Furniture is quite often the very first customization that we do in our lives. From baby-proofing chairs and tables to make high chairs or study desks, we start our lives with furniture that has been customized for our needs. In fact, without furniture, our homes would be boring and drab—borderline lifeless! The furniture we have in our homes defines us—contemporary or modern, minimalistic or opulent—furniture in our homes makes the first impression on every guest who visits us. This makes furniture the single most important thing in our house after lighting and water supply.
Purchasing furniture is usually a long-term decision. We decide if what we’re buying suits our lifestyle and our existing home décor, ensuring that what we buy suits our budget, our taste and our needs. Shopping for furniture has traditionally been a completely offline experience. Even in large furniture stores such as Ikea, people love to browse, sit on things, try them out and then buy them. Although standardized furniture is bought using Ikea’s and other retailers online or offline catalogue, lifestyle and room furniture still warrant a trip to the furniture section or your local furniture market.
In the highly digitized world of today which has been turbocharged by the coronavirus pandemic—nearly everything we buy has moved online. From medicines to shoes to clothes to food and essentials—all you need is now available in mobile apps or websites 24/7. With 80-90% of the shops now moving for an offline experience, why should furniture be left behind?
Major brands such as IKEA, Etsy, Amazon, Target, Pepperfry, Home Depot, Urban ladder and many more are making the digital shift or are 100% online stores that use the power of technology such as AI and ML to help customers find that perfect piece of furniture. However, with many of us still preferring the offline world when it comes to rugs, beds and sofas, why are companies still pushing for a digital alternative?
We decided to dig deep and figure out the reasons why customers prefer an online or an offline experience. Our research relied on analysing common customer behaviour online, personalized interviews and interactions with clients. Although this survey was conducted to help us design a better and more informed user experience for one of our clients, and we completed this survey many months before the lockdown began in most parts of the world, the decision to write about it was made when we were asked the same question by another prospect.
Without further ado, here is our analysis of user expectations and experiences and the major reason why they shop online or offline for furniture. To make this an easy read we have segregated this into two distinct sections—buying online and buying offline.
Purchasing furniture offline
Traditionally, new furniture acquisition was done by visiting a carpenter’s shop or asking one to come over to create the furniture you needed for you at your home. With industrialization came the need to mass-produce low-cost furniture, which could easily be replicated and sold to the public in bulk. Retailers had the option to showcase a unit that people could see, feel and try before they bought it.
This need to touch and see furniture before purchase made retail furniture stores possible. These stores would let customers see, customize and purchase furniture after they saw it. Furniture stores also offer catalogues of similar furniture types so those purchase decisions can be made impulsively while looking at other furniture. Purchasing offline meets the following needs of customers and retailers:
- Have the ability to experience the actual piece of furniture they will get
- Purchase the item immediately from the store or get it delivered after minor customizations
- Browse and see other furniture types in the store itself
- Get assistance from sales personnel to guide them during furniture purchase
- Visit the store for support.
- Upsell if need be through sales personnel
- See if customers can buy multiple furniture types
- Cross-sell on the spot
- Create a rapport with the customer and offer specials
- Convert customers from browsing to buying in real-time
- Lesser return incidents
However, not all is good. There are some problems associated with buying furniture offline. These include:
- Limited options due to space constraints—no store can have all the options on display
- The requirement to visit the store for purchase and support
- Travel time from one store to another
- In the current times, problems with contracting infections from others at the store
- Advertising, retail space and staff salaries drive up costs
Offline stores provide an unmatched experience. With customers browsing through products and buying in real-time, purchase confidence is high and as the customer has seen and purchased the product, rejection rates are lower when compared to online counterparts.
Purchasing furniture online
Purchasing furniture online evolved from stores like IKEA and others that offered a mail-in catalogue where customers could check what they wanted from their book, disc or website and then come to the store to experience the furniture they like before buying it. By comparing catalogues, customers could see various items side by side and pick the one they like the most.
Online shopping solves the problem of limited options and choice.
Customers benefit from:
- Virtually unlimited choice
- Virtual customizations help in visualization of the final product
- Comparative shopping websites can sort and filter products according to requirements, budget and customizability
- No need to visit stores for purchase, support or delivery and installation
- Lower prices than offline stores
- Specials, offers and advertisements can be done on the website itself, lowering costs manifold
Store owners benefit from:
- No retail space or sales staff requirements lower monthly expenses, which are directly transferred to customers
- Customers do not need to walk into a store. You can have a warehouse anywhere in the city and ship to your customers from there
- Sales, support and logistics can be handled by third parties, reducing headaches.
However, not all is well with an online furniture purchase. Customers want choice, but this comes at a price:
- High return rates as customers might not like the delivered product
- Heightened logistics and reverse logistics costs
- Costs to maintain support lines
- Impulsive shopping and returns can eat away the margin
- Sales volume must be high to rake in profits
As you can see, the best of the lot are stores that can offer a blend of online and offline shopping which can reduce return rates, enhance customer satisfaction and rake up volumes, especially during the festive season. For offline stores, not being on an online platform will result in extremely low footfalls and a loss of up to 80% in possible customer traffic. Offline stores must embrace digital technology to stay abreast of the times and offer better pricing along with convenience and quality.
At Volumetree, we understand the problems faced by both customers and stores that have not yet jumped the internet bandwagon. Do not get left behind! Get your store online today to ensure that customers who are not stepping out due to time, budget or other constraints along with a fear of getting infected can shop from their homes, uninhibited. Schedule a consultation with one of our experts today!