e-commerce

How to Create the Best Online Shopping Experience

In recent years, e-commerce has accounted for a rapidly-growing percentage of furniture sales. While sales at brick and mortar stores rose 13.8 percent between 2009 and 2015, online sales increased by an astonishing 168 percent.

Even so, the online furniture sector makes up little more than 5 percent of total e-commerce sales, and Furniture Today recently found that 70 percent of furniture companies have not yet launched meaningful e-commerce efforts. A plethora of growth opportunities await furniture retailers that make the most of e-commerce sales.

Here are a few ways that companies can optimize their websites:

  1. Present a Value Proposition

A value proposition conveys to consumers exactly what a company is selling, how the product will serve them, and why shoppers should choose it over competing alternatives. It is especially important for furniture retailers to promote their products with a clear, strong value proposition in the world of e-commerce, where shoppers need only hit the back button on their web browsers to explore other options.

online shopping

Businesses create online value propositions with the words and images they choose to include on their websites. Ideally, a customer visiting an online furniture retailer would encounter bold, concise statements and images that offer a clear idea of the style, price point, and variety of products that the company sells.

Retailers also offer value propositions through the individual descriptions of products listed on their websites. In writing these descriptions, furniture professionals should strive to include only the most relevant information, carefully considering the kinds of details that customers are actually seeking before making a purchase.

  1. Make the Most of Images

Product pictures play an integral role in most online shopping experiences. Consumers generally prefer to see what they’re buying, and this is especially true when they are purchasing items to furnish their homes. Therefore, it is important for furniture retailers to consider more than the mere inclusion of images on their websites. Rather, they must think carefully about the size, location, and quality of the pictures that they present.

A case study conducted by Visual Website Optimizer demonstrated that brands can improve their conversion rates by increasing the size of the images on their e-commerce platforms. In a separate experiment, a retailer increased search bar conversions by 100 percent by adding drop-down images to the search function. This demonstrates that, by envisioning how images fit into the overall online customer journey, furniture retailers can use product images to create a stronger value proposition and increase the likelihood of online sales.

Furniture retailers should also ensure that their product images are of a high enough quality to accurately convey the colors, textures, and other unique features of their pieces. Additionally, providing pictures of furniture in use or as a part of a larger room ensemble can serve to provide a more robust value proposition and spark the imaginations of potential customers.

  1. Create a Personalized User Experience

In the era of e-commerce, consumers are accustomed to quick, convenient, and customized service. By meeting and even exceeding customers’ expectations for a personalized and innovative online shopping experience, furniture retailers can keep up with the competition and encourage shoppers to return to their websites time and time again.

Automated website features that save lists of viewed products, offer personalized suggestions, and otherwise fine-tune the shopping experience for each individual consumer can greatly enhance retail websites. Furniture companies may also consider personalizing their online retail experiences based on geography.

Companies with multiple locations can include features to automatically display the contact information of the stores nearest to website visitors. Options that allow shoppers check the product inventory at local stores can add further value to the omni-channel shopping experience

  1. Take Advantage of Data Analytics

E-commerce provides robust information on customers and their shopping habits. This allows companies to create products and promotional strategies that better meet consumers’ needs and preferences. It is important for furniture companies to closely track website traffic and conversion data, including the amount of time shoppers are spending on specific pages, which links are attracting the most attention, and the website features most and least likely to convert clicks to sales.

online business

Businesses should consistently strive to improve their online experiences, frequently testing how design enhancements impact website conversion and investigating customers’ buying habits. They may then leverage these insights to improve customer engagement and encourage further sales through more intuitive marketing efforts.

For example, a furniture company’s sales data might indicate that shoppers who purchase beds are extremely likely to buy other items for their bedrooms. Rather than squandering a promotional opportunity by continuing to advertise beds to these consumers, the company might choose to adjust its targeted advertising strategies to display promotions for dressers, lamps, night stands, and other bedroom décor.

  1. Adopt a Consistent Design Strategy

Being aware of a few simple design principles can help furniture business leaders create a more aesthetically-pleasing and engaging e-commerce platform. The presence of a clear visual hierarchy – a color palette used to differentiate different website elements – will make it far easier for customers to navigate the website while drawing their attention to its most important aspects. A visual hierarchy should include colors for the website background, base text, and accent text. In this way, companies can use color accents to draw attention to calls to action and hyperlinks.

