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Bricks Clicks and Furniture

Bricks Clicks and Furniture
Summary: Bricks Clicks and Furniture (or How I stopped worrying about furniture and learnt to love the internet)... MFI at the birth of online furniture retailing and what we learned.

Remember this, don’t you miss it?

Nowadays, I run a digital marketing agency, and have spent 20+ years running digital businesses

But back in ’00s, my first big management job was at the then furniture giant, MFI.

MFI in the ‘00s was huge – 200+ big sheds, £850m turnover, it owned the market for fitted kitchen and bedrooms, and had a huge home delivery operation served by its own fleet and factories.

My job though was – MFI online in 2002 was tiny – less than £300k compared to the giant the parent company was.

The company saw the website as another store and essentially replicated the entire range online including the fitted ranges that drove the store offer.

The problem this caused was simple and complex at the same time.

This setup an unnecessary conflict between the objectives of the site and the objectives of the store network – the store network was always better positioned to serve the customer for a complex considered purchase, had a strong sales culture, well trained designers and a great store presentation.

Introducing the website into this mix was less than pleasant – the store team had a view that the online presence would interfere with their sales process, confuse the customer and worst of all, interfere with their commission generation – believe me this motivated those guys – at the main sales conference in my first year, I got up to present and was roundly booed by the store managers.

This wasn’t helping anybody, so after discussing it with the leadership team, I started to attend the area meetings, with the retail director… In my head it seemed to be every single one all over Britain for 18 months. I know this can’t have been true but hey – never let the truth get in the way of a good story…

The online team had a head start due to the amount of research the company did into customer shopping patterns and journeys, this had meant the site had lots of resources and assets to support the mission, but crucially, we worked with the store teams to understand how customers bought the big ticket highly considered items like fitted kitchens – we also recruited a store manager onto the online team.

We worked with the data and customers to understand how and what they bought online – which tended to be lower consideration items like divan beds, small wardrobes etc….

And came to the rather obvious conclusion ….. they were the same customers BUT they had two different shopping missions.

1> When they were buying the big ticket item – they needed support to research the range, understand their kitchen space & visualize it.

2> When they were shopping urgent items like a replacement mattress or a bedside cabinet, they needed price and accurate delivery information

What actions did this trigger?

We configured the site to support this research activity, using enhanced range information and photography for the fitted ranges, a little online room planner and an appointment generator for stores (that sent the work the customers had done on their online planner to the sales representative in advance and onto their CAD system).

We focused the selling messages and promotional messaging online on the low consideration items the customers would buy in the online channel to simplify the customer’s choices.

What were the outcomes???

In four years, grew from £300k to £50m

In stores, customers who used the features on the website before going to store to buy big ticket items had the following attributes;

Commercially – they spent 40% more on a given purchase

Operationally, they took 1.5 visits to store to complete a purchase vs 4 visits previously.

Eventually, a WIN WIN…..

It didn’t save MFI in the end, the next recession was too much, but we sure had a great time working there…

All the lessons learnt have served me well over the years

  • Every channel matters and doesn’t exist in a silo
  • Customers need to be listened to
  • The answer is usually inside the organization – your people are your greatest asset – you just need them to believe it!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this blast from the past.

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