5 Minutes With: Nicola Thompson, COO, MADE.com

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Furniture retail has always relied heavily on physical stores, with shoppers wanting to measure, touch, experience and feel items in person before making them a permanent fixture in their homes. Made.com has been challenging this tradition since it launched a decade ago, but thanks to lockdown it is now realising the true potential of what a “digital first” furniture retailer can do. Charged spoke to Made’s chief operating officer Nicola Thompson to find out more.

 

Hi Nicola, can you tell me a bit about the tech Made has launched over the past few months?

In October we launched our first virtual showroom in our Amsterdam apartment. Using the latest 3D technology, customers can tour our Made apartment and view our new Autumn/Winter 2020 collections from every angle – all from the comfort of their own homes.

On top of that, we recently introduced a visual search tool called ‘Shop Your Photos’. Developed by our Made Labs team, this new feature enables customers to find our products which most closely match their own photos or Pinterest Pins. Individuals can use this tool straight from our site, go into their camera roll or one of their Pinterest boards, and the AI-tool will find the best visual match from our Made catalogue.

As an “online first” retailer, how long have you been exploring technologies enabling customers to simulate being instore, or simulate products being in their own homes?

We are constantly trying to innovate in the retail tech space which is why last year we set up Made Labs. This dedicated team works with start-ups to develop new digital technologies that help us deliver the best customer shopping experience; in fact, this is how we came up with ‘Shop Your Photos’.

Currently we are trialling a series of new tech features on our site, including our in-house built 3D Viewer which enables customers to preview our select products within their own space via augmented reality.

Do you feel Made’s online pedigree gives it an advantage over more traditional brick-and-mortar-focused furniture stores?

Yes, our foundation is based on being digital-first meaning that we are built for the future direction of retail. Customers are increasingly starting and finishing their shopping journey online, and being an online business through and through naturally gives us an advantage especially in recent months.

That said, we still believe that there remains a role for bricks as well as clicks, and that is why we have a series of Made showrooms in major European cities including London, Paris and Amsterdam where customers can engage with our brand and touch and feel our products before buying.

READ MORE: Made.com gives out share options to staff after “extremely strong” 2020 sales

If COVID had never happened, how important would it be for Made and other retailers to develop and implement these technologies?

Covid has definitely accelerated many of these technological changes and challenged traditional retailers to develop their ecommerce offering.

Made has always been online-first and that’s how we think about our customers. That means some of the new features we’re rolling out would have been developed regardless, for example ‘Shop Your Photos’. For us, it’s always important to remain agile and adapt to consumer needs – be it Covid related or just moving with the times.

Has the pandemic fundamentally changed the industry, or simply accelerated changes that were already occurring?

The pandemic has largely accelerated existing trends and changes that were already on the horizon. It’s hard to know, but some people believe that we have seen three to five years’ worth of digital channel shift in a matter of months. In terms of technology and innovation, businesses have been forced to quicken the pace of developing their e-commerce offer as a result. From Made’s point of view, retail technology has always been there and remains at the heart of our business.

Could digital showrooming ever fully replace instore visits? Will shoppers ever be fully content not being able to see and feel big ticket items like furniture for themselves?

Since we started Made a decade ago, the core of our business has been online shopping, with showrooms being an additional channel to showcase our products in-situ. Many people said: ‘I’ll never buy a sofa online without trying it myself.’ And whilst there are certainly some who still wouldn’t, we have seen more and more who are happy to purchase furniture online. Lockdown restrictions obviously meant many were simply unable to try before they buy, but this was a well-established trend before 2020.

We anticipate that the future of retail blends both physical and digital experiences. There is a fundamental place for in-person retail, but at Made we believe that the best customer experience will start and finish online. The pandemic has highlighted just how much can be done in the digital space but there will always be a role for physical stores, even if they may look and feel very different in future.

Do we have more exciting technology to look forward to from Made in the coming months?

We are always working on new ideas and initiatives to enhance our customer shopping experience, some of which we hope will be ready to launch in the New Year so watch this space!

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