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This episode has been produced in partnership with Emarsys, an SAP Company, and their Emarsys unPredictions 2022 research, which shows almost half of American marketers say their main priority for 2022 is to invest time into getting to know their customers better.
Host Graham Barrett was joined online by Gregg Brockway, CEO of Chairish, Vab Dwivedi, VP Digital Products at Saatva, and Meghann York, Global Head of Product Marketing Solutions at Emarsys. Along with three US shoppers – Robin, Joiya and James, who provided insight into their spending habits and what they want and expect from the brands they shop with.
Every time I go onto the website, I’m learning something valuable that’s making it clearer and clearer for me that this is a good purchase for me to make
Meghann began by giving a brief background to Emarsys, the customer engagement platform striving to empower marketers to reach their customers on every conceivable channel. They provide highly personalised offers and information to help marketers meet the bottom-line metrics they have and in order for them to build relationships with those customers that eventually lead into customer loyalty. They released some research at the beginning of the year where they spoke to lots of their customers, and their customers’ customers, to find out what the priorities should be for the rest of the year.
Vab explained that Saatva, established almost 12 years ago, is the first direct to consumer mattress company. They are somewhat innovators in the space when it comes to taking a product you traditionally expect to go into a physical store and find and bringing that digitally to their customers. The way they operate means that the process is efficient, and they hope to pass that along to their customers, which is an exciting trend they want to continue.
He said that customer experience at Saatva is centred around omnichannel, and in addition to coming to Saatva.com, they have show rooms open in multiple locations across the country with an expansion aiming to see three more. The variety of touch points allows them to connect with their customers and their underlying goal across all the channels is to make the experience as seamless as possible, regardless of whether it’s in person or digitally, they want the customers to have the same level of service and experience across all the channels.
Gregg explained that Chairish is a leading online emporium where designers and tastemakers shop for exceptional home furnishings, décor, and art. Their business is getting pushed forward by three big macro trends, one of them being the offline to online e-commerce migration that’s been supported and accelerated by the crazy things the world has been through with the pandemic and supply chain challenges. Underlying all of that is sustainability and the growing interest in all things sustainable and sustainability in general. Chairish plays an important part in supporting recommerce, 85% of what they do is to help home furnishings and online goods find new homes and a second life. The growing interest in sustainability has been driven by what the world is going through, and it’s more important to young shoppers, but it’s increasingly important to everybody, and they’re proud that it’s an important part of the Chairish mission.
Robin, the first shopper they heard from, explained that she was 40 years old and originally from Massachusetts, being single with no kids, when she purchases things, she’s still very old school, and loves walking into a store, trying things on, feeling the actual fabric, and although she loves going into the store, she doesn’t always have a lot of time and does both.
The second, Joyia, said that she’s a 51-year-old artist living in New York, with a nine-year-old child, and she’s happily married. She said that now everyone is getting back to the new “normal”, she’s seeing that she’s levelled off on purchases a bit, while being more mindful and planning what she needs. She’s all about getting rid of stuff and only using what she needs, so it’s changing but she still finds herself buying more online than she does going out for things, for her it’s brought her love of delivery to a high expectation.
The last shopper, James said that he’s from Ohio, but lives in Brooklyn where he and his wife raised their kids, who are both grown up now. When it comes to purchasing things that he’s familiar with, he’s happy to buy online. Although, when it comes to buying what he’ll wear, he feels like he needs to see them, the fit, colour and hold it, feel what It feels like, because they’re more personal. He is often struck by the trend of online shopping because he doesn’t have much luck with it himself, but there are a few key exceptions, such as the in-app purchases, somehow Instagram really knows what he wants, some of the stuff they show him he thinks is beautiful. Anytime he’s buying something, he thinks there are a lot of tangible things that are important to him, which are colour, material, quality, fit, etc. but there’s also the intangible side, and with in-person retail experience, you get a shop clerk helping you, introducing you to things you may not have seen, like colours or aspects. He never minds being sold something that he wants anyway.