When developing an e-commerce platform, furniture leaders should also remember Fitt’s law, which states that larger items are more likely to catch the eye and attract clicks. Companies should ensure that the most vital information on their websites contrasts with the rest of the page in both size and color. At the same time, they should tone down the appearance of words and images that are irrelevant to consumers or do not help to generate sales.

furniture

7 Elements of An Effective Furniture Sales Strategy

A sales team can make or break a furniture company’s retail performance. Since a brand’s sales representatives often serve as the customers’ primary point of contact with a company, the experience that they provide can have a lasting impact on consumer opinion.

How can business leaders in the furniture industry help their sales teams to drive growth and create a positive customer experience? For starters, they can ensure that their retail sales strategies include the following important elements:

  1. Focus on a Broader Mission

Centering a sales strategy around a company mission or a set of organizational values is one of the best ways to ensure a consistently positive customer experience. In order to effectively promote their products, furniture sales teams must have a goal beyond simply closing a sale. They must operate with an awareness of the value proposition that they are presenting to customers. They are not simply selling furniture. Rather, they are helping to fulfill their customers’ need to create a satisfying living environment. Furniture retailers and manufacturers are in the business of helping shoppers to transform their houses and apartments into attractive spaces. By keeping this in mind, sales representatives can offer a more effective style of customer service, striving to partner with customers in their efforts to find the perfect home furnishings.

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  1. Offer Extensive Product Knowledge

While uninformed employees can be a significant liability to a company’s in-store sales, a sales strategy based on comprehensive and up-to-date product knowledge can help to enhance the customer experience. This is especially true in the age of e-commerce, at a time when customers are well-equipped to conduct their own research online and can even fact-check sales pitches in real-time using their mobile phones. When sales professionals have the knowledge to position themselves as experts on the products that they are selling, they give customers a reason to venture out for the brick-and-mortar shopping experience and to choose their store over the competition.

  1. Use a Customer-Focused Approach

In an effort to provide customer solutions rather than to simply sell products, an effective furniture sales strategy should consider consumer trends and individual needs. For this reason, sales representatives should adopt a customer-focused sales strategy that emphasizes learning everything one can about each customer. The sales team should listen closely to customers’ needs and ask questions to discover what room they are shopping for, how they will use their new pieces, and what the general look of the room is now. By zeroing in on customers’ specific product needs and design preferences, sales professionals can move closer to finding a unique solution to each customer’s situation.

  1. Possess Discipline

In order to become successful, the members of a sales team must have the discipline required to work toward their goals, provide consistent customer service, and continuously strive to improve their own performance. To create this type of atmosphere, companies must begin at the top, selecting and training sales managers with the capacity to provide respectful, yet direct leadership.

At times, sales managers may struggle to inspire high-performing teams because they are overly concerned with being well-liked. While it is important for managers to be receptive to their team members’ opinions, they must also have the courage to make difficult decisions with authority. Likewise, while leaders should always treat their employees with kindness and support, they must also be capable of providing honest, clear criticism when necessary.

furniture
  1. Develop a Structured Plan

Even the most highly motivated individuals can fail to perform when they lack a clear plan of action. This point goes hand in hand with the need for discipline within a sales department. In order to operate to their fullest potential, a company’s sales team should have a clear framework to guide its activities. In general, sales managers should promote a strategy for customer interaction that touches on all of the basic points of a sale, which include greeting customers, discussing their needs, presenting potential product options, and navigating barriers to the sale. In this way, companies can ensure that each customer interaction is meaningful and efficient.

  1. Create An Assessment Strategy

Sales managers should also have a set framework for measuring their teams’ performance. Without a strategy to assess their operations, leaders have no basis to identify areas in need of improvement. Sales managers who stay abreast of their teams’ strengths and weaknesses will be equipped to spur positive change and inspire new levels of success.

