Kick start – Mark Mortelliti wants to shift his traditional bricks-and-mortar business in Melbourne from relying on physical showrooms to generating most of its sales leads online. Nett’s Kick Start panel crafts some ideas to help him embrace e-commerce with gusto
Case file #23
How do you get the balance between form and function right? Just ask Mark Mortelliti, whose company Lifestyle Furniture specializes in handcrafted hardwood furniture, mostly using Australian timbers.
A quick browse of the Lifestyle Furniture website will give you some idea of the range of timbers available, including red gum, blackwood, and jarrah, as well as some of the designs for tables, buffets, and chests.
Unlike the big players in the industry, Lifestyle Furniture is happy to modify designs to suit its customers’ desires for furniture that not only looks and feels good but will also fit comfortably into their lifestyle.
Right now, Mortelliti’s challenge is getting the form and function of his website hitting the same sweet spots with his customers.
“We are a traditional brick and mortar retailer and while the website is generating leads and sales in-store, almost zero is actually purchased online,” he says.
“I continue to struggle with web strategies, email marketing ideas, and other online presences such as catalog central to generate leads.”
- Jonathan Crossfield, Netregistry. Expertise: Online content
- Ciaran McGuigan, Strike Force Sales. Expertise: Sales strategies
- Kevin Garber, Melon Media. Expertise: Digital marketing
- Josh Mehlman. Moderator
Challenge 1: How do I capture information about potential customers?
Kevin: Communicate internally that you will be sending out a monthly email newsletter. Explain that growing the recipient database is important and embed into the culture of your business the value of collecting email details of customers and prospects. Provide your staff with a simple process for them to record email addresses. You could approach other retailers in related but different segments; for example, a bedding retailer, that has an existing database. Offer to either sponsor their email newsletter or form an alliance to cross-promote each other’s website and newsletter. You should also provide a clear and effective mechanism on every page of the website for web visitors to sign-up for your email newsletter. Make the sign-up text compelling.
Jonathan: That’s right. Every page of the website needs to have a call to action. It needs to motivate the person reading the page to do a particular thing. I know you have a link there so that customers can lodge an inquiry via an email pane – I recommend you make a form instead. That way they won’t have to leave the internet browser to do an email. Create copy on the page that encourages them to communicate with you and share their information. Give them some reason why they need to fill in the form.
Josh: You can collect all their details, which they may not give you if they are just sending you an email.
Jonathan: Forms are not that difficult for someone to integrate into your website. If you get a designer that can help you to tighten those things up around the website they will be able to put whatever form you want in there that would store information. It is possible to also have those things plugged into your own software that you use in your CRM (customer relationship management system), if you had such a thing. That would then store that data in ways that are useful to you elsewhere within the business. So that would be the first step to creating an information capture that could have multiple applications for you down the line.
Mark: I can see I’m not capturing information about my visitors effectively yet. I haven’t got a system in there to generate a database of people who visit my site, and unless they start an order, I can’t see which of my products they’re interested in.
Josh: How about capturing some information at the order stage? Your site requires that people create an account to be able to process an order, which means you miss out.
Mark: We’ve only had Zen – our transaction tool – up for about three months, and so far the result has been negligible because it’s only based on the fact that they want to buy something. What if I had something that didn’t require the transaction – instead just a general inquiry about our products and services? Would we get a higher uptake of people putting their details in?
Jonathan: Exactly. I’m assuming a lot of them are using it to print out things or look around before actually going into your business? It’s generating offline activity rather than online activity?
Mark: Definitely, Jonathan. I guess furniture is an emotional, touchy-feely product. It requires a bit of interaction because people are going to sit on it, or look at it, or eat at it, or sleep on it every day of their lives. Discerning buyers want to touch and feel the furniture before they order a custom-made piece. We’re creating leads via the website, but 99.9% of our sales are offline.
Challenge 2: What are some smart ways to get more leads and convert them?
Ciaran: The first thing you need to do is get on the phone and qualify or disqualify those leads you already have. Ring them up as soon as possible after the lead comes through from the website and start talking price range.
If they are happy to talk after that then you know they are real. A great technique is to ask the prospect what is wrong with their current bed, desk, or chair. When they tell you, they are effectively telling you their selling points.
Kevin: You can build up your lead database online with simple blogging, Twitter, and email newsletter strategy. You could do it in three steps:
- Create a blog on your website. Commit to writing one article a fortnight. This article can be short or long, contain pictures and/or videos, and does not have to be professional in terms of quality of content, but rather capture the feel of your brand and culture.
- Set-up a twitter account. Commit to writing one tweet a day and following 10 people a day. Link your Twitter account and your blog so that your blog articles will automatically be tweeted. And,
- When you publish your email newsletter tweet it to your followers. This will assist in generating quality traffic to your website. In store, you can put up a note for customers to email you and/or tweet photos, stories and memories that involve some of the products from your store. You can turn this into an ongoing monthly contest – best story/photo wins a prize. You can also put up a note explaining how they can easily follow you on Twitter and sign up for your newsletter containing special offers.
Challenge 3: How can I better present my product range for different audiences?
Kevin: When your database grows in size, you can look at segmenting the database and sending more customized messages to each segment. For example, you can send a different message to recipients who have purchased than to recipients you have only provided quotes to.
