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CSA Exclusive: LL Flooring brings virtual consults to customers 

LL Flooring virtual tour

 A specialty hardwood floor retailer is laying the foundation for an omnichannel experience that merges in-store and online shopping.

Chain Store Age recently had a conversation with Pete Zeiner, senior VP, e-commerce and digital at LL Flooring (formerly Lumber Liquidators), about the company’s new virtual consultation experience. Launched in pilot mode during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and now rolling out more broadly as stores begin reopening, the experience is designed to help customers digitally “walk through” an actual brick-and-mortar store and select flooring with one-on-one advice and consultation from LL Flooring experts.

“It was on my wish list pre-COVID-19, and then got bumped up once the pandemic hit,” explained Zeiner. “As we were integrating more omnichannel capabilities, virtual shopping seemed like a nice feature for customers who may be close enough to drive to a store to pick something up but not just to have an initial consultation. We were already trying to digitally put expertise in front of the customer, which accelerate when the pandemic took hold and our stores had to close their showrooms and shift to pickup-only.”

Thanks to a replatforming of its website enable a stable e-commerce experience, LL Flooring has been able to emulate the in-store sales experience online with a user-friendly, high-end interface based on iPads.

“We were able to put the program together quickly,” said Zeiner. “We had iPads in the stores before launching the pilot in May and associates and managers were already familiar with them.”

In a sample virtual consultation conducted by store manager Raul Gonzalez at the LL Flooring store in Altamonte Springs, Fla., Chain Store Age logged in via an online link sent by the retailer. Using the built-in camera on a basic Mac Chromebook and a standard iPad camera on the LL Flooring side, Chain Store Age editors were provided a high-quality virtual tour of the store and its products with clear audio and visuals and effective close-ups of any requested item.  

Customers can also view products from various angles and against different baseboard samples. The store manager who conducts the virtual consultation can work up an estimate for any materials the customer views, and shoppers can request free samples which can be shipped to them within two to three days. 

Following initial pilot at stores in Florida and Colorado, virtual consultations are now available at 15 stores in different geographic areas of the country. Customers do not have to be near a store to participate, and can make online purchases for in-store pickup or home delivery, or also visit a store for in-person follow-up.

According to Zeiner, LL Flooring initially targeted customers with multiple visits who were highly engaged on its e-commerce site with an online banner ad promoting virtual consultation. After initial positive engagement and response to the service, the retailer opened visibility with inline banners, exit banners and other online prompts.

“The take rate exploded,” said Zeiner. “We went from two to 15 stores and had a full dance card very quickly. Customers are excited as we are. We are continuing to find ways to engage customers now that 90% of our stores are reopening.”

This includes setting up appointments through customer service phone reps. Looking ahead, the retailer plans to start offering virtual consultations to its professional customers, as well as DIY homeowners. Although LL Flooring is keeping appointments filled with few or no people not showing up, Zeiner said converting sales is not the “end-all” goal of the program.

“Conversion rates vary, but it does drive traffic,” said Zeiner. “We understand we can engage the customer in the inspiration phase and move them more quickly down the funnel. The decision path can be 12-18 months long.”

Zeiner concluded by explaining how virtual consultations also serve as a helpful branding tool for customers who may be confused about the retailer’s true purpose.

“LL Flooring is a localized specialty retailer with deep knowledge and expertise,” he stated. “Our brand is not a lumber yard or necessarily even a liquidator.” 

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