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INTERVIEW Made.com: designing for the digital generation

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INTERVIEW Made.com: designing for the digital generation

Annabel Jack, Chief Commercial Officer, Made.com, spoke to Emma Herrod about how the company is connecting with millennials online and through its expanded showroom

 

The high street is changing. Shoppers want experiences and not just ‘things’, and they want to be entertained when they do go into a physical store. Any retailer with a high street presence wanting to know how to fulfil these customer needs could gain a lot by taking a look at the newly expanded and relaunched London showroom of Made.com.

 

Not only is it designed with the furniture retailer’s millennial customers in mind but it is also helping the company achieve phenomenal growth: 2018’s turnover was up 34% year-on-year and that’s just in the UK.

 

Made’s showroom is more than a display of products. It’s a place where customers can immerse themselves in the catalogue, explains Annabel Jack, chief commercial officer at Made.com.

 

The company sees its showroom – which with the relaunch has tripled in size – as a place where its online customers can touch and feel fabric, attend a workshop, speak with a designer or play with the technology that’s being tested ahead of possible rollout to other showrooms. It’s a place where customers can experience the brand and where Made can build a deeper, more personalised relationship with customers.

 

The showroom has furniture, lighting and homewares on display for customers to touch, feel and sit on as well as a very large, 55 inch, touchscreen through which customers can further explore the products and their provenance. A design area with seating gives them the opportunity to look over content on smaller screens, be inspired or spend time with one of the company’s designers.

 

All of the screens give access to the same content and functionality as the company’s website but their large format and proximity to the actual product make it easier for shoppers to move between digital and physical. From here they can rotate product, watch videos and zoom in to examine an item up close or view different colour ways. Those colours can also be seen on physical swatches of wood or material which shoppers can examine or take away. The area where the swatches are kept is designed to allow shoppers to see everything in similar colours, so all of the blues, pinks and so on are presented together.

 

There is some additional functionality on the screens, too: a QR code is displayed with every product and when the shopper scans this with their smartphone it brings up the product on their phone. The QR code can also be printed out from the screen onto a glossy postcard which includes an image of the product and its name so the customer has a physical record of what they’re interested in.

 

A buy-now button triggers an alert for one of the store assistants to approach the customer. Jack explains that store assistants’ salaries are not commission-based so conversations are not a hard sell.

 

“The human interaction is as relevant as the technology experience” says Jack, and she adds that this desire for a high-quality experience for the customer is one of the reasons why the company has stayed away from augmented and virtual reality.

 

To further link online and the showroom, customers will soon be able to book an appointment online with a designer in store. This is just one of the service-led ideas that the company is working on.

 

“The showroom is a destination,” says Jack, so people will travel especially to visit the showroom. This means that the six showrooms which Made operates currently do not need to be in prime locations. “Finding the space is important,” she adds.

 

Everything in the showroom is designed to help the customer, whether that’s seeing the product they have been looking at online (its website displays a list of the products in the showroom so shoppers are not disappointed if the items they have been looking at aren’t on show when they visit), gaining inspiration from the company’s own content and curation or user-generated content, or taking time out in the coffee shop – which is coming soon – to think about and discuss potential purchases.

 

The showroom is also hosting events and workshops, and an area of it has been given over to partnerships with companies offering complementary products. This area – which is currently being used by indoor plant specialist Patch – will change regularly, explains Jack, giving shoppers an even greater reason to visit as well as keeping the space fresh.

 

Inspiring millennials

Inspiration, visuals and design are three areas which are important to Made and to its millennial customers. The company was set up with the ambition to be the number one destination for home design across Europe and Jack says the past year has seen it focus on “building a brand for the millennial generation who are confident to buy a big ticket item online”. She equates the current position of the furniture market to that of the fashion industry a few years ago, when it suddenly expanded online once consumers were happy not to have to touch and feel items before making a purchase.

 

A change to the homepage of the website last year saw the company introducing more features to inspire customers as well as highlighting the provenance of products – something that Jack says is important to millennials.

 

Videos show how items are made and the individual factories that the company uses, from the potters in Portugal to the needleworkers in Nottingham. Other features highlight different parts of the home and how they can be styled. This is an area in which Made excels with its own studio creating content around products for the different channels. It is also flexible and able to move fast to react to trends.

