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Jenny Heinzen York

Retailer spurs traffic, sales by posting online videos

NEW ORLEANS -Years ago, when Andrew Robinson and his wife were running an online business that sold poker tables and home theater seating, their customer service person would become inundated with consumers asking questions over the phone, specifically about the theater seating.
     So Robinson decided to make a YouTube video embedded on the website to answer these frequently asked questions, and see what would happen next.
     "All of a sudden, the phone calls were cut by 50% and closing ratios started going up significantly," said Robinson, now co-owner of the 12-store Columbus, Ohio-based DFW Furniture.
     That was Robinson's first of many online videos and one of the stories he shared with attendees of the Home Furnishings Industry Conference in New Orleans earlier this year. His session was part of a well-received marketing strategy workshop led by Bill Napier of Napier Marketing Group and also featuring Seth Weisblatt of the two-store Sam's  Furniture and Appliance in Fort Worth, Texas.
     Weisblatt and Robinson presented ideas and insights into this new wave of marketing, most tied directly to Google - from Weisblatt's success with Google AdWords to DFW's video channel on YouTube, a Google-owned business.
The overarching theme to both presentations: Consumers' decision making patterns have changed dramatically in this digital era, and furniture retailers need to change with them to survive.
     Until fairly recently, a long-accepted marketing model involved three steps: stimulus (think television advertising); the point of sale, or what's considered the "first moment of truth"; and the second moment of truth - the customer's experience with the product after it's purchased.
     In a video presented at the workshop, Google said a marketer basically needs to pay attention to these three steps to succeed. But there's now a new vital step in the process that Google calls the Zero Moment of Truth.
     "That is when consumers do their research, get smart about alternatives, read reviews, look for coupons and comparison shop all before going to the shelf," the technology giant says in a video.
     This new step has created "a whole new world we have to deal with," Weisblatt told the workshop attendees. Today in addition to, or sometimes instead of, that disruptive ad stimulus-type advertising, consumers are looking at reviews.   They're checking with friends. They're watching online videos about the product. They're searching for comparisons - all before they ever come to the store.
     "I can tell you in our store, it plays out that way every single day, and I'm 99% sure it happens to every one of your stores today," Weisblatt told the group.
     "The customer comes in having found something online, and they want to see it. They want to know what you have that might look like it. That's the Zero Moment of Truth. How do we get into that space?"
Sam's has moved into that space in a number of ways, including online chat with consumers visiting its website and a highly effective paid search strategy on Google. The pay-per-click Ad-Words, combined with other effective search engine optimization efforts, results in the Sam's name and address being plastered at the top and elsewhere on a local consumer's online search result pages.
     The lease-to-own specialist is averaging 70,000 visits per month to its website this year, up 300% from 2010. Some 65% of its ad budget goes to Google AdWords. The rest is a mix of direct mail circulars, online chat, participation in Wayfair.com's Get it Near Me advertising program, Facebook, YouTube and email marketing.
     "It all revolves around getting (consumers) to my website so they can do the research," Weisblatt said.
During the workshop, he also pointed to research that showed how smartphones are changing the in-store experience. Indeed, mobile traffic to Sam's website is up 83% this year over 2012, he said.
     Among other things, the Google study found 82% of respondents are using their phone to get to search engines for browsing product while in the store. What's more, frequent mobile shoppers spend 25% more in-store than consumers who only occasionally used their phones in the shopping process.
     That means so-called showrooming is something to be embraced and capitalized on, not feared, Weisblatt said. Research also shows mobile shoppers are more focused on saving time than money.
     "To me it's all about convenience," he said, urging retailers to have a mobile strategy including a mobile-optimized website. "My whole strategy on everything I'm doing is: How can I make this more convenient for the consumer?"
Weisblatt also advised retailers to put prices online, noting, "There's nothing that will build trust more with your consumer than published pricing on every item on your website.
     "As soon as you make it inconvenient for that customer to find out what that sofa costs, they're gone," he said.  "They're not going to go shopping with you."
     Robinson's presentation focused on the power of online video and how it serves to fill the consumer's craving for information while pushing the retailer's website and content value in Google's searching eyes.
     Robinson, who started with the one simple FAQ video a few years ago, has built a library of 137 active videos today, posted on the DFW website and also on the retailer's YouTube channel (where they originate), Facebook and Pinterest accounts.
     Some of his videos have been picked up by other people and sites - such as how to websites - that link back to DFW content on topics such as the difference between traditional coil and pocket coil mattresses.
     "They're not really selling my product," he said, "but it's giving me or my website authority," another plus in Google's eyes.
     DFW also tweets about the videos. So all of these outlets are creating what Robinson called, "circuitous reference back to the same material."
     "You have to be discoverable," he said. "It's not that people are searching for you or your business. They're searching for information. Videos are informative. Therefore, Google gives them more relevance and pushes them up over a traditional Web page."
     Also, Robinson said, the videos he has posted to DFW's blog page tend to be ranked higher in value by Google than those posted elsewhere on its website. He's not sure of the reasoning behind it, but it's something retailers should consider.
     One of the greatest benefits to a video approach is low and one-time marketing costs, he said. A retailer doesn't have to go out and spend a fortune on equipment or software. Instead, most videos can be produced via an iPhone or other smartphone, and once they're online, "they live forever" or as long as the content has relevance, he said.
     Unlike some other forms of marketing, "you don't have to spend any more money," he said. "It just gets more and more eyeballs over the course of time. It's leveraging your time and money rather than spending your time and money."
     Robinson substantiated this with some statistics, showing that from 2007 through mid-2013 DFW videos were viewed some 245,000 times, with the view count accelerating recently. Assuming he spent an hour making each video, his time invested for 137 videos would be 137 hours - while consumers spent some 2,787 hours watching them.
     "One video is not going to do anything for anybody," Robinson said. "You have to be committed to make them over the course of time."
     The goal he said is to become ubiquitous, showing up wherever consumers are looking and then pointing that traffic back to your website with links and coupon offers or other incentives to entice them to stick around and share contact information.
     "By being ubiquitous, you're going to get more clicks and more clicks are going to drive people to your site," he said.
"You're going to start a conversation with them, and when they come into your store, they're going to be more comfortable and more knowledgeable about what they want. So you're not selling them. You're assisting them."
     Robinson said he believes we're seeing "a very pivotal shift in the way consumers learn about products and interact with people.
     "And if we fail to make the shift, more of the people in our industry are going to go out of business."

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