City Furniture takes digital-edge approach to enrich customer in-showroom experiences

| by Judy Mottl
City Furniture takes digital-edge approach to enrich customer in-showroom experiences

Photo courtesy of City Furniture.

A Florida furniture retailer is slicing transaction time, boosting sales efficiency, capitalizing on consumer foot traffic and enriching the in-store customer experience after deploying a digital-edge mobile point-of-sale strategy.


City Furniture's digital transformation, which kicked off in late 2016 via a partnership with IBMand payments solutions provider Ingenico Group, is producing a bevy of rewards that extend from back-office operations to its 400-plus front-line store associates at 27 showrooms.


"The customer experience has been enriched, our customers openly tell us so," City Furniture CIO/CFO Steve Wilder told RetailCustomerExperience in an email interview.


"Early results are very positive with an increased merchandise average ticket (a greater than 10 percent lift), increased service revenue average ticket on in-home warranty and stain protection (about a 30 percent lift over green screen tech that had been in play) and reduced discount average tickets (because tighter iPad controls reduce discounting)."


How it all began

It all started with a quest to enrich and enhance the customer in-showroom shopping experience and empower sales associates with dynamic product and customer content that would give them the ability to answer all questions and avoid disengagement from the customer.


The retailer enlisted research and technology consultancy Gartner to develop its IT strategy as it would need to modernize legacy systems and get rolling on a path toward digitalization at its 15 City Furniture and 12 Ashley Furniture HomeStore showrooms.


"Gartner advised us toward developing digital edge applications to be integrated with core legacy systems that could potentially enable City Furniture to leap frog other retailers that had not already made significant investments while not being delayed until core systems were completely modernized," explained Wilder.


That concept of "edge applications" began with three in-showroom mobile apps developed via IBM's MobileFirst solutions: Accelerating Sales Associate Performance, Mobile Finance and Mobile Payment, which were deployed on more than 400 sales associate iPads across the showrooms, as RetailCustomerExperience reported in early spring of this year.


In addition, all stores have now implemented Ingenico Group's RP750x mobile point of sale card reader, which is paired with an iPad Pro via Bluetooth to run additional applications.The solution also leverages Ingenico Group's mPOS EMV Software Development Kit and Ingenico Decryption Web Service.


Ingenico Group's mPOS EMV SDK allows City Furniture to process and securely accept all forms of payment, including EMV chip and sign, EMV chip and PIN, magstripe and NFC/contactless. In addition, the DWS allows every location to process City Furniture's finance cards and City Furniture gift cards.


While app development and deployment may seem routine, the digital edge strategy was a comprehensive undertaking with many lessons learned, said Wilder, noting the most unplanned lesson was one of resource management and the imbalance between external development sources and internal team resources that came into play.


On the external side, there were three separate IBM offshore garage teams working on the individual apps and an internal City Furniture team focused on building APIs and web services, Wilder explained.


"This imbalance reduced efficiencies within the internal team since the team needed to keep all three India-based teams active each day. The balancing act required our internal team to shift gears throughout the day, from one app to another, to stay optimally efficient."


While a bit of a challenge, the process did allow City Furniture to complete all three apps concurrently and launch all three at once — a huge benefit.


"The synergies that exists among all three apps are significant, and launching them all concurrently increased adoption and enhanced our opportunities for success," said Wilder. "We planned and succeeding with a ‘big bang' launch since we need to change how our associates worked on day one or they would fall back into the green-screen technology they were comfortable with."


City Furniture's partnership with Ingenico came into play given its quest to tap mobile payment. During its search for the right solution, City Furniture discovered the Ingenico RP750 mobile payment terminal while attending the NRF Expo in 2016.


"We avoided being pressured into changing payment systems from Verifone MX860 terminals and Payware Transact platform to expensive, not mobile, payment solutions merely to eliminate the EMV liability shift that occurred October 2015," explained Wilder. "We realized this technology [the Ingenico terminal] was ‘new' and the SDK was untested, but we felt confident in Ingenico's and our teams' (City and IBM garage teams) ability to make this solution work, and they did," said Wilder.


The learning curves

One potential challenge in City Furniture's digital edge strategy was how best to train users — the store associates — but it proved not to be a huge hurdle given associates' familiarity with digital tools and apps and a well-thought out training plan. The first in-store transaction using the new tools occurred in February 2017.


"We planned for adoption success by engaging our sales associates in the process from the beginning. They selected the iPad as the mobile device they would be most comfortable carrying on their person all day," noted Wilder. In addition, three sales associates participated in an Apple/IBM Cupertino Workshop to kick start the development process, and associates participated in the iterative UI changes and enhancements made along the way. 


The associates and sales management developed training materials to integrate existing selling practices and techniques with the mobile apps' functionalities. 


"We introduced the apps and training in a progressive and controlled manner, starting with a very small number of associates in one showroom, then gradually increased the users one showroom at a time, stretching over a period from January 2017 through early May 2017," said Wilder.   


The technology provides City Furniture multi-layered security using point-to-point, which has significantly lowered its Payment Card Industry compliance scope, noted Wilder. The Ingenico mPOS devices allow associates to accept a myriad of different payment types anytime and anywhere.


Keys to success

The digital customer experience strategy, which has led to shorter transaction times, greater sales staff efficiencies and increased customer turnover rates, also revealed best practices that may prove useful in future customer experience projects.


In addition to ensuring a greater focus on balancing internal versus external IT resources, Wilder advised retailers to get support and buy-in from senior executive management.


That clearly isn't an issue for City Furniture as its leadership team, from the CEO level down, is actively engaged in driving tech advancement efforts. Executives attend Gartner events as well as trade shows to see new technology developments.


"A supportive CEO and senior executive team is critically important and helpful," said Wilder, who also advised retailers to "stick to a longer development plan with appropriate testing, training and launching." 

Topics: CRM, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Employee Training, In-Store Media, Marketing, Merchandising, Mobile Payments, Mobile Retail, Payments, Point-of-Purchase / POP, POS, Technology

Companies: IBM Corporation, Ingenico

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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