From Home Furnishing Business
Connecting and selling furniture requires an understanding of how and why consumers shop they way they shop.
By Lee Brown
It’s no secret that age, income and gender provide a demographic profile of consumers. However, in order to understand consumers more precisely, we add another layer by using Home Furnishings Business’ parent Impact Consulting’s proprietary Lifestyle Cluster designations to define the buying attitudes of consumers.
They deal with internal attributes focusing on how the consumer feels about the home, including such as areas as concern with decorating, how formal or informal the home is, and feelings about shopping for furniture. Income constraints do tend to guide the consumer. There are times, however, when digging into the consumer data of a high-end furniture product, we find a consumer presence in one of the lower-income cells. This happens because the less affluent consumer may allocate more of his or her disposable income to home furnishings driven by a stronger attitude toward the home environment.
In order to codify the attitudes, Impact Consulting uses a ratings scale based on the consumer’s extent of agreement with specific statements. Using the data, Impact has developed a profile of the home furnishings consumer and assigned a proprietary lifestyle profile to each respondent.
There are six frequently found clusters among home furnishings consumers—Style Aware, Prestige Seeker, Self Possessed, Follower, Just Me and Comfort Seeker. Each of the clusters is defined in more detailed in following pages.
Here, however, let’s examine responses from the Style Aware cluster. This group tends to be the most forward thinking in regard to all things regarding trends and style. In most cases, the design trends this group favors will set the pace in the market.
Quickly defined, the Style Aware group is trendy and stylish. Those in the herd tend to be comfortable with their design decisions, and frequently, but not always, consumers in this segment are among the more affluent consumers.
When survey participants were asked the primary reasons for their most recent furniture purchase, Style Awares had the largest presence in the Desire for New Furniture and the Redecoration segments. As can be seen in Table A, this segment of consumers is motivated less by need and more by want.
While there were similar percentages among all of the lifestyle segments in the Desire for New Furniture factor, the Style Awares had a higher population in the Redecoration category. These are consumers who enjoy the prospect of decorating and are also knowledgeable about the process.
Once the decision to buy furniture is made, what steps do consumers take to make a purchase?
When comparing the Style Aware group with the Prestige Seeker group, we see that the shopping process for each follows the same schedule to purchase even though the scoring numbers are not the same.
Examining store displays is the first step of the consumer’s purchase process. It is key that retailers understand that, with the exception of the Self Possessed cluster, survey respondents first wanted to see product in the store. This is the touch it, sit in it factor that remains so important to consumers.
Once the store visit has been completed, shoppers are likely then to conduct Internet research. Online, consumers typically gather a range of information about products, further educating themselves. The next step usually an over-the-fence conversation with a friend or relative for an endorsement of the consumer’s furniture choice. During these steps, consumers see the furniture purchase as a personal journey. The first two shopping actions are ones that are basically fact finding while the third is the act of reaching out to others for guidance and validation.
At this point the consumer turns to outside sources. This is where advertising takes the lead in connecting with consumers. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television are the key media sources for such information. At this stage, consumers have already done the research and will tend to visit stores with a more serious direction in mind. See Chart B.
Getting into the Stores
After the decision to purchase is made, consumers can move swiftly. Consumers usually don’t include research time as shopping time; hence, the period of time a consumer considers actual shopping time is usually relatively short. The highest percentage of our Style Aware shoppers—29.8 percent—said they shopped two weeks to one month while another 46 percent indicated shopping from one to two weeks (25.1 percent) or from one to three months (20.9 percent). We can compare this with the 79 percent of Comfort Seekers who shopped and purchased in a month or less. The highest percentage of this lifestyle cluster—34 percent shopped one to two weeks for their furniture purchase. These relatively short shopping processes should be should be important information for furniture retailers. It indicates the importance of having a relatively broad range of product when the consumer walks into the store. See Chart C.
Today, most consumers visit only a small number of stores when shopping for furniture. The majority of all consumers shopped three stores before making their furniture purchase. This percentage ranged from 44.3 percent (Followers), 41 percent (Prestige Seekers), 37.7 percent (Comfort Seekers), 37.7 percent (Style Awards) to 30.8 percent (Self Possessed). The Just Me’s remain faithful to their definition of being consumers who see furniture as purely functional and have little interest in the shopping process. The highest percentage of this group shopped one (31.3 percent) or two stores (31.3 percent). It is important for sales personnel to connect quickly and offer guidance on the sales floor with this segment. See Chart D.
Surprisingly, shoppers are not hindered by mileage when shopping for furniture. More than 90 percent—93.3 percent of the Style Aware segment had no problem traveling from 10 to 50-plus miles. That breaks down as 34.6 percent saying 10 to 24 miles; 37.2 percent opting for 25 to 49 miles; and 21.5 percent reported a willingness to travel more than 50 miles to visit furniture retailers.
The group with the highest willingness to travel 10 to 50-plus miles was the Self Possessed, 96.1 percent followed by Style Awares; Comfort Seekers, 90.6 percent; Prestige Seekers, 87.5 percent; Just Mes, 81.3 percent; and, the Followers, 80.3 percent.
A willingness to drive greater distances to shop is most likely a result of the reality of today’s hectic lives. Many people have lengthy commutes to their workplace. Family sports and other activities may also require frequent travel. Therefore, time in the car is today’s new normal. See Chart E.
Once a shopper enters a furniture store, he or she is typically earnest about buying furniture. Training that teaches sales associates how to distinguish customers by lifestyle cluster can be an important part of an overall sales program. At the end of the day, a sales team that can apply the knowledge can impact a furniture retailer’s sales.