Customer Location Key for Rhodes Furniture Site

Just because it sells online does not make home furnishings retailer Rhodes Furniture a national brand.

That was the thinking at the company when it relaunched this week. While broadening the retailer's reach, the site is sensitive to zip codes, fulfilling orders only in the vicinity of its bricks-and-mortar stores.

“You cannot get into the shopping cart until you go into that delivery check area and make sure that you're in our delivery area,” said Steve Hurwitz, senior vice president of marketing at the 126-year-old Rhodes, Atlanta.

The revamped site is linked directly to the IBM AS 400 point-of-sale system supporting Rhodes' 80-plus furniture stores in 13 states across the Midwest and Southeast United States.

Consumers that enter a zip code are shown the Rhodes store closest to them. If within the delivery area, consumers can shop, place items in the cart and go to checkout. There, the AS 400 point-of-sale system checks inventory within that retail store and reserves the product in real time.

“Once that person pushes the button to checkout, either having applied for Rhodes credit or using their own card, a contract prints out within seconds in that store with a sales person's name on it,” Hurwitz said. “We rotate the sales person and the sales person needs to call that customer to arrange delivery and if they have any questions.”

Essentially, is being treated like any other company store.

BroadVision Inc., Redwood City, CA, supplied the e-commerce transaction software that connects Rhodes online store with the AS 400 system. Working with Harte-Hanks Interactive, Lake Katrine, NY, BroadVision also will help Rhodes with new personalization features.

The reason Rhodes' site will only serve customers that live near its stores is to prevent cannibalization between its e-commerce and retail channels.

“If you're outside of about 60 miles from one of our stores, we can but we will not sell to you,” Hurwitz said. “We want to be able to personally deliver the furniture, we want to be able to service the furniture. We want people to have some kinship to the local store even if it's 60 to 70 miles away.”

Furthermore, there are no special discounts online that are not available in stores.

“We certainly look at this site as a marketing tool, even before we look at it as any sort of a commerce tool,” Hurwitz said.

Research conducted by Rhodes indicated that an estimated 75 percent of its customers came from within a 20-mile radius of its stores. But not enough was being done to bring foot traffic from beyond. This is where the online store plays a key role in customer acquisition.

“We were recognizing that we have a signal,” Hurwitz said. “We spend a lot of money on paid media like TV, newspaper and radio. Our signal certainly reaches past 20 miles, out to a 50- to 60-mile radius, but we weren't capturing those customers. And we were very focused on doing that.”

With the online store up-and-running, Rhodes now reaches somewhere close to 30 percent of the country, up from 19 percent before the e-commerce option was offered.

“Our goal is not to cannibalize those people that would come to the store anyway, but to acquire new customers either online or in the store,” Hurwitz said.

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