Jan 30 2020

Furniture industry: between e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar retail

Integrating various sales channels promises to be the way for the furniture industry to link the online and offline worlds. Omnichannel concepts make it possible to combine physical stores and e-commerce.

On one side, there is the traditional world of the furniture retail trade: visiting the store, choosing the right furniture, placing the order, with delivery following later within the agreed time frame. On the other side, there is the modern world of online shopping: looking at furniture online – perhaps even in a virtual environment where possible – then paying in a few clicks, followed by delivery.

But the future of the furniture industry will probably not lie at either one of these extremes – instead, different sales channels will become merged over the next years. Omnichannel concepts make it possible to combine physical stores and e-commerce

More and more consumers see buying online as second nature. © Pixabay

Click and collect as the first step

One way to take a first step in this direction is the click-and-collect option: Consumers select and order their items online and then pick them up in store. A fine variation on this strategy is click and reserve. In this case, customers can take a good look at their reserved items in store first.

This seems to be an attractive option for buyers during busy times in particular, such as the Christmas period. One interesting point to note: Retailers need to move away from the idea that cheap prices are the main reason why consumers buy online. Recent studies show that convenience is actually the most important factor. This creates opportunities for those retailers who want to avoid a price war on online platforms. 

There is no cure-all

The experts agree: There is no single correct strategy for furniture retail – or at least not yet. Consumers’ preferences are still very much in flux and will continue to change over the next years. Technological developments such as virtual reality will play a key role here. What’s more, m-commerce, otherwise known as shopping on mobile devices, is set to grow and grow.

In any case, furniture companies have to be prepared to make flexible adjustments to their concepts. For the time being, the omnichannel strategy outlined above seems to be the best approach: Bricks-and-mortar retail and online offerings should be linked to each other in line with the respective provider’s strengths.

In one case, this could mean using online channels to launch special offers that can then be purchased directly on the Internet or in store. In another scenario, setting up online devices in the showroom could be a useful way to present further products that can’t be displayed in store.

Retailers can open up further opportunities with temporary pop-up shops (especially for target groups such as young customers who otherwise primarily buy online) or by offering personalised advice (either on an online platform or in a physical store). 

Bricks-and-mortar retail will remain one of the pillars of the furniture industry – but supplemented with digital offerings. © unsplash / Clark Young

Customers are looking for experiences

A recent survey by Comarch on retail trends between now and 2030 reveals a number of different aspects: Although retailer loyalty is currently low in general, positive retail experiences can considerably strengthen loyalty to a particular retailer – both online and offline.

Creating this positive experience depends on the user-friendliness of the online portal and fast and easy payment, among other things. Overall, almost nine out of ten consumers surveyed say that they expect retailers to provide digital services in future years. 

Consumers also expect to see more and more online services directly in store – including personalised real-time offers while they are shopping (something that interests just under half of all German customers) and in-store navigation on their phones. A key point to take away: Online support will soon be essential for the furniture industry in general.

The Comarch survey reveals that only one in three consumers can imagine making future furniture purchases in store exclusively without researching online first. By contrast, 14 per cent would like to choose and order their furniture exclusively on the Internet in future. What does this mean? Furniture retail will inevitably face fundamental shifts as estimates currently put sales on digital channels at no more than five per cent.

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