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City Furniture Assistant Manager Britney West helps a customer using the IBM MobileFirst for iOS Sales Assist app on iPad at the City Furniture showroom in Taramac, Florida. (Credit: City Furniture)

Florida-based City Furniture is driving better customer experience and service, providing associates with a more efficient sales strategy and spurring sales with its recent deployment of OS apps on iPad Pros. It has issued IBM MobileFirst for iOS to 400 store associates across 15 showrooms and 12 Ashley Furniture HomeStore showrooms. Associates have real-time access to the more than 8,000 SKUs complete with images, product information, colors, styles, and unique customer profiles at their fingertips, Rodney Bryant, retail industry lead for the Apple Partnership, IBM GBS during a live video demo provided to Retail Customer Experience.

The three-app technology effort is slicing customer shopping time by half and has boosted the average purchase order per customer by five percent.

The need for a mobile sales solution

Going mobile was a natural move for City Furniture as the retailer, which sells furniture, mattresses, and home accessories, has always been focused on delivering top-notch customer service and convenience.

The retailer, in collaboration with IBM and Apple developers, custom built three apps (Sales Assist, Payments, Finance). A critical step in the development process was including insight from a store manager to ensure the apps met the specific needs of City Furniture.

“We spent over a year working with City Furniture, looking at the experience. The goal was to re-invent the way the shopping experience takes place,” Bryant said.

The Sales Assist app is exactly what its name reflects: it helps associates better serve customers’ needs and foster a more engaged and enjoyable experience.

The Payment app offers preferences at checkout of “pay now,” “pay later,” or “lease to own”— all based on a unique customer profile to create an invoice. It lets an employee complete a transaction of the invoice from the iPad, on the spot, using cash, credit, check — making for a quick payment process.

Finance enables a customer to apply for traditional retail financing through a City Furniture or Ashley Furniture Consumer Finance Account.

While all three apps are proving valuable, the Sales Assist is a having a big impact on customer experience, according to Assistant Manager Britney West, who was involved in the app design process.

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Sales Assist uses analytics to enable associates to make personalized recommendations, offer related products, create a customer profile to remember favorites, choose delivery preferences.

“It’s a visual aid to help customers find what they need,” said West.

“Many customers can’t walk a very large showroom and sometimes forget what they were initially interested in. This [the app system] is a tool that helps avoid those scenarios,” West added.

Changing the furniture shopping experience

In most retail furniture scenarios customers walk into a store and begin searching and wandering, often not finding what they’re need in an easy or quick fashion.

With Sales Assist an associate can quickly provide customers a deep look at all potential options and provide data points, from price to size to availability in just minutes. The associate can also quickly locate where an item is within the store for the customer and offer up related room items such and accessories.

The app is driving a deeper interaction with customers, explained West, as associates can stay with a shopper during the shopping experience and no longer run between the customer and a store kiosk/PC to find product, gather data and do the transaction. Each time an associate leaves a customer the potential for that customer to wander off or leave the store looms large and greatly diminishes the sales opportunity.

In addition to cutting shopping time and boosting sales, the apps have increased average in home warranty service sales by more than 18 percent and average stain protection service purchases by over 17 percent. As customers can now view and visually confirm their purchase before delivery it’s also cutting down the number of credit and invoice rewrites.

Training, learning curve not steep

Most City Furniture associates are finding training on the iPad apps easy; it took just one week to get the brand’s newest 25 interns up and active with the system, said West.

During deployment, associates are still using the prior system, an AS 400, as well, which has been in play for over two decades.

For some longtime employees moving to the mobile app system took a bit of adjustment, noted West, but overall adoption has gone very smooth.

“Once introduced most are using it within five to seven days,” she said. “There’s been no real struggle.”

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Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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