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From Home Furnishing Business

Editors Letter: A Failure to Communicate

- By Bob George

One of the barriers to producing this issue on merchandising has been the niggling thought of how can the product which has been carefully curated to appeal to a targeted consumer be communicated, if the first step in the process is research on the internet?

As an industry, we are beyond asking how the consumer can make a major purchase, such as furniture, without sitting on the sofa, seeing the finishes, testing the dresser’s weight and functionality.  Why have we stopped?  Because over 20% of the purchases are accomplished sight, unseen.

This may be the problem when over 50% of the sofas sold at retail are under $499.  With a low-resolution screen shot on the website, how can the consumer establish value?  Should we have not just given up and taken the low-cost approach of eliminating catalogs and world-class collateral, along with advertising in upscale shelter magazines? 

Which came first, our abandonment of this advertising medium or the shrinkage of the magazine page count?  As I have said before, there are more advertisements for “shower heads” in the shelter magazines than furniture.  Also, if furniture is advertised, it is by the lifestyle retailers, such as Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn.  They are the furniture brands of today.

Don’t interpret this as me being against digital.  Digital is a great tool to capture the attention of the consumer, but not to entice them to purchase value.  From our latest consumer research (HFB – Nov 2017), the next power generation for the furniture industry, Generation X, is looking for quality.  They are disgusted with the furniture purchased when they bought their first home.  They are questioning the value compared to their parent’s purchases, “while not my style, it is still in great shape.”  As an industry, have we failed to inform what constitutes value?

The home furnishings product has lost its panache.  Other consumer durables have struggled and resorted to selling price and affordability, relegating the product to commodity status.  Only the car manufacturers have continued to create the excitement and are merchandising their product.  Maybe, this is the problem – the bulk of the consumer communication is by the retailer, not the manufacturer.  Has the gross margin pressure from the offshore production castrated the manufacturers voice?

Merchandising will always be a major factor in the home furnishings process.  It is just the message we are trying to communicate.  If it is just utilitarian, so be it. For me, I would prefer a message which says, “My home furnishings must communicate who I am and reflect a sense of current style.”  This is what the consumer wants, especially those under 45, as the research shows.


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