“Consumers have spent the last 12 months doing literally everything online…and 2020 was their masterclass in how to live in the digital age” said NMG President and Chief Member Advocate Tom Hickman in his kick-off speech, citing encouraging statistics around the ever-increasing number of vaccinated Americans, which is slowly helping brick-and-mortar businesses reopen. “But just because stores, restaurants, schools, and theme parks are becoming safer to visit, it’s unrealistic to expect consumers to suddenly abandon their newfound love and proficiency in the online shopping experience.” This is likely clear to many Nationwide members that achieved record growth last year. According to Hickman, members that worked with Nationwide service partners RWS (Retailer Web Services) and Site on Time experienced 27 percent more sales—an additional $270,000, to be more specific–than retailers on competing platforms, leading to an additional $67,005 in profit.
Hickman also zeroed in on the third round of economic stimulus payments that started going out to consumers this past week, and reminded members of the traffic spikes to their sites when the first stimulus payments went out in April 2020. “I encourage you to get active, if you aren’t already, around that $1,499 price point,” he said, offering examples of packages in the furniture, laundry, sleep, and grilling categories that generally clock in around that price. “The $1,499 price point is one consumers are predisposed to hone in right now. So leverage the speed of digital to merchandise, leaning into it online and look to replicate that in-store.” In other words, just because brick-and-mortar locations may be open, it’s still all about the digital doorways into those locations.
While most members have had no choice but to step up their digital game and have seen much success as a result—sometimes even struggling to fill orders–they have slacked in other important areas: namely, marketing. “Today, consumers are exposed to many thousands of brand messages a day, and those interactions build awareness,” said Hickman. “If we go dark on our marketing efforts, we stop building awareness of our businesses with shoppers who aren’t in the market today….We’re surrendering those shoppers, to those who remain active.”
In other words, and in some cases, to big-box retailers such as Best Buy that have doubled-down on online ad spending since 2020. “In short, this isn’t a time to go dark,” said Hickman. “When it comes to marketing, your brand is either appearing, or it’s disappearing.”
Bridget Brennan, author of “Why She Buys: Winning Her Business and Why,” stated in her presentation to retailers at Nationwide Marketing Group’s PrimeTime event March 18 that while certain conditions were not within their control – most notably, the pandemic, that they were “100 percent in control of customer experiences.” With that assumption, she proceeded to highlight the motivators that they could best leverage to capture and retain female buyers.
Brennan stressed that forging an emotional bond with women consumers could be powered by four main motivators, all of which can serve as strong influences in both women’s decision-making about choosing a store and in their remaining loyal to that choice moving forward; she then illuminated these with strategies about how to enact them.
One of the four motivators, she said, is to make women customers feel “connected. Look at your merchandising materials. Audit them. Do they use emotionally engaging language to match the way [women] think about their homes?” She said that words and phrases that suggest repurposing home spaces, or that talk up the importance in communicating to customers about wellness maintenance in the home, such as emphasizing allergy-free bedding and using the Sanitize cycle on a washer, were helpful. On the ecommerce front, she recommended writing “better descriptions – don’t just provide ‘cubic feet’ measurements for refrigerator interiors, but rather, say, ‘This side-by-side freezer can hold 16 frozen pizzas.’ Don’t bury your story in your website.”
The next motivator is to make female buyers feel “inspired. If you’re not inspiring, you’re not selling,” she said. “Your customers can only be as enthusiastic as you are.” She encouraged dealers to ask “discovery” questions beyond “Can I help you?” and to merchandise products “in context,” along with complementary accessories.
Another motivator she cited was to help the customer feel confident about her buying choice, encouraging retailers to emphasize their policies of service after the sale, and making sure to be pro-active about following up on any aspect of the transactional experience.
Finally, Brennan exhorted listeners to make female customers feel appreciated for their business, by using “gracious thank-you language like, ‘You’re welcome!’ instead of “Not a problem!’ Celebrate the purchase, by sending an email or a thank-you card in the mail – it’s a small thing [but will be remembered].” She also advised doing regular follow-ups to keep top of mind with female clients for when their next needs arise.
In the post-webinar Q&A session, Brennan acknowledged that women buyers very much miss shopping in stores “in the way they used to, taking their time and interacting with salespeople. But over the past year, retailers have opened up consumers to new ways of shopping. Within the four walls of a store, you can fully engage the five senses. The opportunity now for brick-and-mortar stores is to rethink how to deliver [similar] experiences that you can’t get online.”
The biggest news coming out of the custom integration space for Nationwide was its partnership with CEDIA. Expanding education opportunities for members has long been a goal for Nationwide. When it comes to distinguished certifications, CEDIA was an obvious choice, Alexander explained.
