From Home Furnishing Business
Eye on Consumers
By Powell Slaughter
LANDING CONSUMERS INTERESTED IN “GREEN” HOME FURNISHINGS CALLS FOR EDUCATION, CAREFUL LANGUAGE.
With issues such as formaldehyde emissions from furniture and hazardous fire retardants in upholstery and mattresses making headlines, consumers are indeed more concerned about environmentally conscious purchasing when it comes to home furnishings. And some are willing to spend a little extra to ensure the goods they buy are more earth friendly. Those are among the key takeaways from the 2013 Green Home Furnishings Study, conducted last spring by Impact Consulting and underwritten by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams for the Sustainable Furnishings Council. Nationwide, 460 consumers took part in the survey. Almost three-quarters, 72.5 percent were age 25 to 54; 62.3 percent reported income between $50,000 and $150,000; and 54.3 percent plan to spend the same or more on home furnishings in 2014.
Important conclusions from the study include:
· Style, quality, and price are the top factors for consumers when they make their next furniture purchase. That is, “green” product still has to fit those other considerations—eco-friendliness isn’t enough.
· 42.9 percent of respondents shop the Internet before going to a furniture store. Education of consumers about living green, a key take-away from the study, has to take place online as well as in the store.
· Two factors indicate that consumers are adapting their lifestyles to environmental awareness: 76.3 percent are replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescents; and 75.5 percent are recycling in the home.
· There is still a price concern about eco-friendly product: 58 percent of respondents believe that if a product carries a “green” claim it will probably cost more.
· Highlighting the continuing need to make consumers aware of environmentally responsible home furnishings, less that half of respondents, 46 percent, were unaware of any “green” home furnishings; and 45.2 percent would be definitely interested in buying such furnishings as long as the styling and cost were about the same as non-green alternatives.
· Half of respondents, 50.4 percent, were “definitely interested” or “very interested” in purchasing wood furniture that was certified as “legal” rather than wood furniture that did not carry this certification.
CONSUMERS NEED TO KNOW
SFC Executive Director Susan Inglis said there’s a growing amount of goods made in North America (lower fuel impact), certified woods and recycled materials in just about any furniture store. The problem is, a lot of consumers just don’t know it.
“There is a great deal that sales people can talk about,” Inglis said. “The consumer, of course, always wants their style at their budget. But these ecoattributes are available in all styles and at all price points, so retailers stand to gain by simply talking them up. Consumers respond to what they care about; when they are given their favorite ‘feel good’ as well as their style and price point, they are more likely to buy immediately.”
A high percentage of Minneapolisbased Room & Board’s 15 showroom floors nationwide comprises product sourced in the United States; or has another green story, such as certified wood. It doesn’t come up a lot from consumers, but the retailer has plenty of talking points for those who are interested.
“From a consumer standpoint, there’s a percentage—not a big one—who will ask how eco-friendly a product is,” noted Steve Freeman, vendor resource manager at Room & Board. “… There’s more on the radar now with the health issues around chemicals and foam. Mitchell Gold, co-founder and co-chairman of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, which operates retail stores in addition to selling high-end upholstery wholesale, hopes eco-friendly product eventually will be a given. Remember “dolphin-safe” tuna? You don’t see the designation on cans anymore because it’s become a standard for tuna sold in this country.
“Consumers would pay more, but they think green should be par for the course throughout the industry,” Gold said, adding that retailers looking to tie in to a growing green consumer base, they still must “communicate what they have and do.”
THIS JUST IN
During follow-up surveying in December, Impact Consulting found a couple of areas that had changed significantly since the original April survey for the SFC.
Following is a sample:
· 54.3 percent respondents in April said they plan to spend the same or more in home furnishings in 2014. Where respondents were queried in December, that percentage was up to 75.3.
· When asked to rate from 1 (very important) to 7 (not at all important) the importance of “good for the environment ” in making their purchase, 34.2 percent respondents answered 1 or 2 – in December the percentage offering that rose to 44.7.
· Overall, concern about various environmental issues (1=very concerned; 7=not at all concerned) remained about the same or even. Respondents concerned about global warming fell from 26.7 percent to 21 percent in December; and the percentage that doesn’t believe in it rose from 18.9 to 24.
GREEN BUYING TRENDS
The importance of education and making consumers more aware of green purchase options was reflected in a couple of changes in survey responses from April to December. For example, the percentage of respondents who say they have purchased green products in nine consumer categories ranging from automobiles to paper products fell for all sectors, including a drop in home furnishings from 10.4 percent in April to 6.4 percent in December. Consumer objections to purchasing eco-friendly home furnishings remained roughly the same with couple of exceptions that bode well for the availability and look of such goods: “not available where I shop” fell from 18.9 percent to 13.7 percent; “did not suit my style” dropped from 12.2 to 7.7 percent. And consumer interest in green furnishings improved over the course of 2013. Survey respondents “possibly”, somewhat,” or “definitely interested” ticked up from 39.5 percent in April to 43.7 in December.
Again, on the need to make consumers aware aware of their options, the percentages of respondents who’ve heard of these green options in home furnishings—certified wood, reclaimed wood, rapidly renewable resources, latex or bio-based foams, organic fabrics, recycled content, Energy Star-rated, social equity code of conduct—declined in all cases.
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
The Green Home Furnishings Study also found that while some consumers are interested in eco-friendly product, there are words you want to use in describing attributes and words you don’t. In both April and December, respondents were asked their preference for terms that could be used to describe products that are good for the environment, with 1 being their favorite and 6 their least favorite.
From top to bottom, the list remained the same: “Sustainable,” Eco Friendly,” “Environmentally Safe,” “Green,” “Eco Conscious,” and “Pro Planet.” Apparently consumers still have “radical” connotations for the terms at the bottom of the list. In a nutshell, don’t beat them over the head. And with so many terms floating around, the SFC’s Inglis cautioned retailers not to add to the confusion with “greenwashing,” that is, promoting misleading or unsubstantiated environmental claims for products.
“Where does the confusion lie? A lot of companies make claims without knowing what it is they’re claiming,” she said. “I think there is a lack of clarity about what’s a valuable claim to sustainability.” Cotton, she pointed out, is a “natural” material, but one whose cultivation and processing has a high environmental impact. Fabrics incorporating bamboo—a rapidly renewable resource—sound good, but the finished product often has high rayon or other content.
“It uses a lot of water and harsh chemicals, though some have modified the process to make it an eco- friendly product,” Inglis said. “Or someone might say ‘It’s made with MDF, using recycled materials.’ That industrial waste wasn’t going to the landfill anyway—useful industrial waste is going to get used. What you have to ask is, “Is it post-consumer recyclable material?” HFB