Carpetright battling sales declines with design and digitalisation

Flooring retailer Carpetright announced a 2.2% drop in sales for the first half of its year, but the business is revamping stores with fresh design and trialling new technologies as it looks to strengthen its future position.

The business has now modernised 224 of its 474 stores across the UK, with 38 shops revamped in the 26 weeks to 26 October. Part of this work has seen in-store signage improved to move the messaging away from solely pricing and to practical customer information, but there are a number of methods the business is using to create a more modern retailing environment.

For wider store design changes all it took in some instances was to open up the frontage with new larger windows, but there has also been a focus on tailored lighting and layouts to improve in-shop navigation and showcase products more clearly.

Group development director Martin Harris told Essential Retail: "Years ago, the concept was to put a door in a shed and let the retailers get on with it – this format now looks dated.

"Putting new larger windows in the front of the stores can turn a shed into a shop. A bit of natural daylight can do wonders."

Artificial lighting has played a significant part in the store refits, too, and it is viewed by Harris as a particularly important factor to consider when selling items for home interiors.

"We've softened and toned down colours inside and brought in more light," he added.

"The business is in the process of reviewing work we've done and improving on it. We've put more investment in trench lighting down the sides, where carpets hang off a ladder rail – it gives a consistent and vibrant feel. In our bed departments we're using more tailored lighting to bring these product ranges to life."

The switch of attention to design came after the business was forced to reassess the size and look of its store portfolio during a period of subdued consumer spending on big ticket items. Lord Harris, executive chairman at the retailer, said last week that despite a recent improvement in mortgage approvals, it will be a number of months before this feeds its way through into better sales in the home improvement and interiors market.

Against this backdrop, it means retailers of big ticket products must continue to evolve their business models to attract customers through their doors, and for Carpetright this also means putting a greater focus on the digital elements of retailing.

Despite the business of selling carpets to a consumer market being viewed by the industry as a primarily in-store, touch-the-product process, there are ways in which Carpetright is using IT to move the organisation forward.

It is currently trialling Wi-Fi in one store and there are plans in place to further digitalise the product ordering and delivery process next year with a central online system that can be accessed by staff and customers alike.

"It's important to allow customers to use their own personal technology in-store so they can start putting their pictures and look-books together," Harris explained.

"Wi-Fi may not be something that is used across our store portfolio – it may be used in our London stores more, for example."

Meanwhile, the company is in the process of digitalising its customer communications to free up more time for store staff to help customers on a face-to-face level. The group development director is confident that a platform will be rolled out in the next six to nine months, which will see customers receive information about orders and appointments via email and text message, and enable bookings to be made online.

"Human interaction is important in our industry but not over and over again – you only really need interaction when things go wrong," Harris noted.

"The last conversation needs to be a human one, too. I call them 'happy calls', where we ask customers whether they were pleased with the service."

Compared to some areas of the retail industry, particularly fashion and grocery, it could be argued that Carpetright is slightly late to introduce efficiency-boosting systems and cutting edge technology to speed up the consumer purchase journey. However, there is a confidence that the plans currently in the pipeline will make customers' lives easier when rolled out in the coming months.

And with stores being updated on a regular basis, the company certainly isn't standing still as it continues to battle an environment where consumer confidence still remains relatively weak, compared to the boom times of the early 2000s.

"We're more multichannel-oriented than people think," argued Harris.

"And we're doing everything we online to make things less complicated for our customers. We feel we've got a good format now."