Better education for dealers, Alexander says, is a win-win for everyone. Nationwide members will be able to access the CEDIA learning platform directly from Nationwide’s Exchange site, and they will be given a $200 credit, which gives members a head start to explore high-demand topics such as lighting design, networking, security as well as an up-and-comer: air purification systems. These ever-evolving spaces require ongoing continuing education, Alexander noted, something members will receive through the CEDIA platform.
The retailers who weathered the COVID storm were those with a strong digital presence, Alexander said. Business who quickly pivoted to online showrooms, digital transactions and “Buy Online Pick-Up in Store” or BOPIS tactics, while also taking advantage of Nationwide’s support with personal protective equipment, are seeing their efforts pay off and can capitalize on emerging trends.
Among those trends is the outdoor category, which is “exploding,” according to Alexander. Furion’s outdoor TV line as well as Samsung’s Terrace TV have been “massive” in the market. Coupled with outdoor speakers from leaders like Klipsch, and the ongoing trend of bringing grande experiences to the home will only strengthen.
Welcoming luxurious, yet highly personal, innovations into the home is a mindset that will not soon go by the wayside. Manufacturers, now more than ever, are introducing highly functional, intelligent and connected solutions to the market that not only serve consumers but offer convenience at the highest level. Take the luxury appliance market, for example. According to John O’Halloran, who leads Nationwide’s luxury appliance division, this category accounts for more than $3.7 billion, which is “dominated by the independent dealer.”
Nationwide is partnering with Monogram, with plans to expand to other manufacturers in the future, to help Nationwide members update their web content so consumers receive the same high-touch experience on the web as they would in store, O’Halloran explained. The organization will assist with constructing strategic digital campaigns with the goal of driving more conversion.
At this year’s virtual show Monogram demonstrated, as part of its Statement Collection, the 48″ Dual-Fuel Professional Range with four burners, grill and griddle. According to Alex Ochsner, Monogram’s Training Development Senior Manager, the range was given Architectural Digest’s gold medal for great design, with its edge-to-edge handle design, solid brass knobs and accents, in addition to a full-width window appearance.
Monogram’s 48″ Dual-Fuel Professional Range with 4 Burners, Grill and Griddle is powerful with its 23,000 BTU multi-ring burner but also stylish with its brass accents.
Ochsner touted the “power and muscle” of the new range, with its 23,000 BTU multi-ring burner as well as its flexibility to reach high temperatures quickly. Alternatively, it can “back down” to simmering temps for smaller pots and more “delicate” operations, such as melting chocolate.
Incorporating brass is eye-catching as well as functional, considering the thermal properties of the metal and its ability to stand up to corrosion, Ochsner explained. The range comes with cleaning instructions specifically for brass but also includes black burner caps for swapping out.
The range also features an “industry exclusive” True Temp burner, which incorporates the induction Hestan smart pan, which is embedded with temperature sensors and Bluetooth technology. According to Ochsner, it is the first gas burner that allows you to set and maintain a specific pan temperature and control, mimicking an induction cooktop.
Additional features include: built-in WiFI; three-piece grate with reversible wok feature; hot air fry mode; and articulating 7-inch LCD touchscreen.
The mantra at BSH Home Appliances is to “improve the quality of life at home” and “fully delight those who trust us.” Their efforts to “make people smile” are evidenced in company’s Fresh By Design line of refrigerators, which are both smart and convenient. The FarmFresh System incorporates four technologies: VitalPreshPro, FreshProtect, MultiAirFlow and AirFresh filter. The counter-depth design allows it to sit flush with the counters and blend with design.
BSH’s built-in coffee maker also features modern design combined with intuitive features. The all-in-one design does not require additional plumbing or extra water line. The brewing system works in a pressurized chamber for optimal brewing conditions.
BSH Home Appliance’s Fresh By Direct refrigerator line and built-in coffee station offer intelligence and convenience.
All BSH appliances can be controlled by the company’s HomeConnect app. Homeowners can manage tasks; remotely monitor the refrigerator, dishwasher and oven (preheating and gathering new recipes); as well as start brewing coffee from anywhere.
Self-proclaiming itself as the “most human-centric” appliance brand in the world,” Fisher & Paykel, National Training Manager, LaRon Doucet, Jr., says the company “pays attention to how people live and interact with their homes.” As the kitchen continues to be the “heart of the home,” or “social kitchen,” Doucet, Jr. says Fisher and Paykel strives to introduce products and features that enhance these experiences. Under the umbrella dubbed “Beauty of Choice,” there are five facets to the company’s product line: Minimal, Contemporary, Professional, Classic and Outdoor.
