In 1999, Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci unveiled a 12 foot wide blue neon sculpture consisting of five words: ALL ART HAS BEEN CONTEMPORARY. Its meaning? What seems revolutionary now will one day feel commonplace. That which is a disruptor today will be ripe for its own disruption tomorrow. For centuries, this has been the case in the art world. It’s true in business as well.
Disruption of the Furniture Industry
From design and manufacture to sales and delivery, the furniture industry has been upended in recent years. Industrial and residential lines have become increasingly blended as more Americans work from home. Conveniences such as charging ports are routinely incorporated into new pieces. Retailers have begun managing their own shipping rather than contracting it out to haulers. The popularity of do-it-yourself and ready-to-assemble furniture products has grown, especially among millennials, and manufacturers have modified operations to meet demand.
Nowhere has the disruption been more evident than in the shift to online sales, where behemoths like Wayfair and Amazon seem to have created a crisis for traditional operators. In 2018, analyst Brandon Fletcher wrote , “By offering the ‘long tail’ of products that…retailers can’t provide in stores, Amazon was able to gain massive share in the growing online market.” The situation worsened for many companies as Americans spruced up their homes during the lockdown. Traditional vendors from small, boutique stores to larger outfitters like Ikea and Pottery Barn were forced to stay shut while online vendors attracted more business. After reopening, in-store conversion rates skyrocketed, bolstered in many cases by online pre-shopping. E-commerce, once the domain of online-only retailers, became a primary sales channel for traditional stores who had previously treated website-driven revenue as an afterthought. The omnichannel era was born.
Is the Furniture Industry Disruption Actually a Crisis for Retailers?
In fact, the disruption might not be the crisis that some furniture industry veterans fear. Customers often still opt for a try-before-you-buy approach. They crave expert help. Most of all, they are concerned about getting stuck with an item that wasn’t what they expected. Dave Nixon, Retail Solutions Executive at Teradata, feels that this problem may be enough to put a stop to the disruption, stating, “The risk of problems with quality, satisfaction, and preference is too great for…Amazon to gain major market share.”
While online-only vendors offer an “endless aisle” and ordering is as easy as a few clicks, the same cannot be said for returns. Earlier this year, one popular website published an article titled, “Wayfair’s Return Policy is a Nightmare.” Among its points are that the policy is strict and difficult to navigate. Even for shoppers who understand the restrictions and qualify for a refund, the logistics of sending a large piece of furniture back to an online retailer are complicated and often expensive. Consumer Reports states that returns can be challenging, especially when customers are responsible for packaging an item and getting it to a shipping facility. It’s easy to understand why, when reverse-logistics pose so many challenges, many consumers keep items they don’t like, and why many opt out of the process entirely.
Creating a Disruption of Your Own
Shortly after creating Shoptelligence, Founder and CEO Laura Khoury understood that her software could provide effective service to the furniture industry. “Furniture is a high-ticket item and shoppers need decision support… with Shoptelligence’s built-in style reasoning and omni-channel capability, managers and sales associates can boost shopper confidence and increase sales online and in-store. Just as clothing vendors boost sales by ‘completing the look,’ furniture stores could ‘complete the room’ with Shoptelligence.”
When it comes to furniture, Khoury says, “Traditional retailers feel disrupted by companies that can deliver immediately to any location, but those same retailers have assets that online companies lack, and they have an opportunity to flip the script.” The differentiator, she says, is the in-store experience. “The vast majority of customers still want to touch and feel their furniture before committing to a purchase and they want the patient, personal assistance that has been a hallmark of the industry for so many years.”
Khoury believes that providing omnichannel shopping that combines personalization with personal assistance is the best way to disrupt the industry once again. By committing to retail stores, Khoury says, “Wayfair is admitting defeat.” She encourages furniture retailers to use their assets to “out-compete” previous disruptors, saying, “You know how to operate your stores and how to work with your associates. You have an opportunity to do something about this.”
To learn how to outsmart the disruptors with better personalization and personal assistance, schedule a Shoptelligence demo today.