Merchandise Planning

The New World of Furniture Shopping

It comes as no surprise that retail giants such as Amazon, Walmart, and Target have expanded their already vast product offerings into the furniture space. While these leading brands have undoubtedly been successful across a diverse line of product categories, selling furniture can be trickier. Furniture still remains one of the most expensive purchases a consumer will make, next to buying a home or a car. And despite advancements in technology and online shopping, most customers still want to sit, feel, and experience furniture prior to purchase. Traditional furniture retailers can combat the retail giants by making an immediate positive impact to the customer shopping experience through well executed merchandising.

Merchandising is the visual link between buyers and sellers. Great merchandising layouts display products in the right place, at the right time, and lead to higher sales, larger average tickets, and better margin.

The optimal furniture store layout is achieved by embracing a few key principles:

  1. The customer’s shopping experience should be enhanced

customer shopping experience

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. To that end, the showroom’s entry point, or “decompression zone,” should transport customers from the distractions of the outside world into a shopping mindset. This decompression zone should be open, inviting, and provide an unobstructed view of the rest of the showroom. Sales associates should suppress the urge to engage guests while they are in the decompression zone. Instead, retailers should consider setting up a speed bump just beyond the entry point. Speed bumps are high-impact, eye-catching displays designed to slow a customer’s progression through the showroom. By placing a speed bump just past the decompression zone, retailers can combine the traditional concept of a speed bump with a less intimidating way for associates and guests to interact.

  1. The design should allow for flexibility

Retailers have a variety of store layout options (grid, free-flow, loop, etc.) and each layout has its own advantages and disadvantages. Free-flow layouts allow for more creativity and flexibility in designing vignettes and are therefore a good option for home furnishing retailers. A free-flow plan encourages customers to wander from one vignette to the next. The lack of a defined walking path means customers are drawn to displays that capture their interest, creating a more immersive shopping experience.


The free-flow layout also gives designers the creativity to completely change the look of the showroom without the constraints of a grid. Free-flow layouts create open sightlines that naturally invite customers to explore the entire showroom. Although the customer’s path is not clearly defined, strategic placement of furniture, power walls and speed bumps can produce a natural and engaging route through the store.


  1. Design should reflect consumer behavior and appeal to the target market

When designing a showroom, understanding consumer behavior is paramount. Studies have shown that people tend to shop the way they drive (we drive on the right side of the road, so we tend to veer to the right when we shop). Retailers know most guests will turn right after leaving the decompression zone, so the first department / vignette they see should make an impactful statement. Whatever the design, it should create a “wow” moment for the customer and encourage them to keep browsing.

Retailers need to have a predefined target market as it is difficult to appeal to everyone in a limited space. I once worked for a home furnishings retailer that tried to cater to all, from the budget-conscious consumer all the way up to the luxury consumer. In their showroom, they had on display a $399 sofa with a pair of lamps that retailed for $249 each.  Imagine the customer’s surprise when they realized that the pair of lamps would cost more than the sofa. It didn’t make sense, and it certainly did not make for a positive customer experience.

Succeeding in the new world of furniture retail requires getting back to basics! Retailers can have the best assortment of optimally arranged merchandise but if the showroom shows signs of uncleanliness with narrow aisles or cluttered vignettes, all your hard work will be lost as your customers feel unwelcome. Make sure the retail space and shopping experience is comfortable and inviting and you are already on the path to success.

Inventory Challenges

A Conversation on Inventory Challenges

Consumers continue to change the way they shop (buy anywhere, receive anywhere, and return anywhere), which has had a profound impact on how inventory decisions

are made. Get it right, you sell more. Get it wrong, you lose sales.

As such, many retailers are leveraging new technologies, like AI, to completely transform how they address inventory decisions today to help overcome the challenges of omni-channel retailing. We recently brought together a few retailers and Celect (a SaaS solution provider focused on retail inventory optimization) for a discussion around inventory strategies that businesses are using to mitigate risks and leverage their stores more effectively to meet the ever-growing changes in customer preference – along with how this affects existing processes from an organizational and technological standpoint.

Here are four key takeaways from our discussion with these retailers around addressing some of these challenges:

  1. Compensation and Measurement Needs to Change

In order to really drive the flexibility consumers expect, retailers need to change their current approach to compensation and measurement. This starts at the corporate level and goes right down to the store level. Those retailers who attended shared their experience with how business results actually improved when the compensation moved from “compensation by channel” to a focus on progressing a sale and completion. While it may require a shift in culture, it will help in the long run for retailers to really use inventory more efficiently across channels.

