This is going to be the densest (and simultaneously cutest) post of mine, ever.
Simply because right before finishing it, my wife’s waters broke (yes, “those” waters): 3 hours later my second daughter was born (wow!).
And here I am 4 hours later, home alone, with the deepest personal joy and willing to end my post. Today.
Today it’s 8 years since Luca and I started working at Area D., chasing our dream of placing our dent on furniture retail.
Back then Area D. was not even a start-up…we used to define it as a “project“.
Today Area D. is the sum of 35 professionals coming from different backgrounds and it’s the only european company specialized in furniture digital retail.
Our work is now based upon 2 different business models: “online multibrand” and “omnichannel monobrand“.
We’re not a tech company, we’re retailers deep in our heart; at the same time we’re literally immersed in new technologies, as technology is the real enabler of a full blown digital strategy.
All entrepreneurs follow their dreams and they’re all a bit “weird“, in some ways at least. Yesterday, to celebrate my 8th year of hard work at Area D., I worked till the early hours to draw a diagram (I told you I’m a bit weird)…I called it the “Area D. Technology Diagram 2016“.
My aim is it will drive our efforts in the next few years, telling us where to go tech-wise. I left out business strategy, I left out implementation, I just focused on tech trends, especially those which we find to be “feasible” and deeply effective for the furniture retail business.
There are 4 main tech trends: Visualization, Automation, Analysis and Digital Retail.
1 – Visualization
3D configuration is the way to go, but one thing is doing it for consumer goods or for the automotive industry, another matter is doing it for custom furniture, especially for those brands which have built their collections on “just in time” manufacturing processes (thus meaning that they manufacture highly customized furniture items and collections).
If 3D configuration is essential for the so called “free standing furniture” items, a fully working online planner is a potential killer application for interior design or the so called “systemic furniture“, a design approach where italian companies really shine worldwide. Also 3D configurators and planners are a required stage before being able to exploit the full potential of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (both still in their infancy).
3D configurators can then streamline some retail procurement processes, and even the content development of catalogue pictures; planners can support adequate information flows towards assembling teams; AR/VR will have an influence on the layout of showrooms (which will require specific hardware for the best possible in-store experience). On the other hand 3D scanners and materials scanning can streamline the 3D configurators production.
2 – Automation
It’s a gigantic trend of course, and we can divide all possible innovations into “Front-end” and “Back-end“.
As to the front-end there’s CRM automation, which impacts the actual customer care service levels and performance, and it’s highly interconnected to the marketing automation trend. There are huge companies offering CRM cloud platforms, Salesforce just bought Demandware (e-commerce software) and this is a trend in itself.
In the front-end there’s also the whole “interaction” industry coming on, and I can’t dare to sum it up in a few lines. Let’s just point out its founding parts as Intelligent Search, Intelligent Answers, Intelligent Conversations, and then Speech Recognition, Speech Sinthesis, Machine Learning, Robotics; eventually, in time, a true Artificial Intelligence will come (what we see now is promising but it’s not “real” intelligence, even if it wins a chess game against a world champion). It would be a big mistake for the furniture retail industry to rate this tech trend as being a sci-fi idea…it’s real and it’s going to take its toll in terms of salesmen jobs (the bad part), and it’s going to support and “augment” the true professionals of interior design to let them intervene only when they can add “value” to the customer (this is the good part). Robotics do come into play when we see all this from an omnichannel perspective (what will work online will have to work in-store without forcing the customer to interact with what today we call “device“).
As to the back-end there’s procurement processes between retail and manufacturing, and information flows among all players in the value-chain (including the final customer): cloud software can do wonders in these matters, and Area D. is already working on building in our ACManager (our proprietary cloud software) all the features that the furniture business needs to smoothen information flows.
3 – Analysis
We can divide the topic between Web Analysis and Business Analysis.
Putting together a smart use of analytics tools, the UX/UI best practices and graphics is something that should be taken as granted, and it’s also essential for any company doing business today (we’re not talking about furniture retail here). The same goes for a proper deep analysis of overall sales and the performance of in-house teams and suppliers (manufacturers and carriers).
4 – Digital Retail
Shops and showrooms are changing, they’ve actually been changing for a while now, and they will change even more.
The very concept of a digital showroom is something relatively new in other business, and it’s still a bit seminal in furniture; but this is the way to go, again.
Store design practices will change, especially the layout and the selection of items shown. Dedicated high-end hardware will be integrated into showrooms, especially digital signage, desktop and mobile Points Of Sale, and even robots (yes, I said “robots“). Specific software will be used to let customers start online and go on in-store, or the other way around (start in-store and then go on online): the so called “channels” must easily share items browsed, quotes, plans, configurations, customer’s history.
(here the waters broke!)
At first (when I still thought my daughter would have her birth later on in june), I wanted to end this post with a picture of the HomePlaneur team.
We took it today and it’s meant to be published in the About Us page on HomePlaneur.com
Because HomePlaneur is one of the few web-native furniture brands worldwide, and it’s the only italian web-native furniture brand; and because it’s for HomePlaneur that (in the next few years) we will be conceiving, developing and testing all the technologies that are the actual essence of the tech trends described in this post; and finally, just like we did with ArredaClick before, along with every successful test, we will then be deploying those technologies and methods on the ArredaSystem branded stores that we develop and manage for our enterprise clients.
It’s clear now what is really meaningful today, my daughter’s birth (incidentally 8 years after I started my entrepreneurial effort).
At the same time, I also deeply know that my daughters’ friends (it maybe in 2024 or 2036) will definitely not furnish their homes the way that present furniture retail forces upon customers: I know deep in my heart that they will furnish their homes in the ways that will be made possible by the tech trends I described.
The same tech trends that Area D. will pursue and develop at the best of our possible efforts and potential.