The picture of home furnishings retail looks different at the start of 2021 than it did at the start of 2020. Global pandemic, COVID-19, created a seismic shift in the industry, to say nothing of the impact on the world of retail at-large. Retailers and manufacturers changed the way business operates in home furnishings last year. And that creates a unique stage for 2021 growth in furniture eCommerce trends.
During 2020, eCommerce was important to keep writing new business. A great many shifts continued to make home furnishings in high demand online and in store. Many retail leaders transitioned overnight to an online powerhouse for sales—with many posting record months of traffic and sales.
But 2021 comes with its own unique set of challenges for the home furnishings retail industry. How will the new changes impact the critical eCommerce strategy for retailers? Will another omnichannel shift take place this year? We’re going to explore the top trends impacting furniture digital commerce for 2021.
Emergence of Home Furnishings
Why are home furnishings still in such high demand? Before there were successful furniture ecommerce trends, the retail industry seized in parts of the early pandemic. Uncertainty halted most purchases outside of the essential goods. Closing retail stores created a barrier to other goods. But as retailers adapted to the shift and consumers stayed at home, the industry changed.
Stay at home orders created the necessity to make “home” serve many new functions. Home emerged as the place where we work, live, entertain, educate, and unwind. And for many, that meant a transition to how we lived at home.
Rise of the Remote Workforce
Online search for home office furniture grew exponentially overnight as more companies re-emerged as a remote workforce. According to BusinessWire, the global home office furniture market is expected to grow at a AGR of 7.5% during 2020-2026. In the 2020 report, Working From Home is attributed as one of the several key drivers to growth. Our research shows that research for home office furniture peaked in July—5 months into the pandemic. And while the trends fluctuate, subcategories and related searches are still higher than previous year averages.
Many companies report that in a post-pandemic world, they will adopt hybrid remote policies to capitalize on the profitability and flexibility offered in a remote workforce. So while many companies can return to offices during this year, the focus on home furnishings continues to stay prevalent. For many, home office furniture comes to a new home purchased during the pandemic—taking advantage of record-setting interest rates. As new employees enter the remote workforce, home office furniture will be pertinent.
Entertaining At Home
It wasn’t just “work” happening at home in 2020. Entertainment at home also increased. The majority of U.S. shoppers were under varying degrees of Stay at Home orders. Many states closed social entertainment like movie theaters, bowling alleys, bars, and amusement parks. This shift created the need for at-home entertainment for the family.
And many families had the budget available from saved funds for canceled vacations. Others used government stimulus to invest in home entertainment. But it wasn’t just new electronics. The home furnishings industry—especially the outdoor segment, got a major boost. Entertainment with others needed social distancing included. Which meant more time outdoors. With all the time spent inside working and entertaining the family, focus on outdoor grew tremendously.
A look at the search for outdoor furniture since 2019 shows that outdoor furniture searches more than doubled its previous years of peak season searching. Casual retailers and manufacturers posted significant new growth during the peak of the U.S. pandemic March 2020 – November 2020. Although shifts continue to emerge with vaccination, the focus on outdoor furniture is still growing over previous years.
Home Furnishings Industry Focus in 2021
These factors of change in 2020 have carried over into 2021. Stimulus injections to the U.S. economy continue to have impacts on furniture purchases in record numbers. The emergence of the home as the nesting place, teaching place, working place, and a multi-purpose space brings more new home furnishings shoppers into the marketplace than in previous years.
Challenges in Furniture Ecommerce Fulfillment
With increasing demand and rising furniture eCommerce trends, fulfillment surfaces as a significant challenge. The supply chain is disrupted at every point. It is full of friction and each fragment is uninformed. Some have claimed the name “COVID Commerce” for the acceleration to digital commerce. But the fact stands that each point of the supply chain experienced a ripple effect unlike any in history.
When China exports shut down during the earliest parts of 2020, U.S. operations had not witnessed a halt in production from COVID-19. But the supply chain delays began to formulate. As the pandemic spread, supply chains across the world experienced the effects of closed plants and shipping delays. These delays paired with the significant boom in retail sales for home furnishings created a worldwide bottleneck.
How Inventory Impacts Furniture Ecommerce Sales in 2021
For many retailers, furniture eCommerce trends became the lifeblood of business during the pandemic. Increased orders flooded online shopping carts and retail showrooms from socially distant shoppers. The emergence of home has inundated retailers with more orders than in previous years. And with the supply from manufacturers still in recovery from 2020, inventory is in disarray. Overseas manufacturing has resumed. But challenges with raw material shortages bring a new weak link in the supply chain.
But inventory challenges with overseas supply chains aren’t just impacting the manufacturers’ ability to produce more product. It’s also creating a disrupted consumer journey. With constant change and delay in production cycles, retailers have fluctuating shipment information for shoppers. For many retailers, the return rate from unhappy customers with missing product is only going up in 2021. We’ll talk about how the impact of returns are changing furniture eCommerce trends in 2021.
