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How Plush launched an e-commerce site in 6 months

Plush launched its first ever transactional e-commerce website in August of this year, just six months after the brand’s new head of e-commerce Ash Mehta first made the business case to management.

Going from a catalogue-only web presence to a fully transactional e-commerce site is an ambitious project in its own right, but it wasn’t enough for Mehta, who also urged the sofa company to back up the website relaunch with a comprehensive digital strategy.

“I didn’t want to just create another transactional e-commerce website, or something that was just good enough for Australia. I wanted to implement global best practices,” Mehta told Internet Retailing.

For Mehta, this meant supporting advanced product visualisation to make online browsing easier and more accurate, taking a mobile-first approach with a responsive website design, providing a seamless customer experience across the website and showrooms and backing all of this up with personalised marketing.

For Plush, this meant signing off on a much bigger e-commerce project and budget than planned. But according to Mehta, who has several e-commerce relaunches under his belt, stakeholders in the sofa company quickly got behind his vision.

“I spent a lot of time understanding the business, the product, the target customer and pricing strategy. Once I knew the pain points and showed them what was possible and what other brands were doing around the world, they couldn’t wait to get it happening,” he said.

Visualising 600,000 product permutations

One of the biggest challenges Plush customers faced in the past was picturing the brand’s full product range. The company offers 50 products, including sofas, armchairs and ottomans, but with each style available in a variety of leather, fabric and colour options, there are 600,000 possible permutations.

“It’s impossible to produce every sofa in every colour and place it in our showrooms, so enhanced product visualisation was something that we worked on and made sure was available for customers [online]. We made a 3-D model for each sofa that can be rotated 360-degrees and zoomed in and out, and it’s generating new sales for the business,” Mehta said.

Customers who live nowhere near a Plush showroom are buying sofas directly from the website because they have a better idea of what the furniture will look like when it arrives. And because Plush now supports shipping Australia-wide.

Meanwhile, showroom staff are also using the website to show customers additional fabric and colour options for the furniture models on display, so the e-commerce site is driving offline sales as well.

Building connections between the website and the brand’s 35 showrooms across Australia continues to be a priority for Mehta. “We have to have a truly omnichannel approach, not just say it’s omnichannel,” he said.

Customers in the showroom receive a digital quote for the product they want to buy, which is sent to their email address. They can look over the information at home, and then buy the item online.

This allows sales staff to track and analyse the outcome of their quotes. And it also enables the marketing team to follow up on quotes with automated reminders, targeted ads on Facebook and other digital marketing initiatives.

Developing a digital marketing strategy

This is all new territory for the sofa brand, which recently became part of Steinhoff International after the furniture group acquired Plush’s parent company Fantastic Holdings.

“Because we weren’t transacting online before, acquisition through digital marketing wasn’t a big focus. The focus was always on traditional media,” Mehta said, pointing to the brand’s well-known TV ads featuring man’s best friend.

(Since the ad campaign first aired in 2015, it has led to a double-digit sales uplift, according to Wes Kerr, the company’s marketing manager.)

Mehta is now looking to achieve a similar impact online. “Currently I’m working on revamping the digital strategy, so we can focus on digital customer acquisition and doing personalised EDM campaigns and emails instead of generic ones,” he said.

“If someone goes onto our website and is looking at a particular product, that’s the exact one we’ll show them in an email. And we’ll use it for remarketing and retargeting in Google display ads and on Facebook.

“Personalisation is really important in this competitive retail space and understanding what the customer wants is critical,” Mehta said.

That statement could be applied to almost everything Mehta does. He developed the mobile website using heat maps to understand what was and wasn’t working for customers. This helped the company realise it needed to display prices online, something it had not done in the past.

“E-commerce is living and breathing it’s constantly evolving. Constant investment is required in the e-commerce platform and everything around it. The ecosystem brings a lot of challenges, but if you have clear goals and the right strategy in place – with a good product – you can do really well,” he said.

The next digital evolution, as far as Plush is concerned, involves providing showroom staff with even more tools to make the buying decision easier for customers. “I have some things up my sleeve, but I don’t want to disclose too much,” Mehta said.

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