Gregg explains that they’re a curated marketplace, and they start by taking things that they think will be important, relevant, and interesting for their community, and then do as much as they can. The way they advance this is by starting with an interesting product and merchandise it into collections, promote it through their blog, and have an award-winning podcast. They bring in tastemakers to curate and explore what’s interesting for them, then they push it out through emails and try to personalise the shopping experience to make it as relevant as possible for people that come to them based on the idea, they can intuit what they like. It’s all about taking a broad assortment of product and helping people as quickly as possible find the things that are most relevant for the design challenge that they’re trying to solve. There’s no silver bullet, it’s a lot of little things that hopefully add up to an engaging experience, but it’s all supported by world class customer support. They pay close attention to what they’re doing, that customers like, and they try and address the things that are making people unhappy, and they’re proud that they’re earning world-class net promoter scores from their audience.
He said they think about their business as a community, with a community of buyers and sellers in which they help them explore exceptional home furnishing products. These are people who value design, who are either collectors or people who are trying to solve and create comfortable, engaging chic and unique living spaces.
Vab said he would echo everything that Gregg mentioned from an online perspective, for their business they also can take customers off the website as well, whether they come into one of their physical viewing rooms in Manhattan or Los Angeles or any of the locations they have. Alternatively, customers might pick up the phone, but one of their underlying goals is to ensure that customers have a seamless experience no matter what channel they’re coming through. They take a lot of pride in ensuring that whatever their primary brand value propositions are, they’re passing through to customers. White glove service is a big part of their value proposition for customers, they don’t sell beds in a box, they’re really focused on making sure that customer service is projected through all their channels.
Megan said that through listening to Gregg and Vab talk, she noticed they talked about trust, engagement and loyalty and this re-importance of first party data. Along with the notion that email is really the key to unlocking all that first party data. That’s how they know at the rudimentary level, who a customer is, and allows them to understand their shopping behaviours, their browsing behaviours, what they put in their carts, and what they eventually buy. All that helps to understand their customer and their preferences, to create wonderful online and offline experiences. Email is such an important part of activating first party data, customers still say that email is their preferable method of interacting with a customer. So even though we may not be checking those promotional emails all the time, once we go into a store, we think, “I wonder what that store has been talking to me about for the last week or so, are there any offers? Do they have anything interesting for me?”. Finding innovative ways to grab those email addresses, and to continue learning about that customer and then activating those really personalised offers or information in the email channel is really important. They always say what’s old is new again, and all the changes that privacy and consent implemented has bubbled email back up again. So, they are trying to think innovatively with a channel that has been around for a really long time.
Joyia said that her favourite brands communicate with her all the time, through every way they can – text, email, popping up on social media, and the latest one that she’s found is if she’s watching tv, and there will be a source of three ads that come up and ask you to pick one, and whatever the ad they tailor the ad to you. She thinks it’s brilliant because you’re not inundated with stuff you have no clue about, the messages are personalised and she expects them to be, because if they’re not she gets frustrated, and wonders how they ended up in her email. It usually turns her off a brand if she’s got no clue how they got there, whereas if it’s personalised to her spirit, she’s more likely to pay attention. James added that the brands that he’s shopped online with do send emails that are customised to him, including similar things that he’s bought before. He thinks it’s somewhat successful because he’s always in need of something, and if it tumbles into his inbox from a brand he knows, he’s more than likely to purchase it, rather than go out and find something new. He realises that it’s a computer algorithm, and that’s OK, he knows it’s a brand interacting with a human being, and he likes that it’s personalised. When he’s ordered things for his wife online, he’ll sometimes get emails with skirts and dresses and that’s when it’s a little funny and a little strange.
Robin said that it’s important to make sure that brands are socially and environmentally knowledgeable. She thinks it would be sad if you’re a fan of a brand and they don’t even acknowledge what’s happening in our world when it’s important, especially during the times that we’re living in. She thinks it’s important to be conscious of stuff like that.
Joyia added that she does want brands to be environmentally conscious but that it doesn’t always align with her pocketbook, and if she’s low on funds, she’ll pick the more affordable options. But it’s up to consumers to do the research because marketing can be true sometimes, but it can also be a great spin job.