  1. Data Science is Key to Inventory Success, Yet Questions Around Organization Persist

Everyone agreed that data science is key to transforming the economics of the balance sheet. However, the challenge lies in how to best infuse science into existing inventory decision-making processes. One retailer in particular discussed their experience in transitioning the organization of their data science team from centralized to decentralized (where the science resources actually sat within the functions of each business unit). This was an important move because regardless of whether a retailer has an in-house data science team or not, what matters is being able to provide the business functions (or users) with science-based tools to deliver actionable insights. This is especially true when it comes to adopting AI technology to overcome many of the traditional inventory forecasting challenges retailers face. A prime example of why this is important can be attributed to Amazon’s success, where AI is built into the backbone of their business and is embedded in everything they do.

  1. You Can Get Started, even if Your Data Isn’t Perfect

The consensus among retailers was this: your data does not have to be perfect to get started with AI. This was particularly important to note because most retailers do not have all the data they want or need. The difficulty is finding which solutions will allow you to start with imperfect data, get value based on the data you currently have, all while still being flexible enough to add new data sets as they become available over time. One of the retailers in attendance shared their excitement about how their allocation optimization tool will change their day-to-day job because of this ability – and will only continue to deliver more and more value as the AI system continues to learn from new information added over time.

  1. Returns Drive In-Store Sales – A Win/Win

Even though the percentage of returns has continued to grow due to e-commerce shopping, everyone agreed that stores can be used as a competitive advantage. Consumers like to return goods to a store because it’s easy and often more convenient. Once a customer is in the store to return an item, the goal is to get another sale. Many retailers today are using the “returns to store” as an option to consider for store fulfillment, making the return to store option a win/win scenario for both the consumer and the retailer.

Do you agree with these challenges or are there other, more pressing challenges within your organization? We invite you to comment below.

Why our phones are the future of checkout

The retail industry is firmly in the crosshairs of change. Consumers’ need for convenience and limited tolerance for frustrating checkout processes is driving retailers to find creative ways to remove friction from the shopping experience.

Amazon has aggressive plans to open as many as 3,000 Amazon Go stores by 2021 that allow shoppers to walk in and check out without ever standing in line. Using machine learning and technology similar to what is found in self-driving cars, the shopper’s virtual cart is updated as they pick up items and charged to their payment card stored in their account when they walk out. Several retailers have introduced, or are testing apps. that enable customers to scan items themselves in the stores as they shop and pay via their smartphones.

Since most consumers carry a smartphone with them, retailers should leverage the convenience of customers having a powerful device that is always connected in their purse or pocket. Retailers can develop store apps with checkout software to easily turn a shopper’s smartphone into a mobile checkout. The benefits of transitioning to mobile checkout are many as the data collected can improve merchandising decisions, augment store replenishment, and enhance customer personalization and loyalty. If the physical store is to thrive and survive, retailers must merge some of the digital characteristics from online shopping into the physical environment, to create a convenient and frictionless shopping experience. Since consumers are becoming accustomed to shopping on their smartphones, phones are the logical solution to help improve the in-store checkout experience.

Smartphones have changed the way we live our lives, including the way we shop. The time is now for retailers to bring the ease and convenience of online shopping into the store experience. This will serve to create more efficient stores, less frustrated customers, and a better overall retail experience. Consumers’ phones are cornerstones of the future of retail and smart retailers are harnessing the power of smartphones to improve the customer experience.

The always-connected/always-on consumer

Today’s consumer is always connected and always on. The advent of the Internet and mobile phones has created a new 24/7/365 world of shopping that has forever changed customer expectations and the traditional retail model. Consumers now expect retailers to provide service anytime, anywhere and any way they want it or the customer will simply move on to the competition.

Consumers now start and stop their shopping journey in different channels and frequently shop for the same product across different retailers, via mobile, online or in-store. The path to purchase also varies by consumer and the type of product being purchased. Customers expect a frictionless shopping experience across an entire brand and they don’t want disruptions as they cross individual channels or locations. The experience must be seamless as the customer’s “shopping cart” and browsing history follow her throughout her journey.

The growth of digital – both online and mobile – is driving demand for increased digital capabilities bundled with personalization in the store. To survive, retailers must undergo a transformation requiring a true unified commerce approach. This approach delivers the convergence of the digital and physical shopping experiences to create a holistic customer shopping experience.