 

Shoppers can gain further inspiration by narrowing down product lines to show the type of things or collections that they prefer. By ‘liking’ items online, they will be shown products that match their style. They can also choose to view only items which are available for delivery in their chosen timeframe or match certain size criteria.

 

In addition, shoppers can see what products look like in other customers’ homes and how they have styled them. “We have over 10,000 pieces of user-generated content,” says Jack.

 

“Our customers are on social media a lot.” She adds that visual platforms such as Instagram have “fuelled” the company’s growth. Customers can buy directly from Instagram, too, she explains and they are also very happy to share their purchases on social media, thus acting as brand ambassadors.

 

Customers can co-create products with the company since anyone can send ideas to the crowd-funded Talent Lab, which Made launched in 2017. A selection of product ideas, along with details of the designer, are then shown on the website and shoppers can pledge £5 or so to an item that they would like to see go into production. If an item receives enough pledges, Made will work with the designer to take it from the design stage and into production. Shoppers who make a pledge receive the item at a lower, early-bird price. This scheme has grown from a competition with a single winner to the company now working with 200 designers a year.

 

Talent Lab is well defined within the showroom with photographs of designers hanging near their products. Jack explains that designers are at the heart of the business since the founders’ ambition was for Made.com to be “the leading design-led furniture business in Europe”.

 

 

Europe

 

Made operates in seven countries outside of the UK and these accounted for 42% of its total turnover in 2018. Of these, France and Germany are the largest markets. In fact, says Jack, looking at the size of the opportunity: “Germany is equivalent to the UK and France put together in terms of the buying power of consumers.”

 

Made also operates sites for Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium and Spain. Its international operations are run from offices in Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam where it also has showrooms, albeit on a smaller scale than the expanded London outlet. Jack explains that the showrooms are an important part of the company’s growth and it is committed to rolling out more. She sees them being opened in key cities but adds: “I can’t see us in a position where we’d want to roll out 30 showrooms.”

 

This year will also see further expansion of Made’s online presence with a site covering Denmark and Sweden and sites for Portugal and Italy. Its latest launch was in October 2018 into Spain’s £6bn-a-year market for furniture and homes. The country has made a great economic recovery in recent years and Jack says Made’s launch has “exceeded expectations”.

 

Spain’s GDP grew by more than 3% year-on-year 2015 to 2017, and with rising employment, Spanish shoppers are keen to spend more and spend better. Online sales are also increasing rapidly from a low base compared with the UK; the furniture and homewares sector is a specific area of growth that’s forecast to reach almost 13% penetration by 2022.

 

The country’s passion for interior design, along with it having the second biggest smartphone penetration in Europe (after Sweden), leaves scope for Made to expand very quickly and effectively through brand advocates on social media.

 

The company already collaborates with many Spanish designers, including Casa Estudio and Nelson Ruis Acai, one half of Cate and Nelson who have designed bestsellers for Made, including the Wes sofa.

 

Made is predicting growth in all of its markets during 2019 and expects its international business to overtake the UK to account for more than half of its turnover this year.

 

2018 success

This predicted growth follows a year in which Made has seen its turnover increase by 37% to £173m, driven by the expansion of its existing markets, its launch into new product categories and the growth of its international markets. Revenue in the UK reached £100m for the first time with turnover from its European market growing by 40% to £73m.

 

The expansion of product categories away from large items of furniture into lifestyle, leisure and gifting, which includes items such as dog beds, yoga mats and bicycles, has been a key driver for the 34% growth in the UK market in 2018, explains Jack. “There have also been lots more impulse purchases.”

 

While customer acquisition is always front of mind, the launch into the new categories has helped with retention and repeat purchases since items which were previously the mainstay of the business such as sofas have a long gap between one purchase and the next.

 

Made now sells a range of 4,000 products which is refreshed weekly. Up to 2,000 new products are launched each year by the in-house design team and collaborations with hundreds of established and emerging designers as well as those applying through the Talent Lab. It is also in charge of the manufacturing through supplier relationships which it has built up over the years and enable it to show the provenance of the products it sells.

 

Made has its sights set on the burgeoning European market for furniture and homewares, which is estimated to be worth around £120bn. Through its investment in technology and infrastructure – including a £40m investment in 2018, and a newly designed homepage and in-house creative team – the company is set to continue to expand its business and deliver on its ambition of being the design brand for the digital generation.

 

Images courtesy of Made.com

 

This interview first appeared in the March 2019 issue of InternetRetailing Magazine. Click here to explore this edition further.

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