Five ways Carpetright is using tech to simplify shopping

Flooring retailer Carpetright this week underlined some of the ways it plans to use technology to make shopping easier for its customers in the 12 months ahead.

In the company's full-year results statement, which revealed that underlying profit before tax was 33.1% year on year to £17.3 million while group revenue dropped by 1.3% to £456.8 million off the back of the rationalisation of the retailer's store estate, the business detailed some of the methods it is following to meet specific sector challenges in 2016/17.

In addition to the roll-out of the recently trialled new store format and the introduction of new ranges, much of Carpetright's focus has switched to improving customer service in what the organisation acknowledges can be a sector shopping experience that can present "a number of potentially daunting obstacles to the customer" such as the need for separate appointments for floor measurement and carpet fitting.

Carpetright is using technology and looking to adapt its digital operations in pursuit of some of these service improvements. Amid the strategy, which is made up of seven key pillars comprising targets such as brand revitalisation and managing stores for a modern retail world, is a desire for "making it easy" for customers to shop with the business. Essential Retail has picked out some of the technological changes that have been implemented or are being considered in this area.

1. Improving customer communication

Carpetright said that its own research uncovered a number of pinch points in the carpet buying process – from consideration online right through to what it described as "the 'Ta Da' moment" when the fitter has completed their job – where service could be better. One of which revolves around communication with the customer, and the company is now looking to provide a checklist at the point of purchase in order to be as transparent as possible about the subsequent process.

Regular updates via email and text will be sent "so that the customer's mind is always at ease on the progress of their order", the retailer said. CEO Wilf Walsh has acknowledged separately that this type of frequent communication with customers has not always been a strong point for the retailer.

2. Providing cashless options

This week's statement indicated that Carpetright aims to ensure all of its carpet fitters are now equipped with card readers so they can accept electronic payment, rather than solely cash. The move comes as the number of cash transactions in the UK fell below 50% of all payments for the first time, last year.

In addition, the interest free credit (IFC) option at the retailer, which was launched in December 2014, has grown to a sales penetration level of 16% of all transactions. In Christmas 2015 the IFC deal was extended to 0% over a four-year period, which the business has said has helped create "a major value differentiator" in the market. Carpetright's average transaction value in the past year was £331, yet its average IFC transaction was £1,216.

3. Developing the online journey

Aligned with Carpetright's strategy of changing its store branding and layouts, which started with the opening of new-look shops in locations such as Clapham and Tunbridge Wells in 2015, and is set to continue with other brick and mortar refreshes in the year ahead, the business has promised "a complete rebrand of the website".

Customers should expect to soon see a "Where's my stuff?" section, highlighting customer order tracking and "My Account" details. There will also be an online estimator diary booking area, improved site search, the option for choosing IFC online and a 'room visualiser' tool.

While it is noted that transacting online is not a key consideration for the vast majority of Carpetright customers, the opportunity to showcase the product and the store portfolio via the web, at the research stage of the customer journey, is viewed by the organisation as an important factor.

4. Online academy

In a move to ramp up the training and development of its workforce, which Carpetright admits has previously been "sporadic", there are ongoing plans to launch an online academy portal for staff training. The aim is to create a more co-ordinated approach to ensuring colleagues are as up to date as possible on their product and service knowledge.

This year will see the development of the training facility, which will initially focus on induction for new starters as well as covering all product areas in depth. This is viewed by the company as an important move, particularly as the business expands into new areas of the floorcoverings market. 

Carpetright says that the portal will also help the organisation develop specific skills for its store staff, as well as providing a platform for fostering future managers and business leaders. A newly-recruited team of training professionals are set to build the platform this year.

5. Centralising systems

As reported by Essential Retail earlier this year, Carpetright's decision to replace its paper diary booking system with software company Kirona's suite of solutions is helping the retailer gain a centralised view of its sales pipeline and field worker activity.

Kirona's tools have been implemented to centralise estimator bookings, send field workers relevant information about their home appointments and allow estimators to input details about their individual customer visits. The vendor's Infosuite package is also used by head office to gather and monitor data, such as appointments made and kept, aborted and completed jobs, and the general performance of its estimators.

Carpetright says this investment has led to a more analytical approach to operations, as well as to a more accurate deployment of field workers, and in some cases the streamlining of staff.

Although this week's report highlights a solid group performance from Carpetright, the turnaround of the retailer's UK business remains a significant challenge. A tough second half of the 2015-16 financial year and store closures resulted in a dip in UK revenue compared to one year before, and Walsh is cautious about consumer confidence in the 12 months ahead following last week's 'UK Out' verdict in the European Union referendum.

Matthew Walton, analyst at Verdict Retail, also highlighted the tough start Carpetright has had to its current financial year.

"Like-for-like sales in the first eight weeks of its 2016/17 financial year were -1%, though results fluctuated significantly, with May being 7.6% down before rebounding in June to +6.3%," he commented.

"However, following the result of the EU referendum, conditions are set to become more challenging, with deteriorating consumer confidence hitting home retailers the hardest. Extending its interest free credit offer in December 2015 to four years and rebranding its roll stock as Essential Value will help to mitigate some of the issues and help Carpetright appeal to a more hesitant and price conscious customer."