Ciaran: If you personalize your range enough you can sell anything. You need to build your customer list up. When you do, you can segment them. You might think about developing commemorative or tailored pieces relevant to particular segments. For instance, let’s say your database has 700 people with an Anglo-Saxon background aged in their 60s. You could offer something like ANZAC dining tables in a limited edition of 100, signed and numbered with a percentage of profits going to the RSL.
You will have them sold before they are made! Explore other concepts that will appeal to your customer segments and are related to special events, such as wedding beds, chairs for Father’s Day.
Josh: By offering special ranges, you can increase interest. Your customers will be more informed about what’s possible in made-to-order furniture, so they’ll feel more confident getting something made just for them. I buy pretty much everything online. I bought meat online the other day. That worked out really well. Even if the furniture is one of those things people won’t buy online, it doesn’t mean the website doesn’t have a point, because you can still use it to generate leads. You can have more informed customers when they come into the shop or call. They can say, “I want this … “.
Mark: Often they’re on the site while they’re on the phone to us. They’re engaging in a sales presentation and discussing possibilities for custom furniture, at which point we can invite them to come into the store or capture more information about their design preferences. Self-service on the website tends to be for accessories and smaller gift items.
Jonathan: You could have the accessories and gifts as a separate section of the site. It might mean segmenting the content into two, with different browsing processes. How likely is it that someone is going to buy a dining table from Perth from your store in Melbourne and have it shipped over?
Mark: We have done that. In the last five years, we’ve shipped hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of furniture interstate. It starts with exposure to our range on the website and then shifts to a traditional form of sales over the phone, followed up by emails, support photography of the product in-store, and so on to get people across the line.
Josh: So you need to present different content depending on where your potential customers are located.
Ciaran: Everyone within a two-kilometer radius of your store is going to be easiest to handle. You should offer them a special discount for being local. Neighbors and friends of staff should also be able to access those deals. Architects and premium builders can be invited into the factory so they can feel the quality and explore the possibilities of different furniture designs. Maybe you could let people rent a piece before they buy, and then take the rent off the final price if they buy within a certain time?
Jonathan: I’m thinking you might want to present the larger items in a different way so that you’re not necessarily driving people to the Zen (e-commerce) cart, but instead driving them to the appropriate inquiry system for you. So it could be about forms, it could ask them how they want to modify your furniture. The last time I was looking for furniture online, I wanted someone who was willing to build the bookcase units that I wanted at a price that I could afford. You could capture a segment of the market by giving them tools online that capture their preferences for timber, size specifications, and designs, which you can then use to generate a quote. If I could input that I’m wanting a bookcase so high, so wide, so deep, with so many shelves into a form and a day later get a quote, that to me would be a winner.
Mark: What you’re outlining is part of our specialists in-store, but it really is not covered very well on my website at all.
Jonathan: If it’s your specialty, then that’s your value proposition. It’s the way you stand out from your competition, so that should be all over the site.
Challenge 4: Many visitors to the website drop off after the first page they land on – what can I do to improve the design, structure and content?
Ciaran: The website is the electronic version of visiting your Nan’s place. It looks and feels like it should smell off mothballs and have a dodgy sales guy in a beige suit and sunglasses sitting in a corner waiting to pounce.
Mark: OK. I must admit that I had been … tussling … with my previous web designer.
Jonathan: I know you’ve had the site since 1999 and you say it has been revamped three times since then, but it looks like it’s stuck in 1999 – these are outdated layouts. There are things you might not have worked on due to budget or skill restraints, but I don’t think the website serves you – it’s not a good representation of the end product.
Mark: I did say to my father recently that I’ve outgrown the design because while it has been improved somewhat, I’m still not delighted with my website.
Jonathan: If you look at other websites and other online stores that are more recent you will see much cleaner layouts and more white space. Yes, they’re only aesthetic things, and what looks great today could look dated tomorrow, but if your business’s website looks out of date, what does that say about your business? There are a lot of broken links and incomplete sections. Why haven’t these been fixed? This is the front of your business online.
You need to communicate to the customer what each page is going to do for them. Remember, they’re not necessarily coming to your site by entering your URL in a web browser – search engines bring them to all kinds of pages.
Josh: Mark, just looking at the site I can see that you’ve done some work on search engine optimization, using all kinds of terms in the content from types of wood, to types of furniture. Who put together that content?
Mark: The timber content is industry information, from sources like Victorian Forests and just general information from the internet about wood to show the things we’ve learned about timber after 20 years.
Jonathan: You do need to be very, very careful about the content that you use on your website. Were you given permission to re-use it?
Mark: Yes, Vic Forests gave us some info on timbers and we got an OK from Nicholas Dattner, who was making handcrafted timber tables at the time, to use some information from him as well.
Josh: Some of that information is also on other sites. A lot of the wood descriptions are also available on the Victorian Woodworkers Association site. If that’s your original source it would probably be better to link to the original source somewhere on that page.
Jonathan: Also, it tells Google what the origin of the information is. Linking to original sources tells Google what’s relevant. The downside is that the original source will probably then rank higher for some of its content. Ultimately, I’m a bigger fan of having unique content – it helps you stand out. Your site might not rank well for ‘Victorian Ash’ but it could rank better for ‘Victorian Ash furniture’ or ‘Victorian Ash table’.
It takes an investment of time and money but having original content will serve you better. Don’t just rewrite it: work on fresh content that is more relevant to your business and potential customers. It will then be more relevant to Google, too.
Mark: OK, that sounds like a job for me personally, as I know all of this info. #