  1. Build Trust with Customers

A company’s sales representatives must instill confidence in potential customers, both in regards to their products and the company as a whole. Sales professionals can help to paint their organizations as honest and dependable by serving as a resource for product information and striving to be straightforward in all customer interactions. Members of a sales team should never sacrifice honesty for optimism. While stretching the truth about a particular store policy or product feature might help to close a sale in the short-term, it is unlikely to garner lasting customer loyalty. By establishing trust, sales professionals can position themselves as dependable advisors throughout the home furnishing process and inspire customers to return for their future furniture needs.

Las Vegas

A Preview of the Las Vegas Market’s Latest First Look Trends

lasvegasmarketlogoTwice a year, thousands of people gather for the Las Vegas Market, one of the home furnishing industry’s preeminent trade shows. Most recently, the Winter 2017 Las Vegas Market drew industry professionals from all 50 states and approximately 80 countries to the World Market Center, where top manufacturers, retailers, and designers displayed their wares across approximately 170,000 square feet of showroom space.

Now, event organizers are preparing for the next iteration of the fastest-growing home furnishings market in the nation. From July 30 to August 3, attendees will explore over 4,000 resources presenting the latest trends in furniture, gifts, and home décor sectors. Prior to each event, the Las Vegas Market will offer a preview of the visual themes and motifs that attendees can expect to see on the showroom floor. Recently released ahead of the Summer 2017 Las Vegas Market, the market’s latest First Look trends include the following:

Trends

  • Modern Tradition

Las Vegas Market’s introductory First Look Trends for Summer 2017 recognizes the meaning behind thoughtfully furnished spaces in the home. Focused on customs that bring families together to eat, share, talk, and simply enjoy one another’s company, this First Look motif includes products suitable for gatherings and celebrations of all kinds. Modern Tradition spans furniture for the dining room and family room that primarily reflects the clean lines, neutral palettes, unique textures, and overall minimalist approach of modern and transitional aesthetics. At the same time, the theme will also include a number of seasonal and holiday decorations and accessories for occasions including Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.

  • iGen

Each year, one of the market’s First Look themes highlights emerging trends in bedroom furnishings and décor. For the bedroom vignette for summer 2017, market organizers will zero in on the fastest-growing segment of furniture shoppers: millennials. Also extending to members of Generation Z, iGen will be the first bedroom motif to include styles for tweens.

The pieces included in iGen reflect prevailing ideas about what makes today’s adolescents and young adults truly unique. The motif takes into consideration the compassion, innovative spirit, responsible nature, and inquisitiveness of today’s upcoming generations to present a selection of practical and functional pieces ideal for modern lifestyles. These will include unisex and multifunctional bedroom furniture, as well as lighting, rugs, wall art, and more. Trends in this motif will also highlight the ever-increasing role of technology in modern life, presenting furniture with solutions for storing and managing technology.

Furniture industry professionals stand to gain a strategic advantage by paying close mind to the iGen motif. Millennials already comprise the largest generational segment of furniture buyers. They accounted for 37 percent of all home furnishings sales in 2014 and have continued to increase their buying power in recent years.

  • Water Signs

For this summer’s outdoor category motif, the Las Vegas Market will transport viewers to a world of sandy beaches and gentle lapping waves. The theme will encompass a number of casual lounge furnishings and outdoor accessories in summery white and blue tones.

In addition to seating sets, fire pits, and other major outdoor pieces, this motif will showcase supplies for the perfect day at the beach, including portable umbrellas, beachwear, and all-weather picnic sets. This category represents another opportunity for furniture firms to cater to the younger generations. Millennials are currently the fastest-growing segment of outdoor furniture buyers, and they are increasingly on the lookout for affordable, versatile pieces to add to their outdoor oases.

  • Handmade

This design motif will likely offer something for all Las Vegas Market guests. Highlighting the incredible skills of top artisans from around the world, Handmade will showcase a selection of handmade goods from various geographies and sectors, ranging from furnishings to gifts and decorations.

Diving Deeper

Now in its 13th iteration, Las Vegas Market’s First Look style guide not only previews the prevailing aesthetic trends in home furnishings and decor, but it also showcases a wide range of practical applications for each design theme. Prior to each market, organizers invite exhibitors to submit products that align with each First Look trend. Drawing on these submissions, the market creates elaborate product vignettes on the Grand Plaza of the World Market Center, providing thoughtfully composed merchandise displays to stoke the creativity of attendees from every sector.

