Custom Furniture, Custom Experience
The furniture industry is often seen as old-fashioned and perhaps a bit stodgy. But that isn’t stopping Smart Furniture from applying leading-edge technology to provide a highly personalized online means of browsing, selecting, purchasing and even designing furniture.
T.J. Gentle, president and CEO of Smart Furniture, which primarily functions as an Internet retailer but also runs a flagship store in its headquarters town of Chattanooga, Tenn., said the idea of using technology to personalize online furniture shopping goes all the way back to the company’s founding in the late 1990s.
“We wanted people to go online and design and customize their furniture in a way that suited their specific needs,” said Gentle. “We manufactured our own products in the beginning and offered a drag-and-drop user interface that let customers design their own shelving.”
However, as the years passed, Smart Furniture realized the concept of customer design was larger than a single product line. So in late 2008, the retailer partnered with office furniture suppliers Herman Miller, Steelcase and Knoll to provide individual customers and small businesses with the same access to made-to-order furniture that traditionally had been restricted to large businesses.
“We selected manufacturing partners based on the ability of their supply chains to handle mass customization,” Gentle said. “We launched an in-house-developed customer interface called Design on Demand that lets customers make a couple of choices on the design of a product and visualize what they look like.”
As the popularity of Design on Demand grew, Smart Furniture started considering how to make the online furniture shopping experience even more personalized and customized.
“When people buy furniture, they want to know if it will look right in their space,” Gentle said.
To that end, in July of this year Smart Furniture launched the beta of an in-house-developed customer-facing application called Smart Space that uses 3-D tools to help customers visualize exactly how a product will look in the dimensions of their personal space. The retailer used a responsive design strategy to allow Smart Space to automatically optimize its visual display for the customer’s Internet device. According to Gentle, Smart Furniture is working on applying responsive design to the rest of its site. The retailer uses a .NET development environment, having updated from a Classic ASP environment.
In addition, Smart Furniture uses a pricing tool from sister company PriceWaiter that allows customers to name their own price for a selected item, which the company can then evaluate for acceptance or rejection.
In one more move toward customization, Smart Furniture plans to roll out a customized site experience by the end of this year. Existing customers have been placed into one of 66 segments, based on factors such as style and budget preferences, using a Nielsen database. New customers are being segmented through an optional “Style Quiz.” All customers will have the ability to turn site customization on and off and also to adjust their segmentation settings.
“We’re solving a problem that can’t be solved without using technology, in or out of the store,” Gentle said. “The customer can get a color swatch, but can’t really see what it will look like in their own space.”