While it’s often the final leg in the sales process, furniture delivery comprises a significant aspect of the overall customer experience. Receiving a new product on time, in good condition, and with all expected premium services—such as white glove delivery—can help ensure that a customer has a positive experience with a brand. At the same time, hiccups during the delivery stage could turn what was otherwise a successful sale into a negative detractor for your company.
Changes in the way that consumers shop, driven in large part by technology, are also fueling an evolution in furniture logistics and delivery. Over the next few years, a number of innovations will likely enable furniture retailers to offer improved delivery services while operating more efficiently. The following are some of the major changes that could soon transform furniture delivery:
Online retail is rapidly becoming a significant source of revenue for retailers across many sectors. The second quarter of 2017 saw 8.9 percent of all retail transactions take place online, representing a nearly 1 percent increase from the previous year. Furthermore, market research suggests that e-commerce is growing at a heightened pace in the furniture sector particularly. Online furniture sales made up some 15 percent of all furniture industry business in 2015, and Statista estimates that global revenue from online furniture and houseware sales will rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15 percent in the coming years, reaching $220 billion by 2020.
The ever-growing world of e-commerce has created numerous opportunities for business and consumers alike. By leveraging the Internet to reach a broader audience, even regional and local furniture retailers can market and sell to a global customer base, while consumers benefit from a greatly expanded selection of products.
Still, smaller retailers may face logistical challenges when seeking to expand their market. A well-developed e-commerce platform and digital marketing strategy can make reaching customers in another country almost as simple as attracting customers in a retailer’s hometown, but complications often arise when sales start coming from a variety of regions. In many cases, retailers cannot afford to pay a la carte shipping—or establish new distribution centers—to accommodate a small, scattered number of customers outside of their typical operating area.
Shipping consolidation presents a cost-effective strategy for local and regional furniture retailers to take full advantage of the power of e-commerce while maintaining efficient delivery operations. In the near future, consumers could begin receiving more furniture shipments from third-party shipping service providers who comingle different companies’ products in their trucks.
By adopting this new business model, local and regional furniture retailers would give up the marketing opportunities created by branded trucks. However, they would be able to offer more cost-efficient deliveries across a wider service area and potentially pass these benefits on to consumers.
A number of emerging technologies will soon enable furniture retailers to deliver their products more efficiently while meeting more demanding consumer preferences. The advent of self-driving vehicles has created endless possibilities not only for consumer transportation, but for freight shipping as well. With the aid of advanced artificial intelligence systems, self-driving trucks could soon take on the bulk of long-haul delivery for furniture retailers. While it’s likely that the industry will stick with traditional options for last-mile services, self-driving technology would make it possible for furniture companies to serve wider markets with a smaller number of distribution centers.
Artificial intelligence would also improve delivery efficiency within furniture warehouses. Self-driving lift trucks could drastically reduce the time and labor required to prepare an order for shipment, cutting costs for furniture retailers while facilitating speedier, cheaper deliveries for customers.
Additionally, technological innovations such as 3D printing are impacting furniture manufacturing, making it possible for customers to receive products designed to their exact specifications as quickly as if they had come from a retailer’s primary warehouse. And in addition to the numerous applications for augmented reality (AR) in sales and marketing, AR could also streamline the process of mapping the most efficient route for both long-haul and local deliveries. In the future, AR tools could help retailers offer flexible delivery pricing, which would allow customers to save money by opting for delivery plans that may not be as fast, but are more cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
E-commerce has made it possible for retailers to offer incredibly vast catalogues of goods. But as furniture companies expand their online selections, they are likely to find that it isn’t cost-effective to hold all of their inventory in a physical space. Large online retailers are able to offer a seemingly infinite selection of products by relying on manufacturers and distributors to ship products to a centralized delivery center.
Smaller home furnishings retailers could soon adopt this strategy as they seek to compete in the e-commerce space and find it necessary to offer a product selection that far exceeds their showroom and warehouse space. This will require retailers to negotiate with suppliers whose products they wish to sell, but not hold in stock. It will also require third-party delivery companies to expand their capabilities to provide end-to-end logistics services. As retailers begin to decentralize their inventories in favor of a vast online product selection, third-party logistics providers will play a greater role in providing less-than-truckload services, last-mile home delivery, and reverse logistics.