Shift to online can’t be ignored; time for a new website?

Matt Sherwen, Director at Sherwen Studios, talks about the importance of a website and what online trends are here to stay.

Recently, sofa and carpet retailer ScS unveiled its brand-new website, designed to energise and amplify its online presence.

The site was delivered by Sherwen Studios using the Salesforce Commerce Cloud Platform, which has ultimately transformed ScS’ e-commerce strategy.

Taking a closer look at the revamped site, which allows ScS to quickly adapt to changing consumer behaviours caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Inside Furniture sat down with Matt Sherwen, Director of Sherwen Studios, who talked us through the process of a great website.

“With a large shift in consumer behaviour to online shopping over recent years (and more so during the events of 2020), it has never been more important for retailers and manufacturers to have a strong web presence.

“During the pandemic, those with a digital-first approach have excelled in a challenging market. With this shift expected to continue post-COVID, now is the time for furniture retailers and manufacturers to re-assess their digital strategies.

“For traditional brick and mortar stores and manufacturers, a strong web presence serves to immerse the consumer in the brand, it’s USP’s and its range. This web presence can ultimately drive footfall to stores, so it’s important to remember that a sub-par experience in today’s market can have a detrimental effect on a business, equivalent to a tired showroom of the past.”

The same can be said for eCommerce too. With consumers purchasing more online during 2020 than ever before, including big-ticket items such as furniture, retailers need to pay careful attention to their online customer experience and maximising the opportunities available.

So, how can Sherwen help?

Matt happily explains: “From our experience, furniture businesses, and in particular big-ticket items, presents unique challenges when designing a website – especially when they relate to the purchase journey of a customer.

“With consumers taking much longer to make their purchase decision (due to the inherently higher value of the product and more difficult nature to return) the website must first focus on reassuring the customer that the piece of furniture is perfect for them and will fit into their home!

“At Sherwen Studios, we help our clients achieve this through strong imagery, clear product detail pages, and advanced tools such as 360-degree tools. We can even implement augmented reality that allows us to go as far as placing the piece of furniture in the customer’s home.

“For many customers, however, that purchase journey can cover multiple touchpoints, both online and in-store. With this in mind, an optimum furniture website and digital strategy as a whole must consider the unique requirements of these journeys which can include viewing on the website and locating the store, through to completing the purchase online a few days after a store visit.”

As Matt highlighted, Sherwen offers advanced digital tools. One such tool that has grown in the past year, and is set to continue on an upward trajectory, is CGI.

“Based on this year, I believe we’ll see a continued push to accurately represent products online through CGI imagery, and for some retailers, to give consumers the option to experience them in their own home through augmented reality. In addition, we expect retailers to continue with combining the online and offline customer experience through appointments including virtual appointments for those that can’t visit stores or for online-only retailers.

“With website speed starting to affect search engine rankings from mid-2021 we expect website performance to be a key part of any business’s strategy during the first six months whether that’s the optimisation of existing websites or a re-platforming to a more performance focussed eCommerce platform or content management system.”

Making sure your website is performing well is vital. Matt shared his top five key points that make up a strong online platform. These are:

  1. A responsive and/or mobile-first approach. More and more consumers are browsing on mobile devices; therefore, the user experience must be at it’s optimum across all devices.
  2. Speed. Alongside the rise in mobile users, speed will be a key search engine ranking factor from mid-2021. Therefore, websites must be fast to load.
  3. Simplicity. A website’s design should not be overly complex. This is because you only have 8 seconds to make an impression.
  4. Are there clear calls to action? It’s no good having a pretty website if it doesn’t work hard. Your visual hierarchy and clear calls to action need to navigate users through the sales funnel.
  5. Scalability and speed to change. With rapid changes in consumer behaviour and technological enhancements, retailers need a platform that is agile and quick to implement new features and functionality.

The shift in consumer behaviour during 2020 and the emphasis on creating a COVID secure shopping environment brought about an overnight requirement for customers to make in-store and often online appointments.

This is something Matt and his team see continuing into 2021 and has proved successful with their clients, including ScS, as a customer with an appointment is far more likely to convert into a sale.

“With businesses having to turn online to survive, we’re seeing a high demand for eCommerce websites from companies who have yet to sell online, and for those that have, we are seeing a shift in investment to online and a desire to ramp up their online presence,” Matt revealed.

“For furniture retailers, an emphasis is being placed on the product experience online and the need to allow customers to view all available product variants online through CGI rendering is something which cannot be achieved in-store.”

What is the process in development or refreshing a new website?

Thankfully Matt concludes the interview with a helpful notion of what they do best. Building websites tailored to your business.

“The development of a new website should always be considered the beginning of the next chapter of a business. Therefore, taking the time at the beginning of a project to fully understand a business, its products, and target customers allows us to create an informed strategy.

“This strategy is not just for the website itself, but to ensure that the business is making the most of the digital opportunities available in the long term.

“All of our projects start with discovery, research, and strategy phases cumulating in the formulation of content, creative, and technical specifications for the project ahead.

“As a platform-agnostic agency, we only propose platforms we believe are the right fit for a business and its ambitions. From this point, we assemble a team of specialists to work in partnership with a client to deliver the project through the design, delivery, and testing phases.

“Once a project has been delivered, we continue to work in partnership with our clients to continuously optimise the website and overarching strategy in line with consumer behaviour.”

To leave you with a final thought, just how optimised is your website?