Online furniture retailers at home in new showrooms

Max Sparrow Richmond-2Last month, two pureplay online furniture retailers opened showrooms in Richmond, Melbourne.

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Milan Direct opened its first bricks and mortar space and Max Sparrow, which is owned by Coco Republic, opened its third showroom, after successful bricks and mortar openings in Sydney and Brisbane.

“Recently we found that approximately 75 per cent of online orders involve an interaction with showrooms,” Anthony Spon Smith, executive director, Coco Republic and Max Sparrow, told Inside Retail Weekly.

“As anticipated, this shows that whilst the online platform is undoubtedly successful on its own, the showrooms do aid online sales.”

Max Sparrow began its ‘click to bricks’ strategy in 2013, opening a pop-up showroom in Sydney, which led to a permanent store. In April 2015, the business jumped at the opportunity to set up a showroom in Brisbane.

Max Sparrow Richmond-6

“Foot traffic for both Sydney and Brisbane fluctuates, but on the whole is encouraging, as both do not have street frontage,” said Spon Smith.

“Melbourne clearly leads the way in terms of foot traffic, which can likely be attributed to the location on Church Street. It’s a real destination store for Max Sparrow and is truly reflective of the grandeur of the brand.”

E-commerce remains at the heart of Max Sparrow, as an important destination to research and transact.

“Our online store and bricks and mortar showrooms have a cyclical and symbiotic relationship,” said Spon Smith. “The website acts as an information source – a catalogue, so to speak.”

“The e-commerce platform acquires online traffic, while the physical showrooms provide a place for consumers to view the quality before placing an order. Most customers will have done their research online before visiting to view a specific piece or product category. Our showrooms are destination stores with a capsule collection, supplemented by the website.”

Coco Republic goes digital

Max Sparrow’s parent company, Coco Republic, also recently launched its first transactional website.

Coco Republic has five showrooms across Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and is looking for expansion opportunities in Perth and other locations.

“In our flagship Alexandria store in Sydney last year, we opened a luxury café space and now e-commerce is a natural next step for us. It’s all about continuing to create a better customer experience online and instore,” said Spon Smith.

The website features stock availability, live chat functionality and national shipping.

“It is a work in progress and we are continually improving the new site,” said Spon Smith.

“We’ll introduce a number of features in the coming months to continue to drive innovation and improve the customer experience further – from showing estimated arrival times on incoming stock to showcasing our full range of upholstery options online with pricing.

“When completed, the website will showcase more than 4000 products from Coco Republic’s own collections and exclusive international brands including Jonathan Adler, Timothy Oulton and Oly.”

Spon Smith said willingness for consumers to shop online is burgeoning, especially for smaller items.

“Consumer behaviour shows that there is a demand to purchase smaller ticket items online and homewares is growing exponentially. Whilst Max Sparrow was launched as a furniture e-tailer, we quickly expanded into homewares to tap into the customer demand.”

Coco Republic’s retail division is supplemented by three other independent divisions – Coco Republic Interior Design with studios in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth; Coco Republic Property Styling; and the Coco Republic Design School.

“Both at Max Sparrow and Coco Republic, we are seeing the average sale increase significantly. This is mostly through our design services where our design team assist the client to obtain a complete design solution for their space. People are time poor and need a little help.”

Milan Direct gets physical

A decade after its launch, Milan Direct’s first bricks and mortar location is an 800sqm pop-up showroom.

Dean Ramler, co-founder of Milan Direct, flagged the possibility of the business opening its first showroom in 2015, prior to being acquired by the Temple & Webster Group.

Milan Direct Showroom

With ambitions to rival the likes of Harvey Norman and Freedom, the Melbourne store is designed to tap into Milan Direct’s next phase of growth.

“We’re a retailer and we need to be wherever our customers want us to be,” Ramler said.

Internationally, pureplays such as Amazon, Bonobos and Warby Parker have embarked on omnichannel strategies, opening stores to allow customers to feel a select handful of products.

“I expect the pop-up showroom to be successful in its own right and if the international experience is anything to go by, I predict an incremental lift in online conversions as well, as even more customers discover just how good our offering is in terms of quality and value,” said Ramler.

Milan Direct has around 15,000 products on its website, but can only fit up to 400 products in the new showroom. To get around this, Milan Direct has placed iPads around its physical store, so if customers like a product, they can browse online for other styles and brands.

The showroom products will be updated monthly from the online catalogue and larger furniture items will be available to view and purchase on the spot or online for next day dispatch from Milan Direct’s Melbourne warehouse.

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