Las Vegas Market will also provide a more detailed look at its First Look trends via the First Look Guide, a publication filled to the brim with new products and design ideas. Additionally, attendees have the opportunity to delve into the latest style forecasts in-person at the First Look seminar. Held the morning of July 31, the seminar will feature First Look curator and experienced magazine editor Julie Smith Vincenti leading an exploration of the trends that are taking the home furnishings sector by storm.

dining room

The Dining Furniture Trends You Need to Know

The dining room has long been an integral feature of the modern American household, serving as a place to meet, entertain, or simply enjoy a meal. Over the years, the lifestyle of the average consumer has changed, noticeably affecting what is now one of the most high-traffic areas of the home. As the ideal look and function of the dining room continues to change, this is what furniture industry leaders need to know:

What’s happening in the dining room?

If you’re looking for evidence that the American lifestyle has become more casual and, at the same time, more fast-paced, look no further than the furniture sector. In recent years, consumers’ shifting preferences when it comes to furnishing their kitchens and dining areas have mirrored a fast-moving culture that demands more of our time and attention while allowing for new levels of leisure and convenience. While elaborate formal dining sets were once far more commonplace, relegating casual dining furniture to a niche retail category, Americans are now choosing to enjoy their meals in a more laidback setting.

dining table

Recent research conducted by Impact Consulting Services clearly demonstrates this trend. The firm, which also owns Home Furnishings Business, polled a number of recent buyers on their dining habits. Of those who had recently purchased dining room furniture, 88 percent reported that they usually eat in a casual dining area, while just 12 percent were more likely to eat their meals in a formal dining room. Impact’s examination of recent furniture buying trends aligned with these personal reports: 72.8 percent of surveyed recent furniture buyers had selected casual dining furniture. Of the 27.2 percent of shoppers who did purchase pieces for a formal dining room, just 15.4 percent reported eating in the space on a daily basis, and 35.2 percent reported using the room less than a dozen times per year. Additionally, 26.2 survey respondents reported eating in their formal dining rooms on fewer than four occasions each year.

In contrast, people are spending far more time in the casual dining spaces—and not just at meal time. Today, a rising number of homes feature open-concept great rooms rather than formal dining rooms, and more open kitchen floorplans are expanding the space’s function. Regarding casual dining arrangements, 45 percent of them are located in the kitchen, while a roughly equal amount are found in a separate room. Regardless of location in the home, casual dining spaces are accommodating a wider variety of activities; the kitchen table is also a popular place to sit and talk, pay bills, do homework, or even watch TV.

What are people buying?

As the average American dining room becomes a more casual space, customers are buying fewer pieces. Expansive dining tables and floor-to-ceiling china cabinets are declining in popularity; now, small case pieces, counter-height tables, and dining tables with removable leaves are catering to more informal and versatile dining needs. Tables and chairs comprise the most popular purchases for casual furniture shoppers, while just under 4 percent of recent furniture buyers took home a sideboard, buffet, or china cabinet. And as these extra dining accoutrements seem unnecessary nowadays, other accessories are gradually becoming new staples of the modern home. For instance, in recent years, wine racks have become a highly sought-after item for millennial consumers.

dining room

The shift to more casual dining areas is also leading consumers to place less emphasis on the cohesiveness of their dining furniture. Shoppers are now less likely to purchase full sets of matching tables and chairs, instead opting to mix and match pieces that suit their tastes. This has begun to influence design trends, prompting furniture companies to design more dining pieces with versatile designs that are easy to pair.

How have designs changed?

The dominance of the casual dining sector has opened up new possibilities in the realm of furniture design. With consumers less likely to purchase formal dining sets—or to even buy full sets at all—the industry is experiencing a shift to a more transitional aesthetic. In general, shoppers are selecting styles that offer something unique without being too eclectic; today’s casual dining rooms are noticeably modern, yet subdued enough to serve as comfortable, inviting common areas.

