How marketers in the home goods sector earn customer loyalty

Successful companies in the competitive homeware sector attract lucrative repeat business by building a strong brand and forming relationships with first-time buyers

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For firms selling home goods online, getting customers to keep coming back is no mean feat. These businesses must look beyond offering short-term discounts that might prompt impulse buys, especially because high-value items such as furniture and lighting aren’t everyday purchases.

Facing tough economic conditions and intense competition online, these retailers often devote more time and money than others to building a strong brand. They need to be at the front of a past customer’s mind when that person is looking to freshen up their decor again. 

Mark Smith is a lecturer in marketing, brand and customer experience at Nottingham Trent University and the founder of a marketing consultancy called The Brand Strategy. He believes that online home goods retailers should ideally invest about half of their marketing budget in building brand awareness and half in sales optimisation. 

“They know that some of their customers might buy only a couple of items a year,” he says. “This means that they need to communicate regularly and always be relevant and engaging.” 

They must also understand the importance of providing a reliable delivery service and exemplary customer care. 

Here, three marketing leaders in the online home furnishing sector explain their approaches to the crucial task of building customer loyalty in a highly competitive market.

Niki Wright 
Co-founder of Lights & Lamps, a contemporary lighting company 

From a financial perspective, it is crucial that your marketing delivers customer loyalty. We can spend about £80 on marketing to bring in one new customer. Their first lighting order might be £240, so we’ve already spent a third of that on attracting them.

I’ve been in the lighting industry for more than 25 years. Initially, I wasn’t convinced that ecommerce would work for us, because selling lights is all about creating an emotional response in the customer. If you want people to buy from you again, you must embrace this and be clever with your marketing. 

General email prompts aren’t that successful, as they can annoy people instead of encouraging them to buy again. So, after someone has made their first order, we communicate with them in a more meaningful way. These aren’t sales emails; they’re messages asking the customer whether they’re enjoying their new purchases. We’ll also send maintenance advice.

Our audience responds best to genuine news and offers. Constant product updates are vital to enticing them back. Emails promoting new collections, collaborations, sale offers or the return of bestsellers all give reasons for customers to revisit our site.

Keeping a steady flow of new designs is key. Consumers want to be excited by fresh styles and different materials from a brand they like and have interacted with before. 

Our email marketing is also designed to get previous customers thinking about how lighting can make them feel. We use Instagram and various social media influencers to show different products in situ. We tempt people back by discussing how to use lighting to create a cosy home environment.

Our online presence needs to imitate a showroom. When you move your cursor over a picture of an item on the product page, for instance, the image changes to show what the light looks like when switched on. You can zoom in on the photos, which in some cases gives you a better view than you might get from a display in a physical shop, where some lamps are fixed at a considerable height.

One piece of advice I would offer is to not automatically offer a new customer a discount on their first order. Instead, provide incentives to encourage them to return. This is all part of building a lasting relationship.

James Scaife 
Commercial director at Olson & Baker, a high end furniture designer 

We work with interior designers, architects and high-end retail consumers who demand certain things from their furniture – and won’t return unless they get them.

Given that the average order with us is worth well over £2,000, our marketing must demonstrate that we understand a new customer’s exact needs. We have to promote the most relevant services to them. For instance, trade customers can have the “white glove” delivery service or they can use our warehouse if they want to save money. Encouraging retail customers back is based more on seasonal messaging.

When we send our emails and someone clicks on the same manufacturer or furniture type a couple of times, we’ll start sending them information about that particular brand or style. We learn that this is a preference of theirs, so our marketing reminds them that our shop is where they’ll find something they like.

We also know that, when it comes to generating loyalty, marketing is intrinsically linked to good customer service. When someone asks for a fabric sample, for instance, we’ll send it to them that day. We try to reply to an email within the hour. 

People are shocked that we have a team that calls every person who makes an online order to check that they have everything they need. We provide more information about the furniture they’ve bought, the brand that made it and the materials it used. When they’re next thinking about buying furniture, they will remember such interactions.

This is a competitive sector, so investing in search-engine optimisation is important. We also attach a call to action to all our product listings. For instance, there’s an option for you to click if you’re in a hurry to buy an item. We have links with manufacturers that can let us know which products can be supplied relatively quickly.

To generate loyalty, you must know your customer. When working with interior designers and architects, we often screen-share so that ideas can be recommended. We can see their project and they can see our products. 

The high-end market has always been drawn to more sustainable designs. Customers will also come back if they know you’re serious about sustainability. Ours increasingly want to know where materials have been obtained – they’ll ask whether a certain chair is made from certified wood, for example. We communicate such information in our marketing, so that customers can trust us. They come back because they know that what they’re buying matches their values.

Matt Pollington 
Chief marketing officer, The Cotswold Company, a homewares and handcrafted furniture retailer 

Generating customer loyalty in online furniture retailing comes from understanding people’s shopping missions and connecting with them on a personal level. Are they looking to refurbish a particular room, for instance, or have they just moved home? You need to think of customers as individuals and personalise your messaging as much as possible. 

If someone has just bought a bed, we need to think about their next shopping mission and send them relevant information. This could be emails about quilts, pillows or bedside tables to help the customer complete that room.

Almost 80% of our sales come through digital channels, but we also use online marketing to bring people into our showrooms. We opened our first physical shop in Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, more than 25 years ago.

Some customers are confident about buying furniture online, whereas others need more convincing. This is why we’ll send them material samples or enable product trials. This level of service builds loyalty.

However happy an individual is to buy online, our marketing and website content has to inspire to generate repeat sales. People will come back if they know there are new things to see. We have just added ottomans to our bedroom range for the first time. We know this is the time of year when people are thinking about spring cleaning and are on the lookout for storage ideas. This will be one focus of our marketing to nudge previous customers.

When selling online, you also need to bring the furniture to life. We use augmented reality on our website to provide an interactive customer experience. This gives users a good idea of how our products might look in the home. 

People get to know what to expect from us in terms of our service as well as our product. For instance, our delivery drivers wear covers on their shoes and put mats down when they arrive at customers’ homes. It all helps to build trust and loyalty in the brand.

Ultimately, it makes commercial sense to do whatever you can to generate loyalty, because people have plenty of choice when shopping online. We have to work as hard as ever.

Key lessons for marketers

Loyalty takeaways for home goods marketing leaders

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Disclaimer: The views, information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the people interviewed and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Intuit, Mailchimp or any of its cornerstone brands or employees. The primary purpose of this article is to educate and inform. This article does not constitute financial or other professional advice or services.