Fortunately, many retailers realize this need and are prioritizing the improvement of the customer experience. In this year’s Unified Commerce Survey retailers’ top unified commerce priorities were to create a consistent brand experience across channels (59%) by improving the online experience (52%), improving personalization (45%), and improving the mobile shopping experience (41%). Retailers realize that the online experience is a big part of their customers’ shopping experience, but delivering on customer expectations means not only improving what customers see, but also everything behind the scenes that is required to provide a seamless customer experience across all channels.

To learn more about the gap between customer expectations and retailer capabilities and see where retailers are focusing their efforts, I urge you to read BRP’s recent SPECIAL REPORT: The E-commerce Effect.

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The Power of Mobile

There is no denying the power of mobile technology as a major disruptor in the retail industry. The proliferation and convenience of mobile devices has completely changed shopping behaviors and elevated customer expectations. And there’s no sign that it’s slowing down any time soon. In fact, according to the BRP Consumer Study[1], mobile shopping will continue to grow as 41% of consumers indicate they plan to increase their shopping frequency on their phone or tablet in the next 24 months.

However, purchasing via a phone is just one way that mobile devices are becoming more pervasive. Many consumers use their mobile devices as a research tool throughout the shopping journey. In the BRP Consumer Study, we found that 34% use their phone to compare prices and 28% look for offers/coupons, all while in the store. This makes it imperative for retailers to ensure their mobile app/website offers the tools and capabilities to keep the customer shopping their brand.

A retailer’s mobile capabilities can actually be a major driver for where a consumer chooses to shop, with 67% of consumers choosing a store based on the availability of mobile coupons and 49% choosing a store based on the ability to locate products via a locator maps on their mobile device.

Unfortunately, retailers are still trying to catch up to customer expectations. While two-thirds of consumers want mobile coupons, only 23% of retailers actually offer mobile offers within the store. Half of consumers want to be able to locate products in the store with their mobile device, but only 23% of retailers currently offer it.

There is a large gap between what customers want and what retailers can currently offer. Mobile technology, and the opportunities it offers consumers, requires retailers to upgrade and replace applications and systems to stay ahead of their competitors’ customer experience offerings and to keep up with their very informed, technology-savvy customers.

To learn more about the gap between customer expectations and retailer capabilities I urge you to read BRP’s recent SPECIAL REPORT: The Mobilization of Retail.

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[1]2019 Consumer Shopping Habits – The Generation Gap, April 16, 2019

Consumers Shop Differently – The Generation Gap

While the shopping journey varies depending on the customer, product and even season, there are similarities within generational groups. Digital Consumers (ages 18-37) have higher expectations for the retail experience than Traditional Consumers (ages 38+) and embrace the use of technology to make their research and buying process more convenient. Traditional Consumers are more focused on the basics of finding their desired product at the right price.

BRP surveyed 1,298 U.S. consumers to identify how and where they prefer to shop and which factors influence their shopping journey. The findings of the survey are covered in the 2019 Consumer Shopping Habits – The Generation Gap report.

As retailers plan their in-store, online and mobile shopping experience strategies, it is imperative that they align with the desires of their target audiences. Making every experience a positive one is also key, as nearly two-thirds of ALL consumers will stop shopping at a retail brand after one unsatisfactory experience.


As Digital Consumers research products, they seek out consumer reviews to make more educated purchase decisions. When choosing a store, 65% want the ability to receive personalized recommendations and 65% prefer the ability to pay via a mobile wallet or retailer app. Receiving merchandise quickly is important with same day delivery a reason to choose a store for 77% of these consumers. Digital Consumers are more likely than Traditional to share feedback on social media for both exceptional and unsatisfactory shopping experiences.


Traditional Consumers focus on the basics when they shop – product availability and competitive pricing. While shopping for products, 63% choose a store based on the associates’ ability to order out of stock products. While they are more tolerant on the timing of deliveries, 86% will choose a store with free delivery over one that doesn’t offer this service. Traditional Consumers rarely share feedback on social media for any shopping experience, but for unsatisfactory experiences, 64% will contact the retailer to share their dissatisfaction.

For more information on the generation gap between Digital and Traditional Consumers, download the 2019 Consumer Shopping Habits – The Generation Gap report:

I hope you enjoy this report.  Please share your comments below.


