Consumers want more help from retailers

Consumers shopping for home furnishings need more information and more assistance from retailers — just not too much assistance from “pushy” sales associates, our new Consumer Insights Now research shows.

The extensive survey, done in conjunction with our sister publications Home News Now and Casual News Now, asked consumers who were planning to buy home furnishings in the second half of 2022 about their shopping habits, buying process, product preferences and more.

The national report and regional breakdowns are full of quantitative data about all of that. But our regional breakdowns, including the latest Midwest report released this week, also include verbatim suggestions from respondents about how the furniture buying process could be improved.

Given the supply chain problems plaguing the industry since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers understandably say they shouldn’t have to wait so long for their furniture to be delivered. But we’re seeing manufacturers clear their backlogs and reduce delivery times, so that problem is beginning to resolve itself. (Fingers crossed that another unexpected shock wave to supply chains isn’t ahead.)

Consumers also complained about the cost of furniture. Again, that’s not unexpected during a time of high inflation when people are painfully aware of the price of everything they buy — and how those prices keep rising.

I do think it’s notable that instead of just balking at prices, survey respondents often suggested financing options or services that retailers could provide — such as installment payment plans and 0% interest rates — to help them afford large furniture purchases.

But many of their other suggestions indicate how much consumers need retailers’ help to envision new furniture in their homes and to better understand what they’re buying.

“Clearer descriptions online and the ability to see how it would look in my space,” suggested a consumer in the South-Central region. “More styles on display so that I can better envision how it would look in my home,” said a consumer in the Midwest. Suggested another, “There should be a virtual reality where you could try the piece of furniture in the house to see how the feng shui of the room would be.”

Better product descriptions, virtual reality placement tools. These are things retailers can easily, well, relatively easily, offer consumers. Virtual reality and augmented reality tools are getting better and better, and many manufacturers provide complete marketing suites of product photography and descriptions that detail colorways, constructions and dimensions for use on retailers’ websites.

But, given the comments by respondents, not all retailers are taking advantage of these or, in the case of VR and AR, may not be promoting or explain them well enough to consumers.

Requests for more styles and color options in-store are harder to accommodate with limited floor space, but there are other ways to show shoppers more choices without expanding a store’s footprint. Signage can let consumers know that other styles and colors are available and so can equipping sales associates with smartphones or tablets that let them walk consumers through a broader selection available from manufacturers.

Custom finishing and upholstery programs also can help retailers meet the needs of shoppers who want more options. For quick example, at High Point Market, Wildwood is unveiling Select, which allows buyers to customize bestselling case goods in any Benjamin Moore paint color, and Universal Furniture is debuting U/Choose, a custom upholstery program that allows retailers to choose arms, legs, cushion configurations and other details, in addition to fabrics.

Other consumers want more information about materials and components. Is this cabinet solid wood? Is this fabric washable? Online, it’s easy to provide that granular detail. In-store, QR codes can quickly take shoppers to that same information.

A consumer in the Northeast complained that “when ordering online, it’s difficult to understand the quality of the material” and another in the South-Central region said, “I wish there was a way to tell if a sofa is comfortable without having to sit on it in person.”

Those are trickier needs to address. In terms of seating comfort, furniture retailers could borrow a tool from the mattress industry, where many retailers and manufacturers use comfort scales to help online shoppers better understand how a mattress feels.

And speaking of tricky, our research shows consumers continue to be demanding of sales associates — wanting their assistance but wanting that assistance in specific ways and at specific times.

“Give me time to look around and get a better idea of what exactly I am looking for,” a survey respondent in the South said. “Sales associates should not hover around me when I am shopping,” said a consumer in the Northeast. “They should be available when I want them.”

There are plenty of other insights in our exclusive research. You can read the full national results and regional breakdowns from the Northeast, South Atlantic, East and West South-Central, and Midwest regions here. On Oct. 17, we’ll bring you the last regional breakdown from the West.

About the survey: Consumer Insights Now surveyed 1,993 U.S. consumers from July 11-13, 2022. All respondents planned to purchase one or more home furnishings products between July and December 2022, and all were either the primary or joint purchase decision-maker. The sample includes a mix of females and males, ages 18 to 74, and includes a representative mix of ages, ethnicities, household incomes and homeowners/renters. National results were released Sept. 12. Results from five regional breakdowns are being released weekly. Dana French, who has more than 20 years of home furnishings and consumer research experience, leads Consumer Insights Now project, which is sponsored by ChargeAfter and Genesis Credit.

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