Selling ‘offline’ products online? Think locally

Kristin Sarstedt, Venkatram Gattla / November 2020

One major shift in consumer behaviour caused by coronavirus is that people are spending more time at home. For some, this presents a unique opportunity to redecorate, whether that’s a fresh coat of paint, some new art on the wall, or a new carpet. But look at the carpet beneath your feet. Can you tell what style it is or would you know its country of origin just by the pattern?

Now imagine how difficult it would be to describe that style in many different languages — and that is just one of the challenges facing Swedish retailer CarpetVista and the company’s chief marketing officer, Ulrika Klinkert. But the Malmö-based company has realised that in order to succeed online — it currently ships to more than 50 countries worldwide — it needs to think locally, whether that is in advertising, customer service or logistics.

Staying local in the digital marketplace

“Staying local wouldn't cover the costs of our business,” says Klinkert, “so expanding was a must for us.” But with this decision came a number of challenges, which the team decided to tackle by thinking locally. “Both of our sites, CarpetVista and RugVista, are available in 20 different languages, but the amount we target with our Google Ads campaigns is even higher.”

“Staying local wouldn't cover the costs of our business, so expanding was a must for us.”

“Luckily, carpets have the benefit of being visual,” Klinkert adds, “which makes it much easier to produce strong ads. In that respect, Shopping Ads — which allows customers to search for, compare, and shop in a visual way — has been brilliant for us.” But language is hugely important too, which is why CarpetVista has a team of experts who can communicate their product knowledge with the customer over email, phone, or chat.

How to navigate international payment challenges

As CarpetVista has expanded, one key challenge they face is payment, partly because laws around compliance and regulations vary so much from region to region. In some countries it’s still cash on delivery, for example, making it much harder for the team at CarpetVista to break down any barriers. In comparison, regions where they have well-working payment methods in place, like the Nordics, show a much higher check out conversion rate as it means they’ve managed to remove most of the hurdles people traditionally have to deal with.

“That’s why, together with Google, we’re currently looking into a global payment solution called Adyen,” says Klinkert, “which will allow us to offer local payment methods in every market. We’re still at the A/B testing stage, but we have high hopes for it.”

Delivery wins: You can’t break a carpet

An aspect of CarpetVista’s business that proved easier than initially anticipated is the logistics of moving carpets from Malmö to dozens of countries around the world. “We don’t face huge logistical challenges, although that could have to do with my background in home electronics,” admits Klinkert. “But jokes aside, transporting carpets is easy as they can’t break, making them relatively easy to move around.”

An issue that the retailer does face is shipping costs, which can often be a deciding factor for customers. “To solve this, we offer free shipment as well as free returns in Europe. That has been key in our ability to act truly locally,” Klinkert adds.

Selling an offline product online

Whether you’re looking for the perfect Kashmir carpet for your living room or a Shiraz rug for your office, according to Klinkert, CarpetVista offers an advantage over offline stores in being able to solve their customers’ pain points more easily. Why? Because physical carpet stores often have limited assortments and may only have samples of carpets on display — this was true even before lockdown measures were put in place around the world.

“It's easy to say you wouldn’t buy this or that product online,” she explains, “but we know that people are doing online research before they make a purchase. Yes, they might end up buying the product offline, but they made their decision based on online information, so being present when they’re doing their research is a big win.” Plus, as an online only store, CarpetVista can offer a wider range of products and display them in full, from different angles in images and multidimensional videos.

“Customers make their purchase decision based on online information, so being present when they’re doing their research is a big win.”

Embracing technology in the future

It’s technological developments like that which allow offline products to now also make a mark online, which served the retailer well with the closure of many bricks and mortar stores during lockdown. “With virtual reality, you can really see what a carpet would look like in your home. You may not be able to touch it, but you can see whether it would fit within your interior without having to physically put it there. And often, customers prioritise a good fit over price.”

Another key development is voice search, and the long tail keywords that come with it. “When looking for a particular style of carpet, consumers may not know what to type into Google, but when you describe that it should be floral and have a red colour palette, it could be that you were looking for a Bakhtiari carpet, but just didn’t know the word,” Klinkert explains.

Combined with a deep understanding of local markets, providing innovative solutions such as this to address your customer’s pain points can really help differentiate traditionally offline brands in the digital space.

3 ways to think locally while selling online

  • Tap into your customers’ search behaviour and select the content you serve them accordingly
  • Find their offline pain points and emphasise how you can alleviate them online
  • A/B test everything you do, both communications and on-site features
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