Ceramic: Using digital tools to connect in-store

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tile digital technology
The multi-surface visualizer allows consumers to get an idea of how an MSI product will look on the floor, countertop or wall.

By Megan Salzano If you haven’t implemented a digital strategy to help generate more sales, you’re already behind the curve. The COVID-19 pandemic helped push your timeline up about five years as well. But you’re not in it alone. Ceramic suppliers are tapping their vast arsenal to support their retail partners in utilizing tile digital technology. From robust website experiences to 3D visualization and even social media marketing, utilizing digital tools to help convert online shoppers to in-store buyers is easier than ever.

The ceramic category, in particular, benefits greatly from tile digital technology and tools. Ceramic and porcelain tile are aspirational products that rely heavily on home and fashion trends. As such, design inspiration is key—and that inspiration is acquired digitally.

“Connecting with customers online has become increasingly important, especially in a stay-at-home COVID-19 environment,” said Rup Shah, president, MSI. “We believe we are still in the very early innings of the impact the world’s digitalization will have on our industry. We believe in the coming years you will see a combination of augmented reality and artificial intelligence dramatically change the shopping experience.”

According to Shah, tile digital technology is helpful for everyone, but they are especially useful for an undecided buyer or customer who might have a difficult time visualizing how a project will come together—a key element to a successful ceramic sale.

Digital content

Every aspect of Dal-Tile’s branded websites and social media accounts are thoughtfully designed to simplify the shopping experience and facilitate conversion.

When it comes to digital selling tools, don’t discount a well-built website and social media presence. And what’s better—it doesn’t even have to be yours. Suppliers are taking on the cost of high-end, user-friendly web development in order to make the selling process and conversions easier.

“Most consumers are researching online in some form—so whether it’s through inspirational photography that helps a consumer find their style, online sample ordering and delivery or pointing them to a trusted retailer, our goal is to provide what they need to move them from the consideration phase to the in-store selection phase,” said Amber Leigh Martinson, senior director of marketing, Dal-Tile.

Mara Villanueva-Heras, vice president of marketing, Emser Tile, agreed. “Today, companies need an omni-channel strategy to meet the needs of retailers and their customers. Having a strong toolbox of digital solutions helps streamline the process and offer alternative ways to communicate with customers.”

She added that in addition to customizable digital tools, it also includes virtual meetings and product training, along with online ordering and sample delivery. It also means customizing the on-site retail experience with curbside pick-up and text-ahead capabilities.

For Dal-Tile, it’s about boosting brand recognition to help draw consumers to their retail partners. “The Daltile, Marazzi and American Olean brands understand the importance of a strong web presence in today’s digital shopping age,” Martinson explained. “It is our mission to create a world-class digital presence for each of our brands, making the shopping process even easier for consumers. Consumers conduct extensive research online before ever entering a flooring store. Then, after they return from the store, they go online again to continue their research, refine their thinking and move along the purchasing journey. Strong websites facilitate conversion and help create a seamless transition for consumers down the purchase path.”

Martinson added that all aspects of the branded websites have been thoughtfully designed to simplify the shopping experience and facilitate conversion. “Our sites include high-resolution floor swatches and extensive room galleries to help customers better visualize the products and get inspired to buy.”

Social media also helps drive home that brand recognition. “‘Brand personality’ can be developed via social media in a way that you would have a hard time doing via traditional advertising,” Martinson added. “If you do social well, consumers can get a feel for who you are as a brand just by scrolling down the page.”

Emser Tile also utilizes digital marketing platforms that empower retailers to easily promote content via social media, email, website banners and landing pages with the goal of equipping customers with the knowledge required to make buying decisions. “Look for more tools to be introduced in 2021,” Heras stated. “Our goal moving forward is to put in place experiential tools to fully immerse customers in what’s new from Emser Tile and leverage the shift in consumer behavior to digital. Traditional digital materials like catalogs will remain a mainstay. But looking forward and finding the best ways to provide retail partners with the information, content and tools they need to succeed is important.”

Digital tools

MSI’s image search tool uses artificial intelligence to find a match of comparable MSI products instantly.

Tile digital technology concepts also go far beyond websites and online marketing. Digital tools such as visualizers have improved exponentially over the last several years, and retailers across the country are taking advantage.

“We have seen more progress in adopting digital tools for visualization in the last nine months than the previous five years combined,” MSI’s Shah said. “Using artificial intelligence and augmented reality through digital tools offered by MSI, retailers are helping potential customers make their purchasing decisions easier, showing a multitude of options digitally and helping bring a vision and design solutions together. Our retailers love the ability to provide the end consumer with instant gratification and increased confidence in their selections resulting in both a quicker sales process and a much higher close rate.”

MSI’s multi-surface visualizer and image search tool are among the latest tools available from the supplier. The tools are also available for customers to embed on their own websites.

MSI’s multi-surface visualizer tool allows consumers to visualize how any MSI product will look on the floor, countertop and wall within a single digital experience. “The multi-surface visualizer has been a complete game-changer, taking the interactive experience to a new level for our customers,” Shah said.

More recently, the company has released its image search tool that uses artificial intelligence to find a match of comparable MSI products instantly. Users simply upload a photo of any product to the search tool and immediately view the results of similar-looking MSI products. “It is impressive how a computer can instantly provide a much better set of similar products than even the most experienced salesperson,” Shah said. “We have been pleasantly surprised by the adoption of this tool. It is already being used several hundred times per day. We anticipate investing millions of dollars and multiples of what we have invested in recent years to drive innovation in the digital space.”

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Feb. 15/22, 2021

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