The UK home furniture market was valued at £11.4 billion in 2019, and has been forced to innovate at speed due the global coronavirus pandemic. Lockdown measures and economic uncertainty affected consumer shopping habits, pushing them to spend more online than at brick-and-mortar shops.
As a result, companies selling furniture and homeware online in the UK and Ireland witnessed a 318% YoY increase in traffic in Q2 as lockdowns continued - yet as stores reopened in Q3 these online surges continued and traffic remained at a heightened 113% up on the previous year.
In our recent Roundtable discussion organised in partnership with OSF Digital and lead by Craig Smith, Retail Digital Transformation Director at Salesforce and James Bruce, Director of Commerce Experience at OSF Digital, we spoke to leaders in the industry to see how they are adapting their digital and commerce strategy to exceed their customers’ post-COVID expectations.
Read on to find what was top of mind on the day...
Although the initial impact of the pandemic was nerve-racking for all, the industry has remained resilient. Despite early stalls in trading figures, consumers - who are now largely forced to work, sleep and eat from home have turned their attentions to upgrading their living spaces to improve their quality of life.
Whilst the economic uncertainty of future government restrictions still looms, many customers have been forced to cut back on entertainment and travelling costs, freeing up their income to make home improvements - or even move home. Rightmove reported a 50% increase in traffic in September alone, as a cumulative effect of Stamp Duty being cut on property purchases and the ability to work from anywhere contributing to people looking for a new space.
The overwhelming theme from the Roundtable was one of optimism, and the 69% order growth online in homeware products we saw in Q3 is expected to continue.
One thing is for sure - we don’t expect the levels of footfall in physical stores to return to any semblance of ‘normal’ anytime soon, if ever. Homeware and interior brands were already seeing a move to online before the crisis, but this has been accelerated at an unprecedented rate. Post pandemic, the unrivalled conveniences of shopping from the sofa is sure to make this change a permanent one.
So what does this mean for the future of stores on the high-street? We predict we’ll see many more acting as fulfilment centres and offering Click & Collect services - In Q1 2020 alone, retailers that offered this service grew revenue by 27%.
If stores are forced to close again, they can quickly be turned into distribution centres, maximising the resources available and lowering fulfilment costs by saving on delivery and packing. By unifying the online and in store experiences through Click & Collect, in store teams can better provide customers with recommendations that resonate, up-sell opportunities, or loyalty benefits. All will help to generate higher transactions in store whilst nurturing a long lasting relationship by really knowing your customer on every channel.
Even with furniture shopping - where customers often want to feel and view the piece they are buying, many are making the final purchase online now. It’s paramount for brands to create seamless experiences on all channels - but how do you replicate the in store experience on your digital channels?
There is a rise in the use of virtual reality and augmented tools - so customers can view their chosen product in their customised selections and even see what they would like in their own front room. This undoubtedly improves customer engagement and time spent on the site, as well as helping to bridge the gap between photography and the customers home.
Yet so far, customer adoption of these tools has been slower than expected as only early adopters are testing them out. As technology evolves and becomes easier to use, the expectation is for these tools to become a main feature rather than a pricy gimmick.
Whilst we’ve covered the online surges, it’s important to note the engagement of a real-life human still goes a long way to increase conversion rates. One brand revealed that if customers engage with live chat on their website to talk to in store experts, they are 10x more likely to purchase than those who don’t.
Other members of our roundtable have taken this one step further, offering video call appointments with prospective customers so they can show furniture pieces up close. People want guidance and to talk to someone before making a big purchase - and skilled staff are still the biggest asset to the business here.
There have been a few unexpected results of the crisis, in fact one brand reported that their PPC costs had halved since the same time last year - meaning costs are down for online advertising to drive traffic and new customers. Another brand went from selling 3 puzzles a week to over 1500 and actually had to turn off Google shopping temporarily as they couldn’t restock quickly enough.
Visual search popularity also continues to rise as people continue to want to find the best deal and 35% of marketers globally are now optimising for this channel this year. 62% of millennials want to be able to browse in this way and and homeware brands must have this on their roadmap to stay ahead of the competition. The ones that will successfully utilise this tool will team their visual search results with customer data to create highly personalised shopping experiences powered by AI to sort the results and meet individual buying and browsing habits.
Whilst in can seem a difficult road to optimise your operations to cope with this new digital first or omnichannel world in the homeware market, small steps can make a big difference. Even if your offerings are fragmented, a minimally viable approach can make a huge difference to the bottom line of your business.
Brands are recognising that they need to learn how to process the wealth of data they collect on their customers and be smarter in how they use it, to spot signals that can power a clever customer journey. Ordering a sample may show intent, but what is next? Perhaps customers need a discount, more information around warranty or personalised recommendations for similar products to push them towards the buy button.
Learn more about the trends defining the year 2020 in eCommerce and beyond, or find out more on how the Salesforce Commerce Cloud platform powers connected customer experiences.