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From Home Furnishing Business

Publisher's Letter: A Blessing or Curse?

By: Bob George

The benefit of a historical perspective of the Internet in our industry could provide some insight into the question of whether or not the Internet is a blessing or a curse. Some may remember the dotcom start-up FurnitureFan, a portal that allowed consumers to search for great pieces of furniture by style or room or manufacturer.

Subsequently, the consumer was directed to a retailer in the area where he or she lived. While conceptualized by industry insiders with venture capital funds, it did not result in success during these dotcom years. I became personally involved at the end attempting to restructure an idea that was before its time.

In the summer of 1992 at the American Home Furnishings Alliance marketing meeting in Hilton Head, S.C., I presented consumer research reporting only 2 percent of consumers visited the Internet before shopping for furniture. Luckily, I said we would continue to monitor it since we believed it would increase. We did, and the most recent statistics show that 73 percent of consumers now visit the Internet as a first step to shopping for furniture.

The logical expansion of the Internet into e-commerce led to the next challenge for the furniture industry. This development allowed industry outsiders, such as Wayfair (formerly CNN Stores) to bypass the slow-to-adapt industry and go directly to the consumer. I am sure that if we check the DNA of Wayfair we will find some kinship to FurnitureFan, both of which are Boston-based.

This is not to say all of the industry ignored the potential of the Internet or e-commerce technology. Unfortunately several early adopters, recognized retailers, adopted the e-tailer strategy and ultimately failed. Now another group of well-established retailers are pursuing the same opportunity. The results are too early to report. This stroll down Memory Lane is relevant only to say that the Internet is no different from any other technology that emerges and is embraced by the consumers we serve.

We are not encouraging furniture retailers and suppliers to change their business strategy to an Internet strategy. The preceding has illustrated the pitfalls of following approaches without the technical expertise or capital to succeed. Rather it is to encourage retailers and suppliers to address the reasons consumers are embracing the Internet and to understand how their business models can be modified to deliver the same experience. Consider addressing these reasons.

 

·         The consumers’ ease of finding what they are looking for — 26 percent of consumers will leave a brick-and-mortar store because they can’t find the desired product.

 

·         No selling pressure, only information — the younger consumers under the age of 35 dislike pressure selling. Just give them the facts.

 

·         A total home furnishings solution, not merely the major products — consumers are looking for a lifestyle solution, not just a sofa.

 

In conclusion, the Internet is not a new distribution channel, but it is the way a growing number of consumers want to purchase furniture. What is the solution for traditional brick and mortar retailers who do not want to become e-tailers? Make your in-store retail experience appeal to the needs and the desires of that consumer who walks in your door.



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