Yesterday we visited May Design Series to listen to the roundup of a retail roundtable hosted by The Furnishing Report. The focus centred on the role of the internet and questions from the audience soon had the panel of experts discussing how to integrate and manage an online offering.

Aamir Ahmad, Founder and CEO of Dwell, championed the need to combine retail outlets with an internet store. He remarked that people like to see and experience furniture before making a purchase. Kate Mooney, Founder and CEO of Occa-Home countered this by explaining how Occa-Home doesn’t have any showrooms but offers an in-store experience online. Kate explained the importance of creating engaging content such as offering design tips and advice while showcasing products in a lifestyle setting through photography (see picture above).

The panel was unanimous about providing a high level of service for online customers, remarking that tools such as live chat are essential in converting sales. Ian Archibald, Managing Director of Archers Sleepcentre discussed the difficulties of upselling a service offering, with many customers often choosing the cheapest option available.

It appears the key to a successful website is ‘choice, choice, choice’. Whilst a retail space is limited and therefore can only showcase best sellers, a website is limitless, and allows for less popular products to be offered or tested. As Ian Archibald highlighted, the most unlikely product could become a best seller.

It appears the future of online retail will be heavily focused on creating a personalised experience, with retail websites increasingly tailored to the individual and predicting what you want and need. Whilst this sounds exciting, I worry that it won’t allow room to be surprised and discover something new.

May Design Series is at Excel until 20th May 2014.

The retail roundtable was one of a number of insightful seminars at the exhibition. The panel included the following experts:

Richard De Melim, The Furnishing Report
Aamir Ahmad, Dwell
Kate Mooney, Occa-Home
Ian Archibald, Archers Sleepcentre
Malcolm Walker, Furniture Village