The Store Still Matters

Despite what the media and industry analysts want us to believe, the store still matters. 79% of the consumers in our recent Consumer Study indicate they purchase merchandise in a store frequently. So, the store is not likely going away any time soon. In fact, this is likely to rise as 27% of consumers indicate their in-store shopping frequency will increase over the next 24 months.

With the store still a major part of the customer journey, the point of sale or commerce platform plays a critical role in shaping the customer shopping experience.Since the checkout process in stores is often the most frustrating aspect of an in-store shopping experience, it is important for retailers to ensure that this technology is efficient to make the process quick and easy. Most consumers (96%) feel that the ease of checkout and payment is an important factor in choosing where they shop so getting it correct is important.The right technology foundation is essential to support the best in-store customer experience and allow it to continue to evolve.

Instead of a simple checkout device, your commerce platform needs to serve as the link to customer information, shopping history and purchasing behavior across channels, not just in the store. Unfortunately, many retailers are utilizing old, outdated hardware and software that can’t support today’s requirements. This leads to associate and customer frustration because of slow transactions, lack of accessible information and potentially, increased theft and fraud. The challenge for retailers is to identify and implement a new holistic commerce platform across channels that addresses these issues and avoids being obsolete in a year or two.

More than half (53%) of the retailers in our 2019 POS/Customer Engagement Survey are focused on adding capabilities to their current POS with 41% focused on implementing a unified commerce platform so retailers are heading in the right direction. But we challenge retailers to look at cloud-based solutions to enable real-time capabilities and create a scalable and agile platform that supports your evolving business needs.

A cloud approach enables you to significantly reduce infrastructure, improve security and increase operational effectiveness by centralizing data management and processes. This allows you to be more agile so you can continue to meet your ever-changing customer needs and make sure that your store still matters.

I encourage you to download the BRP SPECIAL REPORT: The State of Store Technology for more information on what today’s store environment requires.


Consumers want a shared cart across channels

In BRP’s Consumer Study, 56% of consumers indicated that they were more likely to shop at a retailer that allowed them to have a shared cart across channels instead of a retailer that does not offer this service. Yet only 7% of retailers currently offer this shared cart concept – that’s a huge gap that retailers are struggling to bridge.

According to BRP’s SPECIAL REPORT: Real-Time Retail, customers want access to a single cart to shop across channels and be able to reach their cart via phone, computer, or even in the store – they want to “start anywhere and finish anywhere.”

As consumer expectations continue to rise, we have seen the importance of real-time visibility and access to product and customer information across channels grow significantly. With real-time inventory visibility and access across the enterprise, retailers can reduce or eliminate safety stock, which is a significant cost savings. Knowing where your products are in real-time also increases sales and minimizes markdowns.

Today’s retail model has to venture beyond omni-channel by breaking down the walls between internal channel silos and leveraging a common commerce platform with a single order management system to deliver a holistic, real-time, personal, seamless experience.

As consumers expect a seamless experience in the store, on the Web and via their mobile device – ‘real-time retail’ becomes the new industry imperative. In my experience, many retailers can check inventory in real-time but the data they are accessing is actually from yesterday, as the data is not really updated in real-time. This is ‘faux real-time retail’ based on the traditional store and forward architecture of legacy POS and e-commerce systems. As retailers move to unified commerce, full access to enterprise-wide data in real-time becomes more common as it is a necessity to survive.

This is ‘faux real-time retail’ based on the traditional legacy POS and e-commerce architecture where copies of master files are maintained at the store and updated on the headquarters’ system each night via transaction logs (TLOG). The enterprise master data records are essentially a day behind actual data.

Your customers are telling you what they want, are you listening?

I encourage you to download the full report to better understand the necessity of real-time retail to ensure you are meeting your customers’ expectations.


MURTEC 2019: A Digitally-Driven and Hyper-Personal Guest Journey is Everything

With a few days to reflect on the conference sessions and my many conversations with restaurant operators and industry technology vendors at this year’s edition of MURTEC in Las Vegas, the disruptive effect of digital and mobile on the dining guest experience has shifted.  No longer are the impacts of these technologies on the extended guest journey a point of competitive differentiation.

They are, in fact, 100% table stakes for not just success, but survival – pure and simple.

According BRP’s previous restaurant consumer research, and we feel was confirmed by the themes in Vegas at MURTEC, the dining spend of restaurant guests is being increasingly directed to those restaurants providing the most flexible and frictionless experience possible.  We still expect that as much as 30% of total restaurant sales (or $300 billion if you are keeping track) could be generated via digital ordering methods as early as 2023.

