How Article rolled out contactless delivery

The furniture company's marketing team played 'quarterback' to launch new measures aimed at keeping staff and customers safe.

Article delivery

As the coronavirus pandemic began taking hold in Canada, DTC furniture brand Article faced a set of challenges familiar to most companies today: first and foremost, says director of marketing Duncan Blair, it had to protect its employees and customers and work to ensure business continuity for the duration of the crisis.

A first and relatively easy step was enacting work-from-home policies that would enable those who could to work remotely, says Blair. The next step, a harder yet equally important one, was ensuring the safety of employees in the field, whose job would be to continue delivering orders to customers across Canada and the U.S.

Article deliveryLuckily, Article operates its own delivery network, whose drivers are considered part of the organization and who even have access to its internal Slack channels, says Blair. This enabled the Vancouver-based company to receive real-time feedback from customers and better understand their needs; for example, one driver shared a photo of a customer who’d posted a sign asking for their order to be deposited outside.

“We sat down to talk about how we were going to handle that,” says Blair. Soon, it was decided new processes were needed to support active customers and those “that were still in the fortunate position of being able to consider purchasing furniture.”

Taking cues from food delivery and other high-volume delivery categories and applying the model to its own business, Article launched contactless furniture delivery in mid-March. Within less than 24 hours, it created new operating procedures, developed training materials and informed its teams and more than 30 delivery partners that it would no longer deliver items directly into consumers’ homes.

Until further notice, items are being delivered at doorsteps by default, allowing employees to maintain a six-foot distance from customers at all times. Instead of signatures, drivers are taking a photograph of the order presented at the door as proof of delivery. Meanwhile, in-room assembly options, which are popular in the furniture space, are not available unless customers call to request that option in advance.

In working to implement contactless delivery, Article assembled a cross-functional team spanning almost every aspect of the business – including communications, customer care, logistics, HR and tech – with the marketing team playing a leading role on the project. That’s because Duncan believes the role of the marketing department extends beyond taking “what comes out of the machine and [telling] people about it.”

“It’s about having input and making sure that we’re the advocates for the customer through the organization,” he says. “In this case, I think I’m probably a little bit biased here. But it was a natural role for our team to play as a sort of quarterback on this project, trying to take that insight from the market, use it to adapt our product, [and] working with teams across the organization who are functional area experts in what they do.”

One of the inherent challenges of furniture delivery is dealing with orders that were placed before the new protocols were established, he says, pointing out that having a strong customer care and communications strategy is essential.

“Of course it wasn’t perfect out of the gate,” Duncan admitted on Twitter late last month. “We have been editing and updating our communications across all channels based on frontline feedback to make sure that we clearly set expectations.”

For the most part, Blair says, customers are well-aware of the dangers of COVID-19 and understand why a change in service was required. Nevertheless, an “exception system” was established in order to offer in-home delivery for customers in extreme circumstances, and to offer refunds to anyone who had previously purchased upgraded delivery services.

All things considered, Blair believes Article finds itself in a strong position to deal with COVID-19 as a pure-play ecommerce brand that has no immediate plans to enter physical retail. In the meantime, the brand has not made any substantial changes to its marketing strategy, continuing to roll out a campaign for outdoor products that typically ramps up at the end of March.

The first few weeks of crippling uncertainty have given way to a sense of “resignation” among consumers about the potential longevity of the pandemic, he says. That, coupled with a broader economic downturn, has caused some customers to reconsider purchasing big-ticket items. At the same time, the amount of time consumers are now spending at home has helped make furniture purchases all the more relevant.

“The thing that we are particularly interested in is the degree to which [the situation] accelerates the adoption of ecommerce,” he says. “That probably depends on how long this lasts.”