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I’m Just Looking... For Ideas!

Furniture World Magazine


Perhaps your main goal on many customers’ first visits shouldn’t be to close the sale.
Sales Management

by Joe Capillo



I spend a lot of time on furniture store selling floors observing how salespeople interact with consumers. After thirty years I can report that nothing about these interactions has changed. Consumers are still wary of dealing with retail salespeople even though they know that in the end they will have to. They say the same things; "I’m just looking" or "I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it." My new favorite is "I’m just looking for ideas" which sounds like another dodge, but it isn’t really. Over the years, sales trainers have come up with some inventive ways to deal with all this, offering suggested responses like "What is it you’re looking for?" This often has the effect of prompting that "…I’ll know it when I see it" response and annoying the customer. 

What’s wrong with "How may I help you?" I think that’s a really good question, and it’s also an offer of service. I watch Ceasar Millan, the Dog Whisperer regularly on TV, and even though people know how he magically works with dogs, he knows that every situation is different and that he cannot solve a problem he doesn’t understand. Ceasar knows that there usually isn’t an a single cause of erratic behavior on the part of canines, and that often there’s a lot more going on than appears obvious. The first thing he asks every client is "How can I help you?" He then lets them talk, and he listens.

In one of the most interesting research studies ever performed in our industry, researchers delved into the thought processes of women when making a home furnishings purchase that will have a significant effect on their room and home. The study was sponsored by Lexington Home Brands and they generously allowed me to use it in my recently published book, "Living on the Top Line." There are five phases in the thought/action process: Dreaming, Exploring, Planning, Selection, and Enjoyment. This is more than I can write about here, but this study ties into other research that was performed a year or so later by HGTV in conjunction with the NHFA. This was a large study and one of the conclusions was that 41% of consumers stated that when shopping for furniture, there are too many options. 40% responded that they have trouble with the design issues around buying furniture.

Action note: For more detailed 
discussion of this research and its affect on furniture retailers, and to learn what you can do about it, there’s a complete "how to" plan 
in "Living on the Top line," available through the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library at www.furniturelibrary.com.

No wonder women fear answering questions like "Are you looking for anything in particular?" How can they be looking for any "particular" thing when you meet them in the early stages of their decision making process – those dreaming and exploring phases? Looking for ideas? You bet they are, and these are not the times when they want to be interrogated by a salesperson. They don’t know the answers to most of the questions salespeople want to ask when they meet a potential customer. These research studies explain a lot about our industry’s interactions with our customers, and at least partially accounts for what have to be considered low closing rates for our segment of retailing. With over 30 years of studying these things, my experience shows that close rates between 20% and 30% for full-line stores is nearly universal. If all stores have these conversion rates, where do all those customers go? What happens to them?

What does the lady want? I have a stock answer to this question that serves my purposes, but also seems to be supported by the research: A beautiful home.

Action note: Ask about the room. Talk about the room. Sketch the room. Then, and only then can 
you know enough about the 
customer’s problem to make informed suggestions to solve it.

Why else do people buy furniture? How about comfort? Sure, but anyone who has worked with customers knows that it almost always comes down to the questions of color, look, style, and how it will work in the room. Most customers don’t make furniture purchases in a decorating vacuum, and it’s the things you don’t know about their rooms and homes that causes somewhere around 70% to 80% of your shoppers to not buy. You might sell beautiful furniture, but if you can’t help your customers put together a beautiful room, or at least imagine that beautiful room, you’ll not make the sale. After a little shopping around at furniture stores with these kinds of results, people just go home and forget about it for a while. There are very few furniture emergencies. For many years our industry struggled with the "buying gap." One of our leading publications reported that year after year as many as 40% of surveyed consumers who reported shopping for furniture in the past year didn’t buy. That’s what happened to at least some of those non-buyers you’ve met on the other side of your conversion rate.

Some shoppers who don’t buy from your store do buy elsewhere, becoming part of their 20% or 30% close rate. But new people enter the market for furniture every day, and previous shoppers re-enter the market every day. In fact, my documented experience shows that first-time shoppers, in any store, on any furniture purchasing project make their purchase on their first visit less than 15% of the time. On their return visit to a store on the same project, the close rate is over 70%. The problem is that it’s very hard to tell how many shoppers return a second time (or more). I do know this, however: the more the better. This has led me to the thinking that when you meet a shopper for the first time on a project (everything is a project for her), your prime goal should be to get her back again. On most projects, you have around an 85% chance of not making the sale the first time, but you have a 70% chance of making it the next time. Hence, the whole purpose of the first visit should be to get a second visit.

Action note: Count your 
customers. Know how many are returning to the store on the same project. Track your close rate on these, and on those who are 
shopping for the first time on a new furniture project. You’ll soon learn the value of Be-Backs.

To do this, you have to have a great engagement the first time. Think about those women who are in the dreaming, exploring, or planning phases of decision making. We don’t know how these various phases work in terms of timing. Some of the phases may even be going on simultaneously. It could also be that days, weeks, months, or even years go by while this process is ongoing. I think that weeks or months are good time frames to consider because I see a lot of daily reports from salespeople that reference return customers in this time frame. This emphasizes another important principle of customer engagement: connect to the people and the project. Make it a priority to connect, and stay connected. Become an advisor, a consultant to your customers on their room planning projects in the early stages of the decision making process, and you’ll be connected when it’s really important, in the selection and enjoyment stages.

Action note: Professional 
salespeople stay in contact with all prospective buyers and build strong relationships with potential buyers so that they have permission to connect in the selection and 
enjoyment stages. Do better work the first time – deal with the room – and you’ll get more people back.