The digitization of the POS has finally reached the DIY sector. The home improvement store as a place where you can touch and try things is more and more turning into a place of digital consulting. The Knauber Freizeitmärkte (English: Knauber Home Improvement Stores) have also recognized this great potential and furnished their stores nationwide with digital signage columns and tablets. Products that are not available offline are ordered online from the vendor right at the store.
Business in the home improvement sector has never been better. According to the EHI, once again, retailers are expecting a revenue increase of 1.3 percent in 2017. Yet the DIY segment in Germany is a highly competitive field. Especially small and medium-sized companies with a long tradition like the Knauber Company and its home improvement stores feel the pressure. That being said, Knauber doesn’t face this competition with expansion plans but chooses to utilize digitization. The company made a conscious decision to stay loyal to the Cologne/Bonn region. “We opted against an expansion because we would no longer be able to provide the kind of quality service our customers are accustomed to get from us. Our commitment to service is the vision we strive and live for and we have enforced it with the help of digitization,“ stresses Hasan Cürük, Director of IT & Organization.
Obi (Tengelmann Group), Bauhaus, Toom/B1 (Rewe), Zeus and Hornbach are among the Top 5 home improvement stores in Germany.
“The digital world also holds its legitimate place in the home improvement sector“
Together with the Retail Institute in Cologne, Knauber launched the “Innovation Store“ project to identify the needs of today‘s home improvement customers and determine the added benefits technologies that are already being implemented in food and fashion retail can contribute to this industry sector. The bottom line is that customers are becoming more discriminating when it comes to consulting, service and product presentation. That is why the company chose to increasingly use digital tools for simple consulting services such as locating a product to give its associates more time for in-depth consultations.
To implement its intentions, Knauber successfully relied on using digital signage columns to expand its range of information and services. Customers can access two types of columns. In addition to pricing and product information in video format or instruction manuals, both systems also provide information about events, sales campaigns, the Knauber Store Card as well as other services such as equipment rental. Some digital signage columns also have a barcode scanner to provide quick access to required product information. The columns also feature an indoor navigation solution. By now, all seven stores offer virtual experiences to make it easier to locate products and navigate the store. Seasonal markets are regularly captured in a three-dimensional format.
Digital signage is a learning process
According to Cürük, you always apply the “Keep it simple, but efficient“ principle when it comes to designing a new technology. This is also why one associate regularly analyzes customer usage patterns to determine which contents are being embraced and which aren’t. Subsequent adjustments are made accordingly. The CIO explains, “We have learned a lot in the course of this process. For example, previously we envisioned customers purchasing items from the online store directly at the digital column. However, this did not take hold because customers are hesitant to log into their password-protected account at a column where everybody might be able toyou’re your information.“
Yet there is still a link to the online shop to check product availability in other stores. “We obviously only have a certain selection of items here at the store. Customers can use the digital columns to select products that are not instantly available at the respective store. After printing out a QR code, the customer can take it to an associate, who orders the products. The customer is subsequently able to pick up said product at the same store.“
Knauber Freizeitmärkte are not afraid to try new things
Cürük is already planning additional signage projects. “We are going to use a large-format display in the central area of our store in Bonn that’s intended to create a welcoming ambiance in our food court. In addition to the information columns, we want to introduce more emotional themes to the store.“ A mobile (virtual) mirror is intended to encourage more interaction in the future. Customers can take pictures and send them to friends via e-mail or social media. Cürük sees great potential in this area, especially during the Carnival season, because customers can take 360-degree photos in costumes.
That being said, he admits that there is still some skepticism when it comes to the subject of augmented reality. “Small and medium-sized companies have to put a lot of energy in these types of projects. The expenditure and financial factor are simply too high in this case, “Cürük points out. But oftentimes, it’s also technology that presents an obstacle. In its Innovation Store in Pulheim, Knauber already tested an intuitive digital column that recognizes faces and behaviors and displays corresponding contents. However, the technology was not mature enough during the testing phase, which is why the company is now looking for a better solution.
Tablets add value to consulting
Meanwhile, tablets were comprehensively implemented in all departments of every Knauber store. Customers can use the same functions that are also available via the digital columns. Since information on the tablets is not as easily visible to others, ordering via the online store is an option. “We have also given our associates direct access to our vendor portals. This affords employees the opportunity to provide integrated services to our customers. For example, associates in our Garden Center can use the tablets to directly order flowers at the flower auction in the Netherlands, which are then freshly delivered to the store the next day or right to the customer’s home. The tools are used to benefit the customer and ensure freshness and relevance,“ adds Cürük.
The tablets are set up at a terminal in every department and feature lock security. Associates can unlock the tablets to allow mobility. A grip on the back ensures a comfortable grip. Tablets are directly used throughout the store, at the shelves or more secluded locations when associates assist in designing a bathroom or support product configuration for instance. The IT expert gives another example and says, “We have five or six patio tables on the sales floor but there are actually 30 different variations of this type of furniture available. By using the tablet, the associates can show customers other available colors or options. The customer is then able to choose the desired product at the store and have it delivered straight to his home.“
Inventory management system: information search made difficult
Having said that, the integration of product information into the inventory management system is still somewhat difficult in this segment. “Many manufacturers still don’t make their data available in digital form. This presented us with one of the biggest challenges when we considered using digital signage and tablets. Initially, we still had to manually enter item information into the inventory management system. What’s more, many vendors and manufacturers don’t supply videos or operating manuals. The cosmetic or food industries are much further ahead in this area. That’s why I hired a dedicated employee, who is solely in charge of obtaining information.“ He adds that it is crucial to not only set yourself apart from manufacturers but also from your competition. After all, duplicate content is still a major problem. You can only improve your ranking in search engines with unique contents.
“We want to link online and offline services”
Knauber wants to offer integrated services to its customers, whether that’s online or offline. Services and consulting are the greatest strengths of the home improvement stores. That’s why digital signage solutions are the best way to combine a wide range of information with consulting services. “It will definitely get harder and harder for us to survive in this shark tank. Unlike Bauhaus, we are unable to offer twenty or thirty different types of cutting tools. However, we can obtain the desired product online if there is a customer needs for it. We don’t want self-service but strive to anticipate and address customer needs on an individual basis and offer the information customers need to make their projects a success.“