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From Home Furnishing Business


Many conversations start with furniture retailers bemoaning the absence of traffic in their stores. Even though many are experiencing increases in sales driven by higher close rates and average tickets, they still remember the days of more customers coming through the door. We will not address the reasons, pre-shopping research on the Web and the time-starved consumer, because this area has been covered in previous issues (May, 2016). Our focus is on how to get consumers, while diminished in number, through the front door.

Compared to other retail categories, marketers consider furniture as blessed with universal desire.  In no study since the 90’s has the consumer, when asked if his or her home needs redecorating and would that redecorating involve the purchase of furniture, at a minimum 87% of consumers responded with a positive Yes. This finding was according to ongoing research by FurnitureCore, our market research group.

Then what is the problem? What are the barriers that are preventing the consumer from acting on this need? On the horizon we see one of the greatest waves of household formations since the Baby Boomers. This is the emergence of the much-discussed Millennials.

That, however, is the future. Let’s not forget the household formations that haven’t occurred in the last decade as the economy and student debt force a delay in marriage, child birth, and household formations. However, at some point, the youth must emerge from the parents’ basement.

What is the current barometer? According to a just-completed survey, consumers are at various stages of shopping. The following graphic illustrates.

First the bad news: Even though they have an interest in furniture, 52% have no immediate plans to purchase. How can we change their minds? If you watch many of the decorating televisions channels’ “before and after” programs, you would come to the conclusion that someone needs to change their minds.

Unfortunately, according to recent research, only 22.3% of consumers indicate that an advertisement had prompted them to purchase a furniture item if they were not in the market for it. Regrettably, with two-income families and consumers spending less time physically in their homes coupled with the lack of home entertaining, the need to improve the decor is not high on the consumer’s “importance” meter.

One of the major factors in this loss has been obsolesce. With the economic downturn, car buyers kept a new car 71 months as compared to 38 months in 2002. This has created a pent-up demand for cars that has resulted in record sales for cars in the past two years.

What do we need to say about cell phones? Each quarter brings the latest from Apple followed shortly by the latest from its competition.  These ongoing modifications distract the consumer from other large expenditures.    

The appliance sector has built-in obsolescence with the average life expectancy of a refrigerator at 13 years and a washer/dryer at 10 years. One cannot ignore the non-functioning refrigerator as one would the threadbare arm of a chair. 

Nevertheless, we cannot reconcile ourselves to waiting for our turn.  However, advertising can be a powerful tool to encourage the consumer to postpone the purchase that car or that cell phone in order to create a great environment for escaping the demands of living.

And now for the action. Those who are finally actively shopping for furniture have made up their minds and will buy furniture.   Currently, approximately 15% are in that frame of mind.  The obvious advertising activity that is associated with the furniture industry is in place to bring them into the store. That is the infamous promise of substantial discounts with financing so generous that it seems you will NEVER have to pay.  And then there is the ultimate, the “going out of business” deal. Unfortunately, according to research, the consumer does not believe this.

Now for the second stage – These include those who are thinking about buying furniture because they need furniture or just want to buy furniture. These consumers should be our target for advertising. Currently, 26.4% of consumers are at this stage. Unfortunately, over half of these consumers will be at this stage next year if furniture dealers do not spur them to action.

What causes this lack of action? The first is the other consumer durables. In the past decade home furnishings has lost 1.8% indexed point of its share of expenditures. Being distracted by that new car, new phone, new appliance, or new entertainment device is a fact

Another approach starts when the consumer was just thinking about a purchase. This involves exposing the consumer to decorating ideas and new products that may pre-sell them on your store.

Finally, the consumer that has just purchased furniture. Currently, this represents 15.5% of the households. Traditional thinking has been that these consumers are out of the market. This is not so. With significant credit lines on credit cards, the consumer can be in the market anytime. According to research, the best performing retailers have consumer purchases from those consumers who have bought in the last 18 months at a 30% level. Yes, these are your best customers, those who have already decided that your combination of merchandise and service are their best decision.

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