Within those five facets are another five considerations Fisher & Paykel focuses on:
Design to Fit: Products are produced in a way that they blend into any scenario
Beautiful to Use: Quality at all touchpoints; solid stainless steel that “feels good” to the user and interfaces that make sense
Perfect Results: Cooking, food preservation, dish drawers and cleanliness are all tested to ensure quality
Built to Last: All products are tested to make sure they live as long as the home
Respect for the Planet: ensuring products have low energy and water consumption
Among the innovations Fisher & Paykel displayed was the Series 9 series of Pro Ranges. The ranges feature dual flow burners; pedestal feature so the cooktop does not get as hot, and the ability for the burners to reach high temperatures quickly but go down to 140 degree simmer state.
The new liftable touchscreen provides a wealth of information and showcases new features such as “Cook by Function,” which includes new options such as, Air Fry, Pizza Bake and Slow Cook. Users can also choose to “Cook By Recipe.”
Speaking to the personalization trend, Samsung showcased its BESPOKE line of refrigerators, which come with customizable panels for its 24-inch column-style fridge as well as the 24-inch bottom-freezer design. Homeowners can style by color and finish with eight possibilities. The 4-Door Flex line of fridges comes with an interior water dispenser as well as a AutoFill Water Pitcher. It also cubed and nugget-style ice.
The BESPOKE line of refrigerators from Samsung are customizable according to panel color and size. the 4-Door Flex line features an interior water dispenser and AutoFill Water pitcher.
Samsung’s products are also connected through the company’s SmartThings app and Family Hub. The SmartThings app is also compatible with Google Nest products. According to the company’s website: “SmartThings users can also incorporate Nest devices into their current WWST-certified devices to create Scenes and automated experiences, controlling the functions with simple voice commands or through the SmartThings app. Soon, users will be able to stream right from their Nest devices directly to their Samsung TV or Family Hub fridge.”
A sign of the times and the growing concern for increased sanitation and cleanliness is Samsung’s AirDresser. Released as a staple for the home closet, this product refreshes and purifies clothing. It steams wrinkles, removes odors and lifts 99.9 percent of common bacteria from fabrics.
Design, high-functionality, luxury convenience and intelligence convened at this year’s PrimeTime.
Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, consumers have spent a record amount of time cloistered in their homes. But it has not only taxed their health and their stamina. COVID took a heavy toll, too, on their appliances, setting the stage for breakage, replacement and even upgrades – and providing the independent member dealers of Nationwide Marketing Group the chance to position themselves as solutions providers who, in the words of Nationwide VP Home Appliances Doug Wrede, remained resilient, took creative approaches, and whose performance was, he said, “nothing short of inspirational.” And he projected “continued momentum” in appliance sales through 2021.
Wrede gave this assessment during one of the opening speeches of Nationwide’s Virtual PrimeTime, which launched in mid-March online for the buying group’s membership via a streamlined platform that offered presentations and buying sessions, with replays of the presentations continuing for a month.
“You rose to face each challenge,” Wrede said. “You were there.”
And so were consumers, ready and willing to buy, and making the appliances sector a winner in terms of units sold. “The kitchen is the centerpiece of the home,” he said, and “the continued focus on the home is why I’m so bullish on the year ahead.”
He cited home equity figures clocking at a $194,000 average per household, which is expected to drive continued strong home improvement spending.
“Despite the many headwinds of last year, including factory closures, price increases, production adjustments and backlog in demand accumulating into the hundreds of thousands of units, the tailwinds in opportunities ahead are beginning to shape up brighter and stronger in our industry,” Wrede said. He noted that home appliance usage is three to six times higher in homes than earlier, and that accelerates the replacement cycle, with more discretionary spending aimed at the kitchen rather than outward at travel and tourism activities.
Wrede added that while inventory recovery is somewhat tempered by “sustained high demand,” he cited “stronger” Q1 shipments due to higher factory yields, fewer promotional models’ availability and less discounting carried over from 2020.
All signs, he said, point to a continuation of the upward sales swing for appliances. He further noted that Nationwide’s performance as a group in terms of unit shipments of appliances – up 17 percent closing out 2020 – far exceeded the 6.4 percent industrywide uptick in shipments.
Wrede also talked opportunities that are presenting themselves to dealer members for 2021. They include diversification into different brands to fill need gaps, or into other categories, such as outdoor goods. He also cited luxury appliances as a lucrative sector to enter for dealers who are not already there, and said John O’Halloran had joined the Nationwide team to help members build out into that space as an aspirational category.
Stay tuned to Dealerscope for more show coverage in the next days.
