Launched in 2007, online furniture retailer Miliboo.com was initially a pure play, selling its products online only. In October 2014, Miliboo decided to open a brick-and-mortar store, a hyper-connected shop in central Paris, with touch screens, NFC cards and 3D glasses so that customers can enjoy a unique experience – a rather hackneyed expression in the retail world, except this time, it’s true! We spoke to co-founder Aline Buscemi.
Touch tablets at the Miliboo store
“YOU HAVE TO BE ATTENTIVE TO CUSTOMERS’ NEEDS”
Why did you decided to open a hyper-connected store?
When we set up the company, we wanted to sell online only. The idea of the shop came about through our customers: over the past few years, more and more people were asking us where they could try out our products and a lot of them asked if Miliboo had a brick-and-mortar store.
Faced with this growing demand, we realised we had to change our strategy and come up with something new. The problem is that we were aware that furniture shops were running out of steam and were having trouble attracting customers. So we asked ourselves: how do we get customers into the shop? And that’s when we thought of having a totally connected, digital space, with a number of tools to link to the website, miliboo.com.
Imagine A SEAMLESS SHOPPING EXPERIENCE
What’s the typical shopping experience for a customer in the Miliboo store?
We’d imagined a seamless shopping experience, and the technology available made this possible. We wanted to offer clients similar services to the ones available on the website, like personalising a product on a screen or recreating their home interior and incorporating Miliboo furniture into it using a 3D immersion headset.
“Creating a bridge between the digital and physical worlds.”
The store is made up of various “inspiration” islands: each one is equipped with a tablet on which customers can access a detailed catalogue of the products. When a customer arrives, we give them a Milicard, an NFC card that links up to the website. With the card, customers can log onto their account on one of the screens and thus access their virtual shopping basket. That way they can easily find the products they chose in store. The card also gives them access to personalised offerings: customers who’ve already purchased online can use their loyalty points in store, and win additional points by reviewing products.
“With digital technology, we can fit 2,500 furniture references in 600m².”
In addition to the tablets, there are larger screens on kiosks featuring all the brand’s products. The interface on the kiosks is different from the website: it’s optimised for a store environment and for the screen size and searching is really simple. Customers can even pay for their orders as all the kiosks have credit card payment terminals.
How did you go about deploying all these tools?
Miliboo decided to do everything in-house, which is rather unusual in our market. Thanks to our development team, all the technical development of the apps was done internally, except the 3D immersion, which was handled via a partnership with Home by Me, a subsidiary of Dassault Systemes.
“A year and a half’s planning.”
We first started thinking about the shop a year and a half before we opened in October 2014. What with local research and developing the tools, the project itself took just over 6 months.
humanS ARE STILL CENTRAL TO THE CUSTOMER relationSHIP
Where do the sales staff fit in with all this digital equipment?
The tools aren’t meant to replace people! They’re really sales tools. The sales staff have access to a comprehensive, personalised catalogue and can show customers specific features of a product.
Digital shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to humans. Technology is a shopping aid, an additional feature: it just makes shopping easier and offers an alternative, enhanced experience. And all the in-store kiosks have a “Call sales assistant” button.
What sort of feedback have you had from customers?
We’ve had all sorts of reactions but on the whole, the response has been positive as the tools are quite easy to get the hang of. Everyone these days has a smartphone, so going into a shop and browsing on a screen comes quite naturally.
“We wanted to keep the spirit of a traditional shop whilst incorporating a digital dimension.”
The very first contact with the customer is crucial: you have to explain how the store works and set up their card. After that, you can pretty much leave them to their own devices: some customers want to do everything themselves, without assistance from the shop staff, but that’s pretty rare. It’s quite interesting to analyse. The shop hasn’t been open long enough for us to have any reliable figures, but we take a great deal of interest in customer behaviour in order to improve our tools and make them easier to use.
2015: THE YEAR OF connectED FURNITURE!
So what’s next? Connected furniture?
As part of our aim to offer the customer something extra, we’ve started thinking about the furniture of the future. That’s how the connected sofa came about. You can charge up your smartphone just by putting it on the arm-rest (contact-free technology), listen to music via Bluetooth, order TV channels or control the room’s lighting, etc.
The sofa also has sensors that can tell whether the user is sitting comfortably or not. There’s an app that collects information about their position or how long they’ve been sitting, etc. The app also has some more fun options such as an alarm that goes off if someone sits in the user’s seat when they go away!
“We’ve already developed a connected sofa project in-house.”
For the past few months the team has been working on connected furniture. The sofa was the first one. It’s too soon to say any more but let’s just say a number of other connected products will come out in 2015 …
“Digital for all, now IS REALLY HAPPENING”
What does “Digital for All, Now” mean to you?
With smartphones, apps, IoT, our everyday life is digital! It’s an inescapable reality today: we’re all – or nearly all – connected, even when we’re watching TV, so digital really is for everyone, now! And this is just the beginning: it’s nothing compared to what will happen in the future.
“In a shop, however, we’d choose smaller equipment: a store staffer can’t be holding cumbersome equipment when folding clothes. The range of sizes, degrees of ruggedness, operating systems and accessories is such that we can really find the ideal equipment to suit any industry.”