Dining room color palettes are moving away from darker finishes such as cherry and oak in favor of lighter tones. Gray and white are popular base colors for subdued design schemes featuring creative pops of color, often provided by modern accessories or basic kitchen tools.

Consumers’ preference for lighter colors has extended to countertops, cabinetry, backsplashes, and even appliances. These tones are helping to create a more open, airy ambience in kitchens and dining spaces, especially when paired with a diverse selection of textures and materials. Today’s casual dining spaces are likely to contain a wide variety of different mediums, finishes, and styles. This is true for both individual pieces and the room as a whole: many chair and table designs now incorporate both wood and metal elements, and an on-trend casual dining ensembles may very well feature an antique, rustic table with contemporary upholstered chairs. Other decorative touches, such as the glass of a mirror, the steel of a window frame, the brass sheen of a modern lighting fixture, or even the lush foliage of a potted plant often add further texture and diversity to today’s casual dining spaces.

furniture

The Furniture Industry Is Now More Competitive Than Ever

While the American furniture industry once primarily comprised large, family-owned companies, the sector’s landscape is now far more complex. Economic turbulence, technological innovations, and shifting consumer trends have shaken up the market, leaving players to contend with a greater number of competitors and strategic challenges than ever before. Read on to learn how to navigate this increasingly crowded market.

Renewed Economic Growth

Prior to 2007, the relative size and product scope of America’s major furniture companies had created a largely equal playing field that left many competitors neck-and-neck. Any competitive advantages or disadvantages tended to be short term, and smaller, independent retailers primarily competed within their own local markets.

furniture

The economic turbulence of the Great Recession led to the emergence of a more varied and dynamic furniture industry. From 2007 to 2015, widespread economic decline caused some 12,000 furniture stores to close their doors. Fortunately, the sector has shown strong signs of recovery. The furniture and home furnishings market has surged at a compound growth rate of 4.1 percent over the past five years, reaching a value of $96.57 billion in 2016.

As the addition of new furniture retail outlets in major markets across the nation heralds the industry’s return to prosperity, much of this growth is coming from familiar faces. As smaller retailers folded to the pressure of the recession, several larger independent and regional companies have seized the opportunity to branch into newly accessible markets such as Dallas, Phoenix, and Chicago. But while these major players continue to expand, the ever-growing presence of technology is allowing new competitors to stake their claim within the digital sphere.

The Evolving Retail Experience

Consumers’ shopping habits have changed, and furniture companies face new challenges in attracting people to stores. In addition to opening new retail locations in order to fill the void left by smaller entities exiting the market, larger companies have also sought to expand their reach to meet shifting consumer demands.

Today’s furniture shoppers are beginning to favor geographic convenience over the concept of an elaborate furniture retail destination. While it was not uncommon for shoppers to visit four or five different furniture retailers before making a purchase 10 years ago, people are now shopping at just one or two different locations. In order to make this coveted shortlist, retailers are opening more stores in a more varied selection of markets.

This influx of new retail locations has greatly diversified the options available to consumers. While independent furniture retailers have relinquished some of their market share, lifestyle stores, specialty bedding companies, and vertically integrated brands such as Ashley HomeStore have attracted a larger portion of sales. In addition, the Internet stands out as the fastest-growing channel among non-traditional furniture retail platforms—by 2015, e-commerce accounted for 19 percent of all furniture sales.

Although e-commerce should be a major strategic consideration for every furniture retailer going forward, growth in online sales has slowed, indicating that many consumers still want to see and touch a major furniture purchase before taking it home. Brands now face the task of making brick-and-mortar stores worthwhile destinations for consumers in the digital age. Even Amazon, the global giant in online retail, has expressed the possibility of establishing brick-and-mortar furniture stores.

Rising Costs

Greater competition and an otherwise dynamic business landscape have created new financial needs for furniture retailers. As companies add more stores with more elaborate designs, many of them in emerging high-income markets, they face higher occupancy costs. Some traditional strategies assume that an increase in brand presence will reduce the need for advertising, allowing a smaller marketing budget to offset increased occupancy expenses.

furniture

However, the explosion of e-commerce has created new advertising costs as well. The need to create customer-friendly, efficient online shopping platforms; effective email and text outreach efforts; and an engaging social media presence have all impacted the advertising budgets of most furniture retailers.

