COMMENTARY

What retailers must do to make the furniture-buying experience a rewarding one

What retailers must do to make the furniture-buying experience a rewarding one

Photo by iStock.com

By Joe Ferguson, director of new business development, Fortiva Retail Credit

With revenue in the furniture and homeware segment projected to nearly double by 2022, according to Statista’s 2018 eCommerce Report on Furniture & Appliances, traditional furniture dealers are facing increasing competition from retail giants looking to cash in on the opportunity in the home furnishing segment.

For example, Walmart unveiled its new home furnishings web page in March 2018, Amazon launched its first in-home furniture brands in November 2017 and Target has officially rolled out its home-brand, Opalhouse, while also adding high-tech features to help improve the customer shopping experience across channels.

While these dominant brands have been successful across a diverse line of product categories, furniture sales require a more engaging and informative customer experience than most because of the cost, longevity and decorative nature.

Seasoned furniture stores have a distinct advantage by having mastered the basics to the point that they are now further enhancing customer service with innovative omnichannel developments.

To succeed in home furnishings, traditional and e-commerce retailers would benefit from identifying the longstanding strategies used by top furniture dealers, as well as the latest innovations in the sector.

Consumer financing

Offering financing to consumers results in larger ticket sizes, closed sales and customer loyalty/repeat sales. Whether purchasing a $1,400 couch or completely overhauling your home with multiple furniture sets, many customers are unable to afford furniture with an up-front cash payment and need access to credit to make the purchase. Even those that have the cash may prefer to take advantage of deferred or no-interest offerings to avoid having to pay all at once.

For these reasons, furniture dealers often make their financing offerings the centerpiece of their promotions and customer-facing platforms. Pier 1 Imports, for example, prominently displays a widget atop its homepage with access to information, online application and account management for its branded credit card.

Furniture retailers understand the value of having a robust financing package for the complete credit spectrum of their consumers – customers with FICO scores above 700 and those with less than prime scores. According to FICO.com, more than 43 percent of Americans have FICO scores below 700, which means they are often unable to qualify for financing solutions from common prime credit card providers.

Leading furniture dealers like Ashley HomeStore licensee Broad River Furniture often incorporate a second look financing option to solve this problem. By assessing factors beyond a simple FICO score, experienced second look credit providers can approve financing for customers with scores even below 500, saving sales by approving approximately 30 to 50 percent of applications initially declined by primary providers.

Because it can take more than seven years to recover from a credit-impairing event, this segment often includes viable customers who have the cash flow to make the purchase. Affording them the opportunity to enrich their homes, along with removing the potential embarrassment of being declined credit, ensures a significantly better customer experience than simply offering a singular prime credit option.

Both prime and second look credit offerings can better drive sales by offering flexible terms to fit a customer’s financial needs. For example, revolving lines of credit allow customers to return with an established financing source when they find themselves in need of furniture replacements again down the road, while installment loans might just help those who don’t plan to return. Deferred interest loans can help customers who need to save on their monthly payment now by putting off interest payments until later, such as a new homeowner who has less cash today after recently making a down payment on their home.

Visual capabilities key to customer experience

Among the biggest considerations when purchasing furniture is how it will look. Because aesthetics are key in furniture buying decisions, visual branding is even more important here than nearly any other segment, thus there are several tactics to consider when illustrating why a collection of home furnishings is above and beyond its competitors.

In an increasingly digital world, a retailer’s website is among the most important tools to show off its inventory. The website should be built with extreme focus on visually branding the company, such as Ethan Allen’s site, which opens with a video on “The Art of Making Home.” Websites and mobile shopping apps should go beyond the traditional print catalog and provide images of each item in a collection, including the ability to toggle between photos of different colors and styles.  

While making the website a digital catalog is important, leading furniture retailers have gone to the next level by enabling customers to get a better grasp of what furniture will look like in their homes. Haverty’s has launched a 3D room planner mobile application that allows users to upload photos of their rooms, erase existing furniture and decorate the rooms with Haverty’s furniture and accessories. As Retail Customer Experience previously reported, Ashley Furniture and Ikea have turned to augmented reality and virtual reality technology to help customers better experience their dream rooms before making the purchase.

Competition benefits the customer

With retail giants like Amazon and Walmart encroaching into the furniture space, competition is already breeding innovation to improve the customer experience. For example, Ikea has responded with its new TaskRabbit At-Home Assembly service to allow customers to pay someone else to put their furniture together instead of having to tackle the furniture assembly process themselves.

Encroaching retailers are also bringing new ideas to shake up the space. Walmart announced that it also will look into a furniture assembly service, countering Ikea’s move. eBay’s high-end furniture site, eBay Collective, will take advantage of its visual search engine to let shoppers find items that closely match furniture they see in various photos. And Target is leveraging CGI to give shoppers a 360-degree virtual reality-like experience to visualize furniture and accessories.

Bringing it all together

Furniture retailers are at the forefront of bringing everything together, with omnichannel platforms that support their financing application and approval processes, user-friendly access to their digital catalogue and access to innovative services like virtual reality and visual search.

While general retailers are making strides with omnichannel presentation in lockstep with the furniture world, many of them still operate with paper financing applications. Leading furniture dealers are set up for instant approvals with digital applications online, via mobile checkout and through in-store kiosks. Going a step further, savvy dealers leverage partnerships between prime and second look financing providers, as well as integrated payment technology platforms like LendPro, Vyze, Versatile Credit and ChargeAfter, to automatically transition customers to a second look application without the risk of application fatigue, which often leads to an instant approval upon being declined by a prime lender.

Conclusion

As large retailers and e-commerce companies move into the furniture segment, they will have to compete against traditional powerhouses that have built their business on providing a great customer experience. Providing an easy and attainable way for customers to make these large purchases and visually communicate what a piece will look like are hallmarks of success in traditional furniture sales. However, competition is already breeding innovations that further improve customer service and access.

In the end, customers are the ones winning the competition.


Topics: Customer Experience, Customer Service, Department Stores, Specialty Stores, Technology, Trends / Statistics


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