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From Home Furnishing Business

What Sells: Leather Uncovered

By Sheila Long O’Mara

Leather upholstery may just be one of the most technical categories on a retailer’s floor.

The varying grades of leather, as well as the growth in bonded product, leave consumers seeking the comfort and luxury of fine leather in a maze of confusion. The Internet — where most consumers start the shopping experience — is filled with information, and sometimes misinformation, on the ins and outs of buying leather upholstery.  All of which require retail sales associates be given category specific training, have in-depth product knowledge and the dexterity to cut through any uncertainty consumers may have regarding leather upholstery.

A recent survey by Furniturecore of 535 consumers who had bought upholstery in the last 12 months showed that 71.3 percent of them embarked on their shopping journey by exploring online. Not only can consumers uncover styles and specific products, but the category gets extensive attention on what consumers should look for and consider when buying leather.

Shopping for leather upholstery tends to be a lengthy process. Nearly 33 percent of the consumers surveyed shopped between 2 weeks and a month before making their purchase. That’s significantly more than the 27 percent of consumers in the market for fabric-covered upholstery who shopped for that length of time. Another 18 percent of our surveyed consumers shopped between one and three months prior to buying.

Despite their diligence in uncovering the perfect leather upholstery, shopping for the category was not without its challenges. It seems the consumers surveyed wanted a larger selection of wares. Nearly 38 percent (37.8 percent) said the available selection of leather upholstery was too small.

Another sticking point — price.

While the industry understands the nuanced craftsmanship and detail required for top-quality leather upholstery, consumers aren’t quite as well versed in the matter. About 32 percent (32.1 percent) said prices of leather upholstery were higher than they expected.

When buying, the consumer pool was motivated by a number of things. On a scale of one to six with one being the most important and six being the least, product quality was at the top with a ranking of 2.8. Quality was followed closely by product design with a 3.1 ranking. Brand or manufacturer reputation was third with a 3.5 ranking.

No big surprise that most consumers were shopping for leather upholstery for their living rooms or family rooms. In fact, 81.5 percent — 47.3 percent for living room and 34.2 percent for family room — of them specified one of those two rooms at the location for their recent purchase.

 Traditional and contemporary designs rule the roost when it comes to leather upholstery. Who can blame them? A rich, button tufted, nail-head trim sofa or a clean, sweeping sectional both add a certain je ne sais quoi to a room. The two style genres, at 38.3 percent and 36.2 percent, respectively, carry the bulk of our consumer group’s affinity. Country/rustic leather designs fell a distant third at 15.8 percent.

When it comes to specifics and drilling down a bit more in the style category, it seems consumers prefer overstuffed, deep seating to sleeker, tight-back designs in leather upholstery. In fact, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed prefer the overstuffed designs.

Good news on the willing-to-wait front. While today’s consumers tend to prefer instant gratification on nearly everything they purchase, about 47 percent of those surveyed indicate a willingness to wait four to eight weeks for a custom-ordered leather sofa. Another 43 percent said they would wait two to four weeks for such.


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