Following the Trends

Faced with the challenge of rising occupancy costs, changing advertising strategies, and greater competition for customers’ attention, furniture retailers must heed emerging consumer trends in order to stand out in the crowd. While digital disruption has made e-commerce and social media important for companies seeking to reach new audiences, a retailer’s technical capabilities are not the most prominent selling point for most consumers.

In fact, a recent consumer survey conducted by The Fuld Institute of Competitive Strategy found that, among furniture shoppers who had made a purchase over the last two years, price beat out other factors such as quality, convenience, and brand name to serve as the most influential decision-making factor. This suggests that furniture companies may be able to gain a competitive edge by appealing to more modest budgets, or by expanding into innovative territories such as multiuse furniture.

Furniture retailers can also connect with consumers by respecting their preference for personalized service. As big data and technology facilitate curated subscription boxes, music platforms, and other consumer services that cater to individual needs and tastes, shoppers have come to expect more options throughout the buying process. By taking full advantage of customer research and technology to deliver services such as product recommendations, custom order processes, and home design tools, companies can better cater to the needs of the modern consumer.

furniture

This Industry Is Spurring New Growth in the Furniture Sector

The ebbs and flows of a number of industries have a significant impact on the furniture sector. Including trends in interior design, advances in logistics and, more recently, technology, a variety of forces throughout the economy frequently present new challenges and opportunities for furniture companies.

In recent years, the housing industry has been one of the most significant external factors impacting American furniture sales. After the 2007 financial crisis sent the real estate sector into a downward spiral, the market is finally showing signs of recovery. With more individuals now moving into their own spaces, furniture companies have a chance to grow exponentially.

Trending Upward

housingAlthough it has yet to reach levels seen before the recession, the US housing market is exhibiting clear signs of recovery. Other than a slight decline in 2014, sales of existing homes have gradually risen in recent years, increasing 3.8 percent from 2015 to 2016. The 5.49 million homes sold in 2016 nearly reached the peak established in 2007, when 5.65 million existing homes were sold.

There has also been a gradual increase in the construction of new, single-family homes. Although the 559,000 new houses sold in 2016 were still 27.8 percent lower than the 2007 peak of 769,000, new home sales have increased by an impressive 82.7 percent since 2011.

The only housing market metric to exhibit a marked decline in recent years has been the construction of new multifamily buildings. But while the construction of new multiunit complexes decreased by 13 percent in 2016, the construction of single-family homes grew by 7.5 percent, and is expected to grow by 8.1 percent in 2017.

All of these factors have resulted in the lowest rates of rental unit and home vacancies in three decades. Rental vacancy rates fell to 6.9 percent in 2016, with the tightest housing crunches felt in metropolitan areas and their surrounding suburbs.

What This Means for the Furniture Sector

homeHousing growth is a natural boon for the furniture industry, as the move to a new home or apartment is one of the most common motivators behind a new furniture purchase. In the US, the furniture industry is growing at a faster pace than the broader economy. The US furniture market was valued at $96.4 billion in 2014—and it is projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 2.9 percent through 2019.

As millennials begin to establish their careers and move out on their own, they have become the largest segment of the furniture-buying population, overtaking baby boomers. While millennials made up just 14 percent of furniture sales in 2012, spending approximately $11.1 billion, this number more than doubled to comprise $27 billion in furniture sales in 2014.

With millennials driving growth in the housing market and, therefore, in the furniture sector, furniture companies must consider their unique needs and tastes to make the most of their purchasing power. Furniture designers and retailers can benefit from catering to the millennial desire for personalization, as well as their eagerness to engage with socially conscious and sustainable organizations.

Of course, technology also plays a significant role in the lives of not only millennials, but people of all ages. To cater to a new era of home renters and buyers, furniture companies must provide a convenient, secure, and engaging e-commerce experience—online sales are expected to contribute 30 percent of all furniture business in 2018, up from 21 percent just four years prior.

