Ecommerce presents a unique challenge for BoConcept due to the retailer’s focus on a modular product portfolio — a powerful differentiator from other furniture sellers, but a difficult value proposition to show off online. The Danish retailer’s operations across nearly 300 stores in 65 countries thrive in a showroom model, where knowledgeable associates can show off the brand’s configurable furniture in a tactile environment, but the realities of the coronavirus pandemic made in-person shopping impossible.
BoConcept was completely focused on brick-and-mortar in the U.S. when the lockdowns started, and its existing phone order system was not up to handling this new challenge. The solution: connect the website and the store using chat and a virtual showroom. In just two weeks, BoConcept revamped its U.S. website to make it a place where interested shoppers could see products in a full 3D space, before being connected with associates to refine and eventually complete the transaction.
“What you’re doing is you’re creating a sales order online that is then executed in direct contact with a store,” said Steen Knigge, Director of U.S. Marketing in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “The reason we did that is we are very customizable and modular. We’re not like IKEA where you buy specific sofas and chairs, which you might be able to just upholster differently. We want to make sure, especially since you couldn’t go to the store, that when a customer buys a sofa online there is a connection with the local store in terms of getting the right configuration and right fabric and so forth.”
BoConcept’s well-educated associates, who are schooled on interior design to help shoppers pick the right furniture for the right space, are among its most important assets — even online. The retailer utilizes its frontline employees, rather than call center agents, to power its website’s chat feature, which handles anything from order queries to product selection advice.
“It’s actually our design consultants who engage with clients online,” said Knigge. “You go to boconcept.com and then you can ask a question about whatever it might be. Sometimes it’s a specific order question, or it can be for instructions, or for support and help to make your ecommerce purchase. Even if it’s not specifically made for that, we sell a lot directly via the chat function because you can engage online there. Many times you will conduct the transaction directly through the chat, at which point you can be taken off the chat and have a phone call.”
Virtual Store Lets Shoppers Visualize Rooms, Not Just Rows of Chairs
Chat also can be used to enhance the virtual store visit feature, which lets shoppers navigate an entire BoConcept location from their browser. Shoppers can move through a virtual space that was created from actual 3D photographs of an existing store. BoConcept studios place pieces of furniture together in discrete rooms as a way to help shoppers visualize how each piece will fit in their own homes.
“This is the most valuable thing, that people can come into the store and see how the various products work together,” said Knigge. “This is also where we separate ourselves from the competition. I’m not sure how often you go to a furniture shop, but many times you will see 20 living room chairs next to each other in a studio setting — it’s just a chair. We work in studios, so we have a bedroom that has been outfitted completely and you can see how it all works together.”
Shoppers looking for a more personal touch can chat with an associate directly inside the virtual store window, or book an interior design service appointment. This lets potential customers tap BoConcept design consultants for advice, ranging from choosing a single piece of furniture to decorating an entire house, at no cost and with no obligation to make a purchase.
Top-Notch Associates Require Ongoing Training
Associates themselves go through extensive training during the onboarding process and beyond. The retailer’s BoConcept Academy program, which includes both in-person and online training sessions, regularly updates employees on the latest developments and tests them to ensure they fully understand the concepts. Onboarding lessons cover the entire product portfolio and interior design concepts in general, while more recent lessons have focused on how to interact with shoppers remotely.
“We need them to be well-versed in everything our products can and cannot do to meet the needs of our clients,” said Knigge. “When you get onboarded at BoConcept you will go through what is a continuous education, but for the first month or two you will go through all of our different products, how to approach the customer and so forth. All employees have to understand the BoConcept brand, understand the product and understand how we are showing it.”