Gregg said that for them it started with a passion around innovative design, but their one-of-a-kind product has touched so many people for different reasons. One of the most powerful reasons being the support for the growing interest in sustainability. The world has been through some really challenging times and there’s a growing appreciation that sustainability and being kinder to the earth is an important value. What they’ve been trying to help people do is accomplish their design goals and create interesting living spaces, in a way that’s kinder to the earth. So, what has attracted people to Chairish is that they’re an interesting place to find surprising and delightful things, and what keeps them coming back is the idea that they’re supporting a smarter, stylish, yet friendlier to the earth way of buying. He said that the circular economy is a buzz word but what it really means is helping items to find second and third lives, it’s shocking and horrifying that almost 12 million tons of home furnishings winds up in landfill every year, and much it of it could be repurposed, and reused to inspire others. What they try and do is firstly help customers recognise that vintage and antique is kinder and gentler to Earth and that they can buy something high quality that’s endurant and could be passed onto others. There’s a negative cycle of fast furniture where you buy something cheap, but they think there’s a better way of furnishing your home, that supports the growing interest in all things sustainable.
He added that during recent times there have been some very dark days, much of the home furnishings industry is made up of small businesses and during the dark days when things had shut down, they were grateful that they were one of the ways they could put food on the table, there was a bit of a silver lining. They try and encourage shopping locally, and help small businesses manage through the transition of a purely offline world to an omnichannel online and offline world, which is the future for all types of commerce.
Vab said that the efficiency of email from a branding perspective is very important, and in their business the lifecycle and customer journey is quite long. The research process is also long, especially since they’re selling a product that traditionally customers go physically into a store to get, because they want to touch and feel the mattress. From a technology perspective they’re trying to better understand customers intents and their questions, while trying to digitally replicate that experience of going into a store as much as possible. There are different views they can use on products, there’s the ability to engage using augmented reality, being able to see your product in your space and understanding how it’s going to fit the aesthetic. It may not just be a mattress that customers are buying from them, it could be a bed frame, or additional items that complete the look. So, technology plays an important part in bringing that to life, so that’s something that they’re investing a lot of money in and are feeling like it’s something that can help to differentiate them in the marketplace, while making customers feel even more comfortable when they make the purchase. Their aim is to give customers as much support as possible, including their post-purchase support, whether that be around returns or exchanges. But the best return is one you can prevent because you’ve got a happy customer from the beginning, and technology plays a big part in that.
Gregg explained that they’re trying to use technology to make it easier for people to feel confident that they’re making the right purchase. In home furnishings augmented reality has been really powerful, being able to see what something is going to look like in your own space, means it’s a great way of feeling confident that it’s the right purchase for you. Also, having accurate, extensive descriptions of the object is helpful, which starts to go down the personalised shopping experience, which is technology driven and an important part of creating a more engaging, trustworthy, and easy to use shopping experience. They’re entirely focused on the home furnishings market because there’s still so many unsolved problems when you’re talking about the digital shopping experience, and he thinks the tools that Vab and Megan mentioned, using augmented reality, and older stand-by tools like email are all powerful ways to increasingly engage, bring people back and show them things that are going to make them happy with their purchases going forward.
Megan added that when they first introduced AI, the whole conversation was, “are the machines going to take over our jobs as marketers?”, and there was a lot of trepidation there, but actually they know that marketing teams are so resource constrained, and now they’re starting to see marketers starting to embrace AI as just an extension of their team. She mentioned that Gregg and Vab have great use cases, where both businesses were having that one-to-one interactions, and those white glove businesses can find it difficult to translate those experiences over to the digital world, but AI can help do that. They can start to digitally ask consumers what they’re interested in? What’s their decorating style like? How many hours of sleep do they get? Those types of things and through learning about the things they’re interested in, they’re able to recommend those products online or in app or on email, digitally creating that consultive experience. In terms of AI within the inner departments, with every click on a website, a customer creates a piece of data about themselves that they can learn from, and it’s nearly impossible for a human to go in and digest all that data, get insights from it, and understand what can be learned from it. So, they’re seeing businesses using AI to understand what customer they should be speaking to next, who is likely to make a purchase and who is likely to subscribe, using those insights to get smarter about their marketing. She said AI impacts the customer experience, but it also impacts how they operate more effectively and efficiently as marketing teams.