Improving the furniture eCommerce trends with Supply Chain Visibility
The inventory challenges aren’t universal to all manufacturers and all product lines. Some brands have navigated the challenge of inventory ahead of the rest. For retailers utilizing eCommerce, this may be a benefit. Identify the brands with product that can be tracked, readily available, drop shipped or delivered in custom order to customers in less time than the 2021 average. Shipments are starting at 12-16 weeks for many brands but if retailers can deliver more quantity of orders using a successful eCommerce website, the chances of securing more product from these manufacturers is higher.
Experts recommend retailers follow the customer’s shifts. Brick and mortar can be challenging to shift product focus based on consumer shifts. But the added value of digital commerce is the ability to focus on highlighting product data.
Increase in Mobile Shopping
The pandemic changed how consumers shop. B2B and B2C emerged with eCommerce shoppers on both sides. Demographics of the typical online shopper transitioned 10 years ahead of schedule in home furnishings. Research shows that traditional buyers are moving to online commerce. Baby boomers and older generations have adopted online shopping as a means of shopping because of the pandemic. It is no longer a secondary option in 2021.
Every traditional shopping channel has opened a digital shopping component. Social media platforms making it easier for consumers to buy while they’re browsing for entertainment. The ease of accessibility to online buying is lowering the barrier to adoption for traditional shoppers.
According to Statista, U.S. mobile retail commerce sales in 2020 went up from 44% to 49%. Projections in the same report show that the increase continues to jump from 49% to nearly 54% of all U.S. retail commerce sales are generated on a mobile device. In the same report, Amazon represents the most popular shopping application in the United States. What we know is that creating mobile-friendly websites drive significantly more sales opportunities to the retail store than those websites that are not mobile optimized.
Create a Mobile Friendly Furniture Website
To capture the online shopper, retailers have to create a furniture website with mobile accessibility. The secondary approach to create a mobile-friendly website browsing has passed. To maintain with home furnishings industry standards, mobility is key. From navigation to checkout and every shopping touchpoint between, the online buyer journey must be accessible through a smartphone. But a simple mobile brochure website isn’t enough. The experience is key.
Demand for personalized experiences
Online shopping is a rewarding experience in 2021. After a year of browsing online, the online consumer demands better and personalized experiences. But that isn’t without its challenges in 2021.
Data tracking changes in 2021
Data privacy has been a top concern bubbling up over the last decade. In 2021 experts see movement on tackling these concerns. Because of the increase in data breaches and privacy issues through third party providers, advertising channels are cracking down. Even the browsers consumers use to research product will limit the information it collects about the shopper’s research path. Marketers and website experts will know the term “cookies” and how those tracking devices make for more personalized advertising to consumers.
But with Facebook and other big providers limiting the uses of this data, advertisers are scrambling for replacements. How does that impact how retailers provide digital commerce service to consumers? The more personalized the recommendations online from previous visits, the better the consumer conversion opportunity.
New compliance and regulations will continue to impact retailers when it comes to data and privacy for consumers. Especially with the increase in online shopping from the 2020 pandemic. Retailers should stay abreast of these changes and work with experts to ensure compliance.
These Are Not the Chatbots You Are Looking For
The pandemic changed how consumers interact with retail websites. Mainly because of the increase in chat solutions functioning well for retail. In 2021 consumers will look to chat tools and more advanced chatbots to function as a digital salesperson during the shopping journey. And because the online shopping journey is 24/7, chatbots or intelligent chat tools need to advance with the consumer. The chat hours 10-7 of 2019 and 2020 won’t support a growing retail digital strategy in 2021.
The Rise of Returns
Online shopping may have increased in 2020. But so did the returns. Home furnishings typically sees a higher return rate than other retail segments. When retailers opened the website for online orders, the risk was worth the reward. Shoppers made a purchase but when the delivery arrived, the expectation didn’t match the result. In some cases, as mentioned earlier in this piece, customers requested refund before the product ever arrived due to delays in the shipping cycle. Returns are a natural component of eCommerce. But how a retailer creates strategy to combat returns in 2021 is important.
Home furnishings will long be a segment that shoppers want to finalize in the store. Touching, seeing, and testing the product before a purchase secures the satisfaction after the sale. But eCommerce stops that in-store component or, by the very least, limits the need. For retailers that received significant returns because of product expectation, the website representation is the first stop.
Improving Online Product Presentation
Furniture eCommerce trends around product presentation can be improved. Consult your team in charge of collecting digital furniture product catalogs. Are the photographic renderings matched fairly even to the physical representation? Do the product details accurately represent what the manufacturer provides? In many cases, these elements together can create a more realistic representation of the product. Giving consumers several opportunities to learn about the product ahead of the purchase.
