It’s not enough to be “multichannel” to succeed in retail these days; the key is to be “omnichannel.

For some lighting showroom owners, 25 years may not seem so long ago. I assume that is the case because many showrooms and sales professionals still look at eCommerce as if it has just appeared on the horizon. Some have just raised their heads up and acknowledged that a digital strategy is mandatory to remain viable in today’s marketplace; others remain on the fence about the need for a full 360-degree digital marketing and sales solution. This article is meant to push you over that edge and encourage you to commit to the work and resources needed to continue and thrive beyond 2020.

State of the Showroom

Showrooms that are still in the game today have some kind of digital presence, yet few employ a digital strategy, never mind an omnichannel one. It is a given to have – at the minimum – an email campaign of some sort. It is likely that many showrooms are sharing their vendors’ or even other companies’ posts and product imagery. A typical action usually takes the form of a “share” on your chosen social media platforms. In 2007, “sharing” was a great strategy and had a position in a marketing plan, but used alone, at its best, it is still a strategy that is well over a decade old.

To get the most from your digital efforts, you must have a strategy that goes beyond aggressive outbound marketing and haphazardly posting images hoping for viral impact. When sharing someone else’s digital assets, you are doing absolutely nothing to build your showroom brand.

There must also be a change adopted in both sales and marketing, a new attitude and process. Some may read this as a “management” change, yet the change impacts the front line sales and marketing teams. The impact of making a change touches every part of the way we market and sell to clients in 2020.

With about 50 percent of showrooms using an online and in-store wishlist to help potential clients select products, the majority have stopped there. As a result, they have a comfortable feeling that they have slain the digital dragon.

One thing we know for sure is that the competition for business in the showroom channel is intensifying from non-traditional competitors. At the same time, enhancements and cost reductions in digital tools used in sales and marketing continue to emulate Moore’s Law of rapid change or expansion.

Through the showroom’s front door, foot traffic is down, proving that the window of opportunity to develop an omnichannel strategy is closing. In the last 20 years, the benefits of being one of the first to adopt a new approach have never been so necessary to the survival of the players in the showroom channel.

Multichannel Is Not Omnichannel

My best explanation of the differences between “Multichannel”and “Omnichannel” is how showrooms use their traditional and digital channels. If you operate your showroom business based on defined silos, they must be torn down. If your silos separate your showroom and digital sales efforts, your marketing, and sales teams, you have a multichannel strategy. History has shown these towers are incongruent, and this disconnect has been exasperated as many try to maintain an analog process in a digital world.

Omnichannel tactics smash the old analog silo concept and redirect the entire focus of the enterprise on the client. Think of your digital usage. Do you use only one platform or medium for your news, weather, and social interactions? More likely, you bounce between digital and analog outlets. The back and forth activity between outlets and platforms of distribution are why we must be marketing and selling wherever and whenever the client is ready.

Showroom owners and staff often lament over the concerns that “showrooming” may pose to them. Clients are reading product reviews and checking the reputation of the showroom while in the showroom. The blending of pipelines is what omnichannel is all about: the convergence of the digital and physical shopping experience.

Showrooms are empowered when using omnichannel tactics that take into consideration all the available client touchpoints. Clients benefit from a seamless local experience, no matter where they are in their journey or how they choose to interact with you.

The rigid silo walls that have been erected put online buying on one side and in-store buying on the other. The truth is that omnichannel is the best of both worlds. Each of these channels must work together for the benefit of every showroom’s growth and continued success.

A study of 46,000 shoppers conducted by Harvard Business Review states: “Of the study participants, only 7 percent were online-only shoppers, and 20 percent were store-only shoppers. The remaining majority, or 73 percent, used multiple channels during their shopping journey.” When it comes to product categories such as lighting, furniture, and plumbing, these numbers are essential.

Getting Off the Sidelines

The time to take action is now. To delay any further will impact a showroom’s future success or, worse, accelerate its demise. Directing or redirecting available resources to an omnichannel effort will make big moves toward future success. Ignoring these changes in the buyer’s journey and not modifying sales and marketing activities to match the times we are in puts your company at risk. Not being an immediately available and viable option for today’s buyer will jeopardize your showroom’s existence.

What resources are needed? Time, money and, the most critical, human resource. We are still people, and the social interaction we have with clients, whether face-to-face or through digital connections, becomes the transformative factor melding sales and marketing in omnichannel.

Having a living website with a digital catalog and a functioning shopping cart is the minimum tech ante to get into the omnichannel game. Still, there is another vital resource to consider: the people on the team. The blended 2020 “smarketing” team is the foundation that creates and shares superb content. That content is then used across all communication channels to attract and engage with clients. The information is congruent in detail, expresses that the person posting is an expert and focused on the end-user.

Showroom size will dictate how the team is built and who the players are. Yet, no matter the size of your business, in my opinion, there is no option other than committing to making this systemic change. Let’s not forget these activities are not only about creating content for your blog and social posts; it is about having an engagement process that is the same for digital and conventional shoppers.

It is incomprehensible to think that a client could walk into a brick-and-mortar showroom and not be engaged by a sales professional. At the same time, it is routine to ignore potential customers when they walk into our various types of digital showrooms.

Finding ways to engage clients is the first and highest hurdle to leap. Knowing if you are winning at the omnichannel game goes beyond the familiar vanity metrics of likes and shares. Having the correct parameters in place will be the guide indicating results or needed tweaks to polish the process. I have narrowed down the many metrics available to a few that can be employed quickly.

Metrics

Any time there is a need to change the actions and behavior of staff, clearly defined performance expectations must be communicated. Begin by incorporating base level indices that will get you in the omnichannel game. We covered the need for a full-court press on content creation, which should result in an increase of inbound clients and the growth of your defined network.

One of the mandatory metrics of omnichannel is the number of relationships being created and maintained on social platforms. Building relationships with online prospects increases the number of warm leads that turn into clients for both the bricks and clicks.

The next metric that requires recording and measuring is “New Client Acquisition.” How many of these warm leads are converted to brick and mortar or digital sales?

The last metric is exclusive online revenue; this requires both a wishlist and shopping cart. You will want to measure two different types of sales. The first is online sales activity by clients who have visited the showroom, but made a purchase from you online; the second is the client who has never been to the showroom and made a purchase. While there are a host of additional ways to measure successful omnichannel implementation, a showroom just beginning to dip in their digital toe will find these a good start.

The Time to Start Is Now

With greater than 94 percent of all consumers starting their shopping online, they are significantly impacted by referral and recommendation and not static image ads. We must not only market to our prospects wherever they are, but we must also be able to interact and sell to them whenever and wherever they are. Utilizing an omnichannel methodology will increase the number of selling opportunities available to you.

The secret sauce to bricks-and-clicks success is to obtain the digital omnichannel tools needed, educate your sales force on the skills of online engagement and content creation, plus meld the sales and marketing silos to redirect their focus to inbound methods.

In closing, I contemplate this question: How long can an independent showroom in any industry survive without a bricks-and-clicks plan?

As always, happy selling!