On a special episode of the Independent Thinking Podcast hosted live from Nationwide’s Virtual PrimeTime, Patrick Tam, Strategic Partner Manager at Google, discussed digital trends as they relate to retail and the ways retailers can use Google’s suite of tools to stay ahead of them.
During the discussion led by Rob Stott, Corporate Communications Manager of Nationwide Marketing Group, Tam described how this past year forced retailers to rethink their business models and how they engage with their customers. Tam referenced an Enders Analysis study that showed online retail has been accelerated four years as a result of the pandemic. Businesses were quick to adapt and embrace this innovation, and Google played a big part in it all.
As retailers navigate this new digital landscape, the Google Partners Program offers reliable insights on companies that can help them reach their goals. The whole idea of the program is to offer some “structure” to the marketplace and highlight those companies that are truly delivering the best services.
Nationwide Marketing Group is one of those companies.
They have actually been named a Google Premier Partner, which requires an even higher level of professionalism. In order to be granted a Premier Partner status, a company must be able to reach a large number of small businesses across the U.S. Additionally, this partner must encompass a high level of excellence and expertise. Google has a set of measures in place to gauge performance that all partners in this rank are held accountable to. They also require Premier Partners to undergo specific certifications and trainings to ensure they are well versed in the entire Google Suite.
All of these tools have proven to be of vital importance during the acceleration to e-commerce. Tam feels strongly that the changes we’ve experienced in retail as a result of the pandemic will have a lasting impact. One of those is the importance of a retailer’s online presence.
“Your website is your best employee,” says Tam.
A company’s website has become the entry-point for customers, and a positive experience there will leave a lasting impression and get them to the next stop: visiting your storefront. Once they’re in, utilizing Google Trends or Merchant Reports can provide insight into what products people are looking to buy and the brands that they trust. Leveraging this data can help retailers optimize merchandising and ordering decisions so that their shelves are always stocked with the most popular products and brands at the right quantities.
One thing Tam says he would like to see utilized more on the retail front is augmented reality. This tool provides customers with a wealth of information on a product right at their fingertips. The more information someone can learn about a product from videos, reviews, ratings, etc. will help them to feel more confident in their buying decisions.
As Stott explains, it doesn’t take becoming an expert in the entire Google Suite in order to succeed, but retailers can have faith that, when partnering with a Google Premier Partner like Nationwide, they will be backed by a team of experts who can help them reach their goals.
Trends forecaster Michael McQueen, in his Synchrony-sponsored “Post-Crisis Kickstart” presentation to Nationwide Virtual PrimeTime attendees March 17, offered the buying group retail members some powerful advice about turning adversity into opportunity – particularly germane in wake of what has perhaps been the most disruptive year ever for their businesses.
“You need to respond to disruption in a brilliant way,” he told viewers, pointing to behavioral changes forced by COVID leading to the rise in adoption of remote shopping in the last 12 months among three in four consumers. He added that the trend is expected to endure, with seven in 10 consumers likely sticking to that way of making purchases in the post-pandemic period.
How to respond, McQueen said, is to view these changes by looking past their generalized impact and being ready to take note of and relate to segmented groups of consumers by meeting them on their own terms.
As an example, Millennials don’t respond to emails as frequently as Baby Boomers, but rather favor social media as a communication method. And Gen-Z shoppers – a demographic McQueen said comprises “your future customers” – need to be related to in a completely different way. He noted that they hold $143 billion in spending clout and also have the power to sway their parents’ buying habits; they listen to social influencers, and they are passionate about issues such as sustainability. The best way to reach them, he added, is “to market through them, not to them.”
Of all the points McQueen drove home to his audience, perhaps the most salient was when he encouraged Nationwide members to “think revolution, not evolution” – which entails “rethinking your assumptions, and those about your customers… “These 12 months have been a catalyst for revolution,” he said. “Sticking with the way things have been won’t work. Don’t miss the opportunity to be revolutionary.”
Rob White, vice president of marketing for Nationwide Marketing Group, took viewers of the Virtual PrimeTime Show March 17 on a walkthrough of the changes in consumer purchasing habits in the year since the effects of COVID-19 began to be felt. The overarching message in his talk, “Understanding the Customer Journey & the Impact of COVID-19,” was that retailers must be sure to accommodate and support digital shoppers all along the route to the buy.
Putting viewers of the presentation in the shoes of the consumer, he used the example of “Betty,” a fictional but typical buyer in need of a new washing machine. White explained that part of the process in Betty’s shopping journey includes “a phase of consideration and then active evaluation” – and that journey in COVID times now begins online, in-home, and on a computer or other device, rather than in the store.
