Bad news for those tired of hearing about the need for up-to-date, user-friendly websites that tie the online experience to the store—they’re only becoming more important.
At Nationwide Marketing Group’s recent PrimeTime event in Nashville, The FAM caught up with Aaron Bundschuh, chief digital and technology officer at Nationwide, to talk about all things websites.
The FAM: Last PrimeTime there were tons of conversations around listing inventory on their website. Do you recommend that people have their inventory levels posted online?
Aaron Bundschuh: Absolutely. Now, online, consumers are looking for more information, not less. They want every question they have answered before they go and spend their time to go walk into a store.
And we still get a lot of comments coming in through chat, like, “Is the inventory on your site updated? Is that real-time?” Because a lot of times they’re still going into stores. And even though the website says they’ve got it, they don’t. That’s why we really like the direct point of sale integrations and things like real-time feeds.
But setting that expectation is key, not necessarily in the product selection, but in the retailer selection. There are two things that retailers have to do online: build affinity for a specific product and explain why should you buy from us. And inventory is one of the key reasons for choosing a retailer right now
TF: What’s the hesitation that a lot of retailers have in showing real-time inventory levels?
AB: I wouldn’t say it’s so much that hesitation. A lot of them don’t have those technical integrations yet, so they have to go into their website and manually mark what they have in stock. So it becomes a time play, and these guys have zero time on their hands, especially right now.
If there are certain things that they know they’re going to have, they’ll go in and set that. But the stuff that turns really, really quickly, when they don’t have a direct integration with a point of sale? That’s kind of the crux of it: “Can I keep this up and keep it accurate?” That’s a really big push, trying to get better retailers on point of sale systems so that we can then do that integration and take all that work off of them.
TF: When you come to PrimeTime, you’re able to sit down with people talk face to face and work through your technology stack and just your business needs. And whenever we talk with dealers, we hear about things that are mandatory, like inventory levels. What are some other things that are mandatory?
AB: So the one that we just talked about, I would say it’s absolutely key to be able to show what’s in stock and what’s not setting expectations around delivery, etc.
I’d say the other, this becoming more and more important, is having really good product data and the ability to compare across products. A lot of people aren’t going in store it’s really easy to look at things and see what the differences are.
Online, a lot of times you’re only seeing a thumbnail, maybe two or three images. So having really good normalized data, and being able to use that to compare across products, specifically in furniture, I think that’s another big area where we are making a ton of improvements and investment there, we stood up a new product information management system to help us with our data quality and normalization.
TF: What do you mean by normalization?
AB: So let’s say you’ve got your data from five different vendors, they might be using different measurement systems, and it’d be calling something by a different term. We go in, and we try to make that as similar as possible so that you can do a direct comparison.
Developing a taxonomy and information architecture to be able to fill that in across all the vendors is critical. So if you do something like a simple side-by-side comparison, it’s not truly an apples-to-apples comparison. Some of our vendors are small and medium-sized, and product data is not their core competency. So we have to take on a lot of that for them. As we bring it all in, we do that cleansing normalization, identify any issues with it. And then we provide it to the different website providers, whether it’s RWS or time on site, or best provide that feeds those feeds directly to some retailer.
TF: Today it’s a feat in detective work to even get to some retailers’ and manufacturer’s websites and find information. But search is everybody’s game, so how do independent retailers compete? Or where should they compete online?
AB: It’s an evolution, right? A lot of guys specifically now when they’re supply-constrained, they question if they should be investing online. And they absolutely should.
One, it’s kind of table stakes. But also, as supply gets better, you need to have the awareness of your brand out there. That takes a lot of convincing, so there’s a lot of relationship-building to try and convince people to play in that digital realm.
They need to be playing their paid searches, first and foremost. And they do have some advantages over the big box stores. They know their markets, they’ve got better metrics on who their target customers are, they can really be buying us in when we help them obviously, buying the terms in the locations to really help them be able to compete against those guys.
And then you still have a trend a lot of people want to buy independent. But for them, it’s really optimizing the amount they spend.
One thing we encourage everybody to do is market differently. Every retailer is different, so test and learn. Put some money in a bunch of different mediums, see what’s working for you, and then optimize towards that.
It’s not enough just to throw everything at paid search and paid social, you’ve really got to see what works in your market.
TF: What are some other things that are going to help dealers be competitive in the online space?
AB: Some, luckily, don’t have to do anything. This is stuff where Nationwide is investing in our platform to just have it work on their behalf. The one we’ve kind of nailed—which is that the consumer needs more information and it needs to be real-time—that’s kind of the product information and the marketing stuff we’re talking about, and it’s not so much fun.
One thing that I do find fun and that is kind of sexy is that personalization. Why do people buy from Amazon? It’s because you feel they know something about you. They’re able to show you so much about you, oh, this is what I bought in the past.
Now with some of their voice-activated stuff, they’re bringing very relevant product and content from the second you get on the site. And then they take all the friction out of the purchase. They just make it so easy to transact with them.
So with the upgrades, we’re making at Nationwide, we’re bringing personalization into that as well. But it requires some stuff that we didn’t normally have access to, like this point of sale data. We’re working on building with the partnership in Google to make a full recommendation engine specific to our industry-related items and allow retailers to be able to upsell in the cart.
We can do that with the intelligence and or business intelligence that we have by sitting on this massive amount of data. So that’s where I get really excited.
TF: It seems like you could almost get predictive with your marketing as well. If a person buys a couch and a chair, then you can actively market the end tables and all the other accessories to them.
AB: Retargeting for us has always been viewed as an ad being sent out after someone adds a product to a cart. But maybe they didn’t buy it for a reason. Can you send related items in other categories that might get them to come back and show more interest?
And consumers want it—79% of consumers are willing to give up their information to have a personalized experience online. People expect it. That vanilla, “everybody gets the same” website doesn’t cut it anymore.
TF: When it comes to websites, it’s a lot about people taking each other’s ideas. And that’s why a lot of major websites look the same. But does the consumer understand how to navigate them?
AB: We can say we’re going to revolutionize the online buying experience and do all this stuff, but if nobody else is doing it, that’s gonna be foreign to a consumer. And the second you introduce friction, they’re gone. I can tell you for a fact that I’m a big proponent of test and learn, but you’ve got to do it quickly. Try little things that you think might resonate and, and put together the perfect path for your consumer.