If you want to know what it’s like for your business to not have an online advertising presence in 2019, imagine a door-to-door salesman whose sales strategy was to walk up and down streets without saying a word, simply waiting for people to ask him what he’s selling. It’s hard to imagine this salesman staying in business for too long—and yet too many businesses in our industry seem to be adopting the same strategy, as they wait for new customers to come to them.

You only need to look at the discrepancy between where the industry is spending its marketing budget, and where our customers actually are. The recent Furniture Store Performance Report conducted by Furniture Today shows that the top two channels receiving furniture stores’ ad budget spending in 2018 were TV and newspapers, at 42% and 13% respectively. On the other hand, only 10% was spent on Internet ads/search engine marketing and just 6% went to social media.

If we look outside the industry at the market as a whole, we see a different story—2019 will be the first year that digital marketing spend will outweigh traditional ad spending. Digital ad spend will increase to $129.34 billion this year—54.2% of estimated total US ad spending. Mobile marketing will also make up two-thirds of total digital ad spend, at $87.06 billion this year.

You have to wonder: if the majority of the U.S. market is investing in digital marketing, why is the furniture industry content to be stuck in the past?

Who is online?

Of course, the argument usually goes “Well, our customers aren’t buying online—why should we be devoting resources to digital marketing?” But the numbers are increasingly telling a different story: the population across the board is becoming more and more online-centric.

It’s not just Millennials, either. A 2018 breakdown of online shoppers found that Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers had an almost equal share in online shopping. Gen Xers also interestingly seem to be the most attached to digital channels. The Retail Dive Consumer Survey found that Gen X shoppers are currently the least likely to shop in-store across several categories (less likely than even Millennials).

Baby Boomers are not to be discounted when it comes to your marketing online, either. Nearly half of those aged 52 to 70 spend 11 hours a week online, and they rank being on social media, researching products, and shopping on websites as the second, third, and fourth most important things they do online, respectively. Pew Research found that in 2018 the percentage of Boomers who own smartphones was 67%—up from just 25% in 2011.

And of course, let’s not forget the Millennials, whose share of spending in the furniture and bedding category has gone up every year since 2014 as they’ve started moving into their own homes and beginning families of their own. While you might have an idea of Millennials as twenty-somethings just out of college, the surprising truth is that the oldest Millennials are actually turning 38 this year.

For Millennials (as countless articles and blogs have told you by now), being connected online is almost second-nature, and this includes a connection with brands. One study tells us that they are more likely to become a loyal customer when a brand engages them on a social network.

Being aware of the fact that strong attachment to being online is found across generational lines is important, but equally important for your business is also knowing how they are online.

Why your 2019 plan needs a digital strategy

Your business needs a mobile site

When Americans go online, they are doing so more frequently on their phones than they are on their desktop computers. A report from 2017 found that, on average, Americans check their cell phones every 12 minutes, or 80 times a day. Now a year later, none of us would be surprised to learn we do more than that before noon.

So what does this mean for you? Your average customer is extremely likely to have their eyes on their phone at any given moment, so you should be increasing your accessibility and visibility on mobile. Another 2017 report tells us that 51% of consumers say that they use mobile devices to discover new brands and products.

Want to upgrade your mobile performance? The most important thing you can do is to make sure all of your websites are mobile-friendly. There’s nothing more frustrating for your customers than slow-loading mobile sites, or even worse, the complete absence of a mobile site, where trying to hit a button on the mobile version of the default desktop site feels more like sharpshooting from fifty miles away.

Go on your business’s mobile site yourself, navigate around to different pages, add a product to the cart, practice checking out, and if at any point you find yourself exerting more effort rather than less—then your mobile site needs a refresh. The resources you devote to your mobile site will be worth it. Google research showed that 80% of smartphone users were more likely to purchase from companies whose mobile sites helped them easily find answers to their questions.

Part of providing the answers for your customers is knowing what they’re searching for online. The answer to that, as data shows us, is overwhelmingly customer reviews and product information.

Your business needs an online profile

The Retail Dive Consumer Survey reports that ⅔ of surveyed consumers said they research products online at least occasionally before shopping for them in a store. This research is based around two channels: online reviews and company websites.

The reason behind this is trust. The third most trusted form of advertising, according to Nielsen, is consumer opinions posted online, behind branded websites and recommendations from family and friends. This trust is a powerful thing: 63% of Millennials, 61% of Gen Xers, and 40% of Baby Boomers said they would switch to a new brand if they read a favorable review of it online.

Just in case there’s any doubt as to how effective reviews are for the furniture industry specifically, research shows that product reviews and e-commerce websites are the top two influences of purchase decisions in our category. The bottom line: make sure your product information and authentic and up-to-date reviews are easily accessible for all customers (on desktop and mobile). If you neglect this side of your business, you’re practically giving up on customer engagement—when searches turn up inadequate or inconsistent info on a product, 94% of people simply walk away from the sale.

Clicks plus bricks

Too frequently in the early Aughts we’ve framed the relationship between e-commerce and in-store shopping as a competitive one rather than a symbiotic one. The reality isn’t either/or—you need to invest in both to increase customer satisfaction and keep them coming back. Deloitte Insights reports that $0.56 of every dollar spent in-store is influenced by a digital interaction. So how are your consumers’ digital interactions with your business influencing your revenue?

As we discussed in our previous post, the majority of customers still prefer to shop in stores, and when it comes to the furniture industry we know this is as the norm. The fact is that most customers shopping for furniture want to have a firsthand look (to feel, sit, and lay down) with a product before they’re sure they want to purchase. Reaching out to your customers through digital channels is essential not just because this is where your customers are, but because at the end of the day it’s simply how you get more of them in the doors.

Remember that whenever a customer makes any purchase (and especially one as important as a piece of furniture), it’s an exchange of trust. They’re telling you they trust your product is going to meet their needs, so they’re going to give it a shot. If you want to make your customers’ purchases of your product less of a leap of faith and more of a sure thing, the best thing you can do is establish a reliable and accessible online presence, provide real reviews, and make sure they have all the information they might need so they can walk into your store with confidence.

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