He told retail members, “If you’re not relevant [to Betty] at this stage, she won’t ever consider purchasing from you.” And he added that what really makes a retailer relevant to this shopper, especially if Betty is buying under duress (i.e., replacing an unrepairable or outdated washer), transcends product features, benefits and value, extending to engendering peace of mind after the transaction.
“The journey doesn’t stop after the sale,” he said; its continuation includes the touchpoints of delivery, installation, service, warranty and beyond. “Loyalty is a powerful word, and if you do all these things right… the next time she’ll skip consideration and evaluation and head right back to your store and your website.”
While the customer journey is linear on paper, he went on to say, in reality, it’s complicated with considerations on both rational (i.e., models and buying channels) and emotional levels. “Emotional is not easily defined – it is driven by feelings and a path to assurance” – a sense felt by the customer that they are getting unbiased information, and that they can count on help with issues such as navigating confusing new product features.
White told members that Nationwide has dedicated teams at the ready “to help you understand your customer’s journey” by providing strategies that are regularly being “tested, adjusted and automated,” because, he added, today’s customer journey “won’t be the same tomorrow,” as it is changing along with consumer behavior and technology.
He noted that COVID-19 has revved up the need for retailers to improve their digital skills, citing a recent article that said online buying as a method of purchase accelerated in several weeks’ time during COVID to a point that it might have taken multiple years to evolve to, in non-pandemic times.
Adding to the urgency of getting up to speed in digital, he said, is research showing that even 30 percent of shoppers 65-plus plan to do more online shopping in future. Moreover, shopping locally is also a growing preference – but to capitalize on it, retailers must recognize and cater to the fact that that, according to a survey he cited, 95 percent of local-shopping consumers will now be very mindful of physical protection and social distancing, and may seek a “no-touch/low-touch” experience when they choose to shop in person.
“Retailers who embrace these trends will quickly render competitors obsolete,” White said. “The preference for local and loyalty go hand in hand. It’s something big box can’t compete with.”
In a Wells Fargo-sponsored webinar at the mid-March-held Nationwide Virtual PrimeTime, Sarah House, the company’s senior economist and director, presented group members with figures to back up her contention that things are looking up for the economy. The nation is benefiting from “tailwinds” such as increased vaccine distribution, falling COVID case numbers, and the cumulative effect of the government stimulus packages – the latest checks of which are being mailed across the U.S. as this is written. However, she added, pulling out of the crisis created by COVID will be a “delicate balancing act.”
Research that House shared with viewers of the webinar generally tracked a yearlong timeline from February 2020 to mid-February 2021. Graphs displayed painted an overall picture of cautious optimism, with consumers now “in a better position to spend.” Visits to retail and recreation locations plummeted from 10 percent early in the pandemic to -47 percent by late March, but were on a recovery trajectory in March 2021, registering at around -13 percent, with more restaurant visits being made and more travel undertaken, House said.
Regarding consumer spending patterns, she commented that “COVID turned everything on its head,” with the hardest hit area being the discretionary services sector (meaning non-essential services such as restaurants and entertainment). Spending on durable goods, however, is up nearly 20 percent from a year ago – and it will likely continue to increase, but with a share shifting back towards services spending as conditions across the country improve.
She noted that the “forced thrift” visited upon consumers due to multiple factors had caused a record jump in savings behavior, because consumers were “at home, not taking vacations.”
House further observed that now, “There’s lots of fire power among consumers to spend, once they feel it’s safe to go out,” adding that increased confidence among buyers would likely build, moving toward 2022.
One of House’s charts showed various retail sectors and how they fared in the pre-pandemic-to-February-2021 stretch. So where are consumers spending? Online commerce, unsurprisingly, was by far the biggest winner, with “non-store” retailers’ sales up 27 percent in that slice of time. Sales of building materials were also up 16 percent, and sales of for-use-at-home sporting goods like trampolines and fitness equipment ticked upward by 15 percent. Those retail sectors that lost the most momentum included restaurants (down 17 percent) and clothing merchants (down 13 percent).
Electronics retail stores – most of whom also carry appliances – the data show, reported sales that were down just 4 percent. House added to her observations that the Federal Reserve, having learned from earlier experience, “has been reactive to the crisis to keep the financial system from seizing up, as it did in 2008.” And she offered an optimistic future scenario with regard to employment. Job losses were more modest during this past year for those who have segued to working-from-home status, with losses being more keenly felt in the lowest pay-level sectors. Generally speaking, though, employment projections indicate a “relatively fast recovery by the end of 2022. Worker demand is there and employers are ramping up their hiring.”