Economy

Buying kitchens and furniture online? Manufacturers rely on video call sales

Shops such as furniture stores or kitchen studios have so far hardly offered online advice or sales.

The corona crisis forces managing directors to rethink.

In the future, costly purchases by consumers could also be transferred to the Internet.

The topic of shopping can be viewed very differently in the Corona crisis. While initially hamster purchases sometimes caused retail difficulties in organization, small retailers in cities had to close their shops. This again benefited online retailers, as consumers were no longer able to go to brick-and-mortar stores or wanted to reduce their risk of infection.

Even large stores such as furniture stores or kitchen studios had to close for weeks as a result of the crisis. These industries in particular are examples of the fact that digitization has by no means reached all sectors. The majority of consumers still buy furniture in stores. According to a survey by the furniture industry association VDM, the online market share before the corona crisis was 15 percent. Even if it has risen due to the crisis, the sales generated for the companies are nothing more than a consolation in comparison to the missing earnings in their branches.

The problem: Most expensive purchases are still only bought after a personal consultation and after an assessment on site. In addition to expensive furniture, this also applies to kitchens and cars. But Robin Behlau is convinced that this way of thinking is changing. He is the managing director of Aroundhome, a platform on which products and services relating to household needs are conveyed.

Also costly purchases via online shopping

After its foundation in 2008, the company first became known as the buyer portal. The renaming to Aroundhome followed in 2019. Customers can, for example, receive regional offers for the purchase and installation of solar systems – and thus take exactly this step: complete cost-intensive purchases online. “Companies have to adjust to this, especially if they assume that another lockdown could be threatened,” says Behlau in an interview with NewsABC.net. In fact, small and medium-sized businesses already respond to the crisis and partially adapt their strategies.

Companies with a good online sales solution were able to generate sales at least in this way when their homes were closed. Now they can open again, but if the second wave expected by some experts comes, shops may have to close again. “Companies are now faced with the question of whether they want to invest in their digitalization or run the risk that they might be dependent on government aid. Every industry must now deal with the advantages of online sales, ”Behlau warns.

The kitchen manufacturer Marquardt Kitchens from Emleben near Gotha in Thuringia also dealt with this topic. The company owned by managing director Oliver Barth more or less had to close the majority of his almost 40 kitchen studios in Germany overnight. “There was also no recipe for us on how we can continue to advise our customers fully and on a personal level in the crisis,” says Barth in an interview with NewsABC.net. “Customers want to see and touch the selected kitchen planning materials before they finally buy,” he explains.

Kitchen manufacturer from Thuringia set up online advice in a few weeks

But that was no longer possible. A solution had to be found quickly in order to be able to continue to reach customers. “We saw the crisis as an opportunity and quickly made the decision that we had to bring our expertise online because many customers were still interested in personal advice on kitchen planning,” explains Barth. The solution: advice via video call. What sounds simple is hardly common in the furniture or kitchen sector.

Since Marquardt Kitchens and Aroundhome had already worked together in the past, they were able to brave the crisis with joint support in this case too. “Despite the crisis, we continued to place Marquardt online customers for video advice and were able to keep our own business running,” explains Aroundhome founder Robin Behlau. “In the future, it will be a matter of finding the right options for being able to provide online advice as customer-oriented as possible. For example, via an app for online appointments. ”

Marquardt Kitchens established an online sales channel within a few weeks. This path is not easy to copy, says Behlau. “The larger a company is, the more difficult it is to implement a digital strategy quickly. This is also due to the fact that the digital infrastructure in large and established companies often runs on comparatively old systems. These older systems are easier to protect than new, more complex ones. Not to mention the high costs that a changeover means.

“Video calls are much more efficient”

In addition, the Marquardt employees had to be trained quickly. The software should be kept simple, says Barth. That is why the consultants share their screen with the customers at home, so that everyone involved can see the same products. “Video calls with customers are much more efficient and therefore save both time and money. Selecting products or viewing samples works just as well on a screen as in a personal conversation, ”explains Behlau the advantages of digital sales.

Nevertheless, the changeover was initially unfamiliar to the employees, reveals the Marquardt kitchen manager. However, the strong customer demand ensured that the switch to individual online advice could be implemented, said Barth.

Even if this changeover was successful at Marquardt Kitchens, the question remains why such an emergency situation first had to arise before the company forced the changeover – or at least others are now thinking about it. “As long as a business model works, everything goes as usual,” says Barth. “Of course, you take care to adjust accordingly and adapt to customer needs, but for such a big step to make the advice completely online, you sometimes need an impetus,” he admits.

Kitchens, furniture, cars – in future there will be more purchases online

Once on the path, Barth wants to stick to the new sales channel. He assumes that the demand for online advice will no longer decrease, but rather will increase. “That is why we decided to continue using the advantages of online consulting and to integrate them into our existing business model,” he says.

The right step for Aroundhome founder Robin Behlau. He also expects a significantly increasing interest in the online purchase of expensive products and especially kitchens. He dares to make a forecast. “I think that every fourth kitchen will be sold purely online in five years is a sporty but realistic scenario.”

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