A tidal wave of exciting new technology continues to sweep across the kitchen and bath market landscape, washing away age-old business precepts governing the design community.
But while the technological revolution is compelling design professionals to utilize cutting-edge digital tools for key business functions, tried-and-true sales tactics still matter a lot. And those tactics should neither be obscured by the flood tide of technology nor abandoned when it comes to forging successful client relationships.
The growing impact of technology on today’s kitchen and bath market is spotlighted by the results of a major new survey conducted for Kitchen & Bath Design News by the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (see related story, Page 49). RICKI’s survey, conducted in March, pinpoints the rapidly growing array of technological innovations being employed by kitchen and bath design professionals as they serve a growing universe of digitally savvy consumers.
As the RICKI survey suggests, traditional showrooms have essentially been supplanted by online tools as the consumer’s first point of contact when it comes to researching kitchen/bath products, design options and remodeling resources – a fundamental shift in the shopping experience that’s having a major impact on showroom layout, marketing initiatives and selling techniques.
At the same time, cutting-edge tools such as smart phones, tablets and laptop computers are almost universally being utilized by design pros, while mobile devices are enabling consumers to conduct research on the showroom floor, and HD touch-screens, informational kiosks and virtual reality are increasingly allowing for immersive shopping experiences.
And that’s just the beginning.
The RICKI survey found, for instance, that digital marketing tools such as social media, email campaigns and online search tools are being increasingly combined with – or are supplanting – traditional marketing tactics, while industry-related websites, forums, blogs and social media channels are dramatically enhancing consumer-
research capabilities. Business management, product ordering and design apps are also being increasingly utilized, along with contact-management software,
cloud-based storage tools and more.
The RICKI survey suggests, moreover, that the current, almost dizzying pace of technological change is likely to continue – perhaps even accelerate – despite challenges that range from training issues to added expense.
But, in the midst of all this, make no mistake: The incursion of technology doesn’t mean that traditional, brick-and-mortar retailing is going away. Nor does it spell an end to the vital need for personal interaction between design professionals and consumers.
Quite the contrary.
The growing consensus among design pros, in fact, is that online shopping goes only so far in preparing consumers to make aspirational, big-ticket purchase decisions like those for kitchens and baths. People can shop online – research, compare, garner opinions and gain a better understanding of what they want. But, ultimately, the optimal shopping experience is both online and personal. Ultimately, consumers will be doing business with designer pros they have an affinity for, and trust.
As much as ever, consumers still need to see, touch, feel, compare and discuss the projects they aspire to. They still need to use all their senses to get a genuine sense of how products will function in their home. Most importantly, they still need a personal interaction with sales/design professionals who possess the qualities they’re most seeking.
Consumers now – as ever – are seeking integrity, experience, product knowledge, design expertise and reputation. They’re seeking design pros who offer a collaborative, consultative approach and the ability to inspire confidence in the major investment they’re about to make.
Technology should complement those skills. Ideally, it should enhance them. It should never replace them.
Personal interaction remains the greatest opportunity for kitchen and bath pros to leverage their skill set, professionalism, reputation and expertise. The need for that type of personal connection has never changed, regardless of the technology impacting the market. It likely never will. ▪