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Home furnishings retailers offer wish lists for mobile apps

HIGH POINT — What's the next thing retailers are looking for in mobile applications from service providers or others in the industry?

Three tech-savvy retailers offered Furniture/Today distinct views on the topic through email and telephone conversations.

Jeff Selik, president, Hillside Furniture, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and head of the technology and innovation committee for the Contemporary Design Group.

"In a perfect world, all of us retailers that are utilizing iPads in the store would love to see each and every one of our manufacturers develop their own apps. Within these apps, we should be able to access the complete catalog as well as enter a retail multiplier to allow each individual retailer to set their own price list margins. Some factories like American Leather have already provided us with wonderful apps that can not only access the complete catalog but also apply any of their hundreds of fabrics right to the frame. Any tools like that which can help a client that has trouble visualizing can only help us get more business!

"(Also), I love how AT&T allows me to surf the Web while using voice communications through their (Global System for Mobile) network which you are not able to do on Verizon or any other CDMA (dode division multiple access) network. So I am happy with my service provider! One thing that I can complain about is that it would be absolutely wonderful if, within the High Point Market buildings, we are able to get more reliable Internet and phone service. It's very frustrating when you want to send pictures back to other staff members at home or you need to be reached to help make a decision with somebody on the phone. That's something they really needs a workout!"

Eric Blackedge, co-owner of Blackledge Furniture, Corvallis, Ore.

"As much as I use it, there are days I wish they could un-invent the cell phone. Unfortunately, even though I am working on making our website more mobile friendly, for most brick-and-mortar furniture stores, cell phones will just be a tool for consumers to use to cross-shop for the best price. They will use our stores for ‘showrooming' and then try to order online or from big box retailers.

"Although we will try to produce Home Furnishings Council videos (as part of an industry-wide consumer awareness and education program) that play well on cell phones, the screen size limits do not make it the best tool for catalog displays, design assistance or general promotion.

"We are trying to get enough of our vendors on a standard digital catalog format to use tablets in the store to show vendor information, catalog photos, etc., but I don't want the customer trying to do that themselves with a QR code and their phone because they won't get all the information, advice and extra assistance my trained sales and support staff can give them." 

Charlie Malouf, partner in Broad River Furniture, Charlotte, N.C., a Top 100 Ashley Furniture HomeStores licensee.

"We are looking forward to mobile technology enhancing the customer's experience in our stores. Here are a few examples.

"We want our sales associates to have mobile tablets. I don't think they have to be as large as the iPad. To me, the perfect size is the iPad Mini, or Google Nexus 7 -something in a seven- or eight-inch tablet format. We want to put something equivalent in the hands of every one of our sales associates, and we want to transact business from the tablets. We want to move away from wired kiosks and terminals and cashier and customer service desks and towards the Apple Store environment. They are the leader. They've proven how this model works. We're all playing catch-up.

"With this model, the sales associate doesn't have to leave the customer. He or she can get information to the customer faster, in a more relaxed environment. Let's say you're sitting down on a living room group together. You can pass the tablet back and forth. You can look at items. You can check out. You can do digital signature with your fingers. You can have a credit card or debit card addendum and swipe it. You can even do credit approvals. You can do everything but take cash or checks. You also can do other business - check inventory, add items to a shopping cart, work with a room planner. That's where we have to get to and where we're going to get to. We are the most excited about that because we think it's going to make the customer experience better, more progressive

"I'm looking forward to apps that haven't even been created yet for retailers that take all of the features in a smartphone today - such as camera, video, GPS technology - and combine that with additional product information or mapping technology to enhance customers' shopping experience in our showrooms.

"Then there is the elephant in the room. The dark, side of mobile technology that we're all concerned about is showrooming. I think we have to figure out how to address it, and part of that is being on a level playing field in pricing and, inside the store, adding value to the experience. That mobile problem exists and makes you keenly aware that you have to be on your game. It you can show you're a more technologically-advanced company, maybe the psychology for the customer is, ‘Hey, they've got it going on here. I can trust them with my dollars. They're ahead of the curve.'

"Outside the retail store, there are a lot of opportunities to use mobile technology on the logistics side of the business. There are hybrid tablet phones. Samsung has the Note, for example. These things are great. You can use software like what DispatchTrack offers (with these large smartphones) to track your service technicians or delivery drivers who are going out to meet customers. You can get real-time survey results (from customers), digital signature capture. You can take photos of finished product and delivery and store them with customer records and have it all available on demand. That's technology we really like. We're using it and will grow with it. We think that's a great customer facing solution - where you are eliminating paper, adding GPS technology, adding photography or video, customer surveys, real-time customer approval ratings. This type of stuff can really enhance the customer experience and make sure you have better tools to measure it. And you're not paying big time up front.

"It allows us to manage our fleet and gives customers a way to give us instantaneous feedback. We all have to get there. It's not ‘if.' It's ‘when.'"

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