From Home Furnishing Business
Statistically Speaking: Ecommerce Continues Double-Digit Furniture Industry Growth
Ecommerce home furnishings websites continue to chip away at brick and mortar retailers reporting double-digit growth last year estimated at over 22% compared to single-digit growth by other furniture and home furnishings retail channels. Furniture store sales, in particular, grew 6.3% growth last year, according to the Census Bureau, with flat sales through the second quarter of this year.
The explosive ecommerce growth comes in spite of a report indicating only 14% of consumers actually prefer to purchase furniture online (Euclid Analytics). This leaves brick and mortar retailers scratching their heads trying to determine how to give consumers the shopping experience they apparently prefer.
Despite predictions that the rate of ecommerce growth in the furniture industry would slow, ecommerce sales have continued at over 20% annually in recent years. This article updates Statistically Speaking’s June 2018 article Ecommerce Strengthens Foothold on Furniture Industry.
The retail furniture industry reached $112.8 billion last year, a growth of 7.0% over 2018 (Figure 1). While total furniture and bedding retail sales have maintained robust growth through 2018, 2019 year-to-date has slowed – only increasing 3.6% from 2018 Q3 YTD to 2019 Q2 YTD.
Ecommerce Total U.S.
Internet sales of all consumer products from all retail outlet types, ecommerce companies or brick and mortar stores selling from internet websites, are estimated to have reached $524 billion in 2018 (Table A).
In 2018, overall online/ecommerce retail purchases for all consumer products slowed, but still grew 3.6 times faster than all other retail channels. At $269 billion year-to-date, ecommerce growth is 5.9 times faster than the first half of 2018. Total retail sales increased by 5% from 2017 to 2018, compared to 14% for ecommerce.
A recent report published by the Census Bureau segments sales by ecommerce retailers by merchandise lines through 2017 giving a glimpse at penetration by product category.
Among different types of ecommerce retailers, online sales of furniture and home furnishings products was the second highest product category in sales at $48.7 billion increasing 22.3% from 2016 to 2017 (Figure 2). Ranking number one in sales growth, computer software including video games, grew by 23.9% to reach $15.4 billion in 2017. At $66.7 billion, clothing and clothing accessories had the highest sales among ecommerce retailers and with an annual increase of 11%.
Sales of combined furniture and home furnishings through ecommerce retailers have increased from $7.9 billion in 2006 to an estimated $59.7 billion in 2018 – an average per year growth since 2009 of 23% (Table B).
While internet purchases have continued to gain a bigger piece of the retail pie over recent years, online sales represented only 8.6% of all retail sales for all consumer products in 2018 (Table C). And mid year-todate that percentage has declined slightly – down to 7.5% with mail orders picking up to 4.4%.
Brick and mortar retailers have tried various approaches to competing with ecommerce retailers by attempting to market through their own websites, but with little success. Furniture and home furnishings stores lag behind other retailer types in terms of ecommerce sales as a percent of total sales (Table D). Ecommerce sales were 1.2% of total sales in 2017 for brick and mortar furniture and home furnishings stores, compared to 3.8% for clothing stores, 2.9% for sporting goods, hobby, and book stores, and 2.1% for electronics and appliance stores. While the success of online retailing among brick and mortar merchants has increased over the years, the ecommerce sales comparison remains vast between brick and mortar stores and pure ecommerce retailers.
Furniture Industry Channel Growth Of the $112.8 billion furniture industry, sales can be distributed between (1) brick and mortar stores, (2) ecommerce retailers plus ecommerce sales by brick and mortar companies, and (3) mail order houses. In 2018, furniture and bedding sales by brick and mortar stores (non-internet) totaled $87 billion compared to $23.09 billion for ecommerce and $1.9 billion from mail order houses (Table E). As shown in Table F, ecommerce continues to gain a greater share of the furniture industry – jumping from 3.8% of sales in 2009 to 21.2% in 2018. This includes not just sales by ecommerce retailers, but also online sales by brick and mortar retailers of all types – including furniture and home furnishings stores, department stores, warehouse superstores, etc. Meanwhile, brick and mortar share of total sales fell from 93.5% in 2009 to 77.1% in 2018 — decreasing 6.6 percentage points from 2017 to 2018.
The total furniture and bedding industry grew 7% last year. It is estimated that brick and mortar store sales of furniture grew only 3.2% while ecommerce retailer sales grew 25.7 (Figure 3). Over the course of nine years since the bottom of the recession in 2009 furniture sales through ecommerce have grown at an annual rate (CAGR) of 27% compared to brick and mortar retailers at 3.0%. Total industry sales have grown at an annual rate of 5.1%.
Table G shows the annual year-over-year growth of the three outlet types. Note that the rate of ecommerce sales growth peaked at 31.2% in 2015, but has slowed slightly to an estimated growth of 25.7% in 2018.
Home furnishings products – floor coverings, window treatments and home accessories – have shown consistently higher online sales than furniture as consumers are still finding it easier and less daunting to buy home furnishings online without seeing or touching them in a store. However overall growth of furniture products sold via ecommerce has been higher than home furnishings. Table H shows that home furnishing ecommerce sales have grown from $6.5 billion in 2009 up to an estimated $37.4 billion in 2018 – a jump of 477%. During the same time period, furniture ecommerce sales rose 761% from $2.8 billion to $23.9 billion.
Furniture retailers, who have historically enjoyed high margins, claim that although ecommerce home furnishings companies are taking business from brick and mortar stores, many ecommerce retailers have yet to make a profit. And there is some truth to that. For example, ecommerce home furnishings giant Wayfair, sold almost $7 billion in 2018 across five branded furniture and home furnishings websites. But gross profit of $1.5 billion was offset by $2 billion in operating costs. Much of that operating cost has been spent on acquiring new customers and repeat purchasers, which they hope will pay off in the long run. Wayfair also opened its first retail store in Natick, MA and an outlet in Florence, KY.
Perhaps the primary obstacle brick and mortar stores face with ecommerce retailers is the consumer’s online exposure to a vast selection of thousands of furniture items and efficient websites to drill down to exactly what they want. This, coupled with easy checkout, fast delivery and liberal return policies, are challenges traditional retailers have yet to fully formulate a strategic response.