And it’s not just the guest-facing, front-of-house improvements being driven by digital and mobile technologies, significant improvements in restaurant operations are also being delivered across areas like kitchen production, training, labor, and reporting and analytics.

Along with the strategic “call to action” themes we confirmed at MURTEC, we continue to see many areas of critical priority for restaurant chains and operators as we move through 2019, including:

Allowing the customer to order from you any way they want– This includes not only the methods by which customers order (traditional, phone, web, mobile) but also providing the same flexibility when fulfilling that order. Recognizing that a customer one day may want to order from their phone and eat-in when they arrive, while the next day they might want to order on the web and pick their order up in the drive-thru shows that you have the flexibility to adapt to any ordering scenario. And while we are thinking about flexibility, remember that different dining customers want to pay for their meals different ways so providing agile and secure payment systems are also key.

The Growth in Off-Premises Dining (OPD)– Operators are excited about the revenue growth opportunities presented by the dining consumer who wants to order food from their restaurant for either pick up or delivery.  The ability to natively support the plethora of 3rdparty delivery companies is key, as is considering the value of providing your own branded OPD capabilities.

Guest Engagement Innovation is Coming to Restaurants– As certain advanced technologies mature and dining guest acceptance becomes more commonplace, don’t be surprised to see a more rapid adoption of technologies like voice-assisted ordering, ordering via auto infotainment systems, augmented reality (AR) for both guest and staff immersion, and the broad acceptance of restaurant-oriented Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity and insight that will help further improve the automation and efficiency of key components of the restaurant.

Capitalizing on Customer Data– Managing a guest journey is one thing, being able to provide a true personalized experience at each stage of the guest journey is another.  While incenting guests to participate in your marketing and loyalty programs is important, the ability to effective leverage that customer insight during each stage of guest engagement (from reservation to arrival to ordering to pay) is what will create the right combination of customer satisfaction and financial value (through higher guest checks and increased frequency of visits).

The Shift to Next-Generation POS platforms – Many restaurants require increased flexibility and scale from their most important operational technology platform.   Often this means looking at shifting to a cloud-based platform and in some cases includes more native mobile tools.  In either case, continued reliance on a long-standing legacy POS system will make the shift to digital much more difficult.

Agile-oriented Thinking is an Imperative– With the rapid increase in guest expectations, restaurants need to adopt agile approaches to everything: strategy, development, processes, and system implementations.

We can’t stress enough how clear the message is from all parts of our industry – guests, vendors, and operators – that digital enablement is mission-critical to not just continued success in your restaurant operation, but to your survival.  If you aren’t moving fast toward this revolution, then now is the time to step up.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts on this topic. Please share your comments and opinions below.


Empowering Retail Associates with Technology

There is no denying the power of mobile technology as a disruptor in the retail industry. Mobile devices are ubiquitous in our lives; dramatically changing how we interact with each other, obtain information and shop. Having this constant, virtually unlimited amount of information at our fingertips has changed consumers’ shopping behavior and elevated our expectations for customer service.

While much of the retail mobile technology discussion addresses the effect on consumer behavior, this proliferation of tablets and mobile phones also offers many new opportunities for associates to enhance customer service. Putting mobile devices in the hands of store associates is a necessity to “keep up” with the customer who has a plethora of information available at her fingertips.

Associate mobile devices enhance the shopping experience through access to real-time inventory and customer data and offer the ability to service customers and process transactions anywhere in the store.

Within the next three years, the number of retailers that use mobile devices and tablets in the hands of associates will double to three-quarters of retailers. This increased rate of adoption is driven by several factors, including the declining price of mobile technology, the growth in maturity and range of tools, and the critical need for store associates to have the necessary tools to enhance the customer experience and “keep up” with the abundance of information that customers have at their fingertips.

However, retailers need to continue to improve their mobile capabilities through refined processes, better technology and enhanced training for associates. Powerful associate tools are only helpful if associates are trained to use them effectively, especially when associates are dealing with sensitive customer information. Unfortunately, retailers are still playing catch-up to consumers that constantly research and buy products on their ubiquitous mobile devices.

Download the full report to better understand what retailers are doing and should be doing to ensure they can “keep up” with their customers.

I appreciate you opinions on this topic. Please share your comments and ideas below.