers don’t look at shopping as an in-store or online phenomenon anymore, they shop with a brand, Fantastic Furniture’s head of digital, Leigh McKnight, says. And thanks to an investment into a cloud-based omni-channel platform and approach, the ability to provide seamless, personalised experience is becoming a reality for the furniture retailer.

McKnight is the first to admit Fantastic Furniture was late to realising its omni-channel vision and up until three years ago, lacked an ecommerce offer. His first project upon joining the team was to define the omni-channel strategy, then implement it, going live with online transactional capability nationally in May 2015.

“It’s been a journey of how we deliver that seamless customer experience, trying to get away from previous concepts of channel separation,” McKnight said. “A customer shops with Fantastic Furniture, not online or in-store, but with the brand. So it’s about making this as seamless as possible.

“There are technical challenges and we don’t always get that right. But the guiding principle is to be consistent, whether it’s the pricing we offer, products available, services or warranty.”

McKnight inherited an on-premise installation of the SAP Hybris solution, and used this to convert the marketing-oriented website into a transactional one, redesigning product pages and cart flow accordingly. But being stuck on an on-premise platform was not the future nor the most cost-effective way of doing things, and the team kicked off a review last June to find a cloud-based solution.

With SAP's Data Centre opening in November 2016, the retailer opted to stay with Hybris and commenced a rollout of the next-generation, cloud-based platform last December. This is due to go live in the next 1-2 months. Fantastic Furniture also uses Emarsys’ marketing automation platform for marketing purposes, as well as Microsoft Dynamics as its ERP system.  

“We had invested in terms of what we put into the [SAP Hybris] platform and what we’d found was there was nothing we couldn’t do,” McKnight explained. “It’s so extensible, and you can build upon it. We haven’t had any problems with doing what we wanted to achieve.

“The other thing was we’d brought on a lot of bolt-on solutions, and they’re all there til we migrate fully to the cloud. But with the cloud offering, we’ll have more out-of-the-box capability around things like product recommendations and personalisation onsite. The new version of Hybris means we can just utilise out-of-the-box tools without having six or more partners involved.

“If we can get things into one management suite, it makes it that much easier for our small team to manage things.”  

Personalisation is a key priority. At present, Fantastic Furniture is using a point solution to provide product recommendations and limited merchandising capability online.

“The biggest thing I’m looking forward is to getting out of our new platform is merchandising capability and optimising product listing results based on profitability, and what customers like,” McKnight said.  

“As a value retailer, price is very important to us. We have governing principles that the price point is at the top of the pages, for example. But there’s also lots of opportunity for machine learning and other customer behaviour to drive what customers see, which will ultimately result in a better outcome for us.”

Given the irregular frequency with which consumers make furniture purchases, McKnight opted not to include login functionality in the first online iteration.

“But through technology, we do try to identify and target as much as we can. We have pop-ups, and we encourage email capture, so we can do things like cart abandonment,” he said. “For example, we encourage people to share their cart, or share product features to encourage customers to input their email address so as to open up a way of personalising experiences more when they come back to the site.”  

One of the surprises for McKnight and his team has been how quickly consumers purchase furniture online. “You think people will take weeks to make a decision on furniture. But typically, we find within a couple of visits to the site, people are transacting,” he said. “That told us we have to work quickly to convert customer into a sale. I’d suggest that’s also to do with our price points as well.”  

The other big success has been take-up of click and collect. Today, Fantastic Furniture has products available to customers within 60 minutes of purchase online if in-stock.

“We started off within 24 hours, and we’ve been working with Hybris and our internal platforms to get to the point that it’s available in an hour,” McKnight said. “We think that’s market leading and we’re working hard to get that down even further.”  

Part of being able to deliver such a service has again been a focus on omni-channel excellence, he claimed, along with ensuring teams from warehousing to digital work together.

“We make sure all our teams are incentivised in the right way. We do have a very onmni-channel approach to how people are incentivised so they see the benefit of ecommerce,” he said.

Uniting online and in-store capability

While the benefits of going to a cloud-based approach are yet to be realised, Fantastic Furniture has already had a significant win in terms of bringing digital capability together with in-store experiences this year.

McKnight and his team have launched ‘Find your Fantastic’ in its Prospect, NSW store, a new service that allows a customer to scan a product ticket in-store either via a QR code or by inputting a numeric code, and immediately access content, customer images, videos and other resources to better visualise how that product may look within the home via their phone.

The ‘Find your Fantastic’ offering is being launched nationally on 26 March to coincide with the rollout of a fresh brand logo for the business and takes learnings from the company’s first 18 months online to better convert customers, McKnight said.

The Find your Fantastic service
The Find your Fantastic service


“We did lots of A/B testing and learnt a lot about customer behaviour, and one thing we learnt is how effective good merchandising is at triggering a conversion,” he said. “If you do a good job with your product information and photography, you can significantly improve conversion.

“Think about when you walk into the store: It’s hard to visualise how furniture will look in any home let alone your own. This new tool allows customers while they’re in-store to see that. A customer can use this feature to view a sofa, for example, in another person’s home. Or you can look at product videos if we have them, access stock information, or our ‘my choice’ fabric range.”  

Importantly, the new service is based on Fantastic Furniture’s existing digital platform and represents a new form of a product page optimised for the in-store shopper.

“We didn’t want to go down the path of a mobile app as it’s a large undertaking and the frequency of purchasing didn’t make it as appealing,” McKnight said. “When you scan a ticket, you get a product page optimised for that in-store experience. There’s no cart functionality – we do have an ‘add to’ list – but it’s really about helping a customer research while in-store.

“The beauty of Hybris was we could do this with the same tools, back-end API calls and lower the overhead for us to implement the service.”

Also included are product recommendations using machine learning. “What we have on the mobile page for in-store shoppers is recommendations based on what merchandisers would recommend, plus what other customers purchased with that furniture item based on data from the website,” McKnight said.

The ultimate aim is increasing strike rates in-store. “Even if it’s just a few basis points, that has a significant impact on our revenue,” McKnight said, adding the new service is also expected to lift average order values.

 

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