If your vendor isn’t providing good enough data, locate a company who can support your need to provide better product representation powering furniture ecommerce trends, like MicroD.
In some cases, retailers witnessed the return rate increase and developed a unique solution. When social distancing keeps customers out of the retail showroom, utilize virtual conference technology. In-store staff can take the customer through the showroom or to a specific product if it’s available in the store. If manufacturers have supporting material that offer a better solution, consult your vendor for assistance. Every part of the supply chain is focused on the retail store success.
Because of the traffic increases and continued shifts in ADA requirements, retailers, as well as the manufacturers with online shopping tools, need to reset compliance policy at the business level.
The home furnishings industry has many compliance and regulatory challenges facing the companies that run it. But one critical compliance for digital commerce is ADA compliance for website content.
Creating an ADA-Compliant Ecommerce Website
Website accessibility is increasingly important as more online traffic and furniture eCommerce trends impact retail websites than ever before. ADA and WCAG guidelines help website providers build better websites for any shopper with any disability. If 25% of the world population is buying online, then care must be taken to make website content inclusive and accessible to all of these shoppers. Websites need to be able to service all customers to keep your digital commerce actively producing results. And ADA web compliance guidelines continue to leave companies questioning how to apply these practices. That’s why investing with a professional who can assist in your compliance for online shopping is critical.
Alternate Digital Shopping Solutions
BOPIS and curbside delivery saved the store in many states with strict social distancing policy. But shoppers grew comfortable with this flexible shopping solution. And in 2021 the buy online pick up in store alternate is highly desired.
As retail stores remain open consistently, it’s important to keep the elements of business that worked during the pandemic. And BOPIS is the most profitable solution to online selling furniture. The customer reduces time in the store and with staff, saving on the acquisition cost of your customer. When the online purchase transacts, the digital process of shipping and order acknowledgments through EDI portals streamlines the inventory process. And as the delivery arrives in store, consumers can utilize in-store pick up or an in-store purchase confirmation to resolve any issues that would result in a return.
Retailers should continue to identify new furniture eCommerce trends to old shopping habits. Because if one thing is certain, it is that nothing is certain. Shopping behaviors continue to shift into new channels. Retailers that expect to thrive in a new economy and digital landscape must adapt with the consumer.
Rising Costs for Digital Visibility
2021 costs for advertising in digital channels is higher than ever. In 2020 more companies relied on online showrooms for digital commerce. Fewer traditional advertising options like billboard and print were effective. Showrooms were closed and streets were less traveled. Many retailers took steps to a more digital presence. To obtain visibility in 2021, the costs to advertise in these digital spaces like Google, Facebook, and other online advertising channels is high.
According to Forbes research, eCommerce trends will continue to generate interest among retail in 2021. This means that companies are racing to the digital landscape to advertise the retail websites launching across the internet.
How to Not Compete in Digital Advertising in 2021
There are many retailers that will continue to increase their advertising budgets to compete with the new competitors entering the market. And for many, that strategy is sound. When hyper-targeted ad campaigns can drive the bottom of the funnel results, the return on investment is better than broader reach strategy.
But for most retailers, conservation of advertising budget is critical. Experts in digital marketing recommend retailers navigate this challenge by going agile. Adopting a flexible strategy between paid advertising and organic marketing can build a sustainable plan. Supplement your paid advertising high costs with a better value solution like SEO. Retailers should focus a hyper-targeted geo-location advertising strategy with paid advertising. Meanwhile investing in the organic growth in the local online market. That means partnering with a local SEO agency to improve local SEO results. Over time these results will yield better opportunity costs to the business. And the advertising strategy can continue to shift and dominate other areas while organic SEO improves in new areas.
B2B Ecommerce Increases in 2021
It’s no small feat to launch an eCommerce solution for a manufacturer. Just as the B2C shopper shifted buying patterns, so, too, did the B2B shopper. With many events and opportunities to purchase products going virtual, 2020 created a necessity for a furniture B2B eCommerce solution. In 2021 while inventory challenges riddle the manufacturers with issues and impediments, the leaders have stepped into B2B eCommerce with both feet. There is no disrupting disruption. B2B eCommerce may not generate significant new revenue for manufacturers while inventory remains low or nonexistent in many cases. But the reduction in overhead and manual process to service accounts saves in significant areas. Profitability control comes as a major priority for manufacturers in 2021. Starting with B2B eCommerce.
Furniture Retail Solutions
The future of brick and mortar isn’t bleak. What we know is that furniture eCommerce trends will continue to rise. While it will remain critical for brands and retailers to survive in a post-pandemic world, eCommerce won’t continue growing at the rate it did in 2020. It’s about finding the right way to sustain your online growth and supplementing your brick and mortar retail experience.
The value of omnichannel business plans means you can be everywhere your customers can be. And if we learned anything from 2020 shopping seasons, it’s that customers will use every channel in the buying process.