Vab said that they’re past the point of speaking about the technology because they’re practically leveraging it. He thinks one of the most important places is in their data. Like most companies they have more data than they know what to do with, they have an abundance of data, and their goal is to turn that into insights. One of the ways they do that is leveraging the power of machine learning to better distil all the data across the different points of the customer journey. They have a very long lifecycle of research consideration purchase and post purchase support and a tonne of first-party data that they need to aggregate better and understand what customer intent is. He thinks machine learning and AI play a crucial part not just in understanding the customer but serving up more relevant digital experiences as well.
Gregg added that he thinks the promise of AI is to help people who need answers, get them faster and more easily, and so data is becoming increasingly overwhelming, so machines are helping them figure out how to get their important questions answered. They don’t talk about AI or machine learning at their meetings but under the covers it’s becoming increasingly important and relevant.
Vab said that as he’d mentioned previously the customer journey and lifecycle is quite long regarding a mattress purchase and the lengthy part is the research and consideration. Their ability to engage with customers happens early on and the first party data really helps them understand intent throughout. It enables them to build connections with customers, not just by positioning products or services, but generally talking to them about sleep, health, and wellness. Their extensive library of content that they share with their customers, includes informing them about better sleep and things that may be impacting their day to day if they’re not getting the right type of rest. With the AI and the machine learning they’re able to leverage their technology from targeting customers based on wisdom of the crowd and gets them closer to the one-to-one personalised experience.
Megan explained that when they talk about customer expectations, consumers are expecting a value exchange with their brands. Consumers have said for a long time that they’re happy to give up their information if they’re going to be given something back that’s valuable to them, whether that was an article recommendation, personalised product recommendation or offer. She thinks as a marketing space they may have pushed the limits a little bit far with some of the tactics they were employing, which is when a lot of the privacy and consent regulation conversations started happening. She believes that customers are experiencing that value exchange, as Vab mentioned, it’s a significant purchase. She said, if they’re able to say, “you know what, every time I go onto the website, I’m learning something valuable that’s making it clearer and clearer for me that this is a good purchase for me to make”, then that’s building trust. The customer feels like they’re getting their needs met and all those things go back to building loyalty. The customer doesn’t care about what’s going on the back end for them to be learning all these things about their intention or what they’re interested in, all they see is that experience, and if they’re getting value from it then the jobs been done well, leveraging AI in the right way to be able to offer that to the customer.
Gregg said that he thinks consumer expectations are going up, and to be a delightful brand you have to make people feel like they’re getting more than they’re putting into using you as a shopping destination. Technology plays an important role in helping improve and make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for. It’s how they make it easier to support people getting what they purchased faster than the competition does. When problems do arise, it helps to address them more quickly with the right process or information. He thinks the future is bright in the sense of technology helping brands deliver more value, but it’s also challenging because that means everybody has to be investing in ways to try and push ourselves to do what we do even better.
He thinks the home in general is no longer just a place to eat and sleep, it has to do all sorts of other things, so in addition to that how people furnish their homes is increasingly as important to how they dress, and act, and where they buy from. Sustainability is one of the underlying tailwinds that’s supporting them as a business and will hopefully help move the world in a positive direction.
Vab added that he thinks it’s important for them to stay on track of innovation, the motto they think about internally is not just to focus on top line business goals, but they are focused on solving customer problems. He said: “once you solve your customers problems, they will solve your business problems”, both are intricately connected, which is why it’s their focus going forward. They continue to look at new ways which they can leverage technology to bring the products to life and make it feel like there’s a sense of knowing what’ll be delivered to you, and how well it’s going to benefit you in the long term. They’re selling a product that customers will spend around a third of their life on, for as long as they have it, so there’s a very deep connection with the literal product, and their mandate is to make it as relevant and enjoyable as possible.