Furniture companies must also consider the ever-growing role of technology in their designs. Furniture equipped with wire management systems, charger ports, and other tech accommodations can blend seamlessly into a digital lifestyle, while a rise in telecommuting has driven demand for home office furniture outfitted for tech-heavy workstations.

The Matter of Mobility

While home purchases and rentals are on the rise, it is worth noting that mobility is at an all-time low. The percentage of Americans moving to new homes has steadily declined since the 1950s, falling by nearly 50 percent. As moving is a major life event that frequently leads to furniture purchases, companies must take a closer look at the people who are still moving, in order to successfully market to them.

At present, the Americans moving most often are typically non-married renters younger than 35. The younger the individual, the more likely they are to move: twice as many 20- to 24-year-olds (23 percent) and 25- to 34-year-olds (20.1 percent) moved in 2016 compared to individuals in the 35 to 44 age range. Additionally, less than 4 percent of adults older than 55 moved into a new house or apartment.

Americans who move more often also tend to earn less money. This suggests that affordability may be an important factor for furniture companies to consider when seeking to cater to customers in 2017.

us capital building

3 Recent Regulatory Updates That You Need to Know About

Though business leaders in the home furnishings sector must keep a watchful eye on ever-changing aesthetic trends, consumer tastes are not the only factor influencing furniture design and supply chain decisions. In order to keep their operations efficient and compliant, furniture companies must stay abreast of evolving regulations governing the sourcing, manufacturing, transportation, and sale of their products.

New laws and federal agency rules are constantly creating new challenges and considerations for furniture firms. The following are some of the most recent regulatory developments impacting the United States furniture industry:

  1. The New EPA Rule on Formaldehyde Emissions

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a new rule aimed at limiting the health risk posed by formaldehyde in consumer products. Certain items made of composite wood, such as furniture, cabinets, and flooring, can emit levels of formaldehyde that may be harmful to both humans and animals in the home. Sustained exposure to this colorless, odiferous, and highly flammable gas can cause health complications related to the eyes, nose, and throat, including conditions as serious as cancer. For this reason, the EPA’s new rule establishes stringent formaldehyde emissions standards for composite wood products sold in the United States, setting up one of the world’s strictest regulatory frameworks governing formaldehyde content.

In December 2016, the EPA issued the final draft of its formaldehyde emissions standards. The newly finalized rule outlines guidelines for compliance with the 2010 Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, which comprises Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act. It applies to both imported and domestically produced composite wood products, including hardwood plywood, particleboard, and medium-density fiberboard, as well as finished products containing these materials.

The final version of the EPA’s formaldehyde rule is extremely similar to the pre-publication draft released by the agency in July 2016. It sets forth requirements for product testing, labeling, and the management of records such as chain of custody documents, in addition to setting up a third-party certification program and establishing standards for the accreditation of these certifying bodies.

The final rule also provides specific limits for the formaldehyde emissions of certain composite wood products. It caps hardwood plywood emissions at .05 parts per million (ppm) and limits particleboard to .09 ppm, while medium-density fiberboard and thin medium-density fiberboard may contain .11 ppm and .13 ppm, respectively. These standards may be familiar to some furniture industry professionals, as they largely mirror the formaldehyde emissions guidelines upheld by the California Air Resources Board between 2009 and 2012.

The EPA’s formaldehyde emissions standards for composite wood products are the result of significant research, deliberation, and industry collaboration. An initial draft of the rule proposed in 2013 met significant industry resistance due to what many companies deemed excessive testing requirements. After drawing on the feedback of industry members to develop more mutually acceptable guidelines, the EPA released its final rule, with an intended effective date of February 10, 2017. However, a mandatory regulatory freeze enacted by the incoming presidential administration in January 2017 extended this date by several weeks on two separate occasions, ultimately pushing it back to May 22, 2017.

Furniture industry suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers who still need to familiarize themselves with these new regulations may review them here.

  1. Department of the Interior Regulations Requiring Sustainable Rosewood Imports

Rosewood is a popular material often used to give an elegant flair to the exterior of higher-end furnishings such as tabletops, headboards, and drawer fronts. However, the irresponsible sourcing of rosewood can have dire consequences for the ecosystems where rosewood thrives.

On Janury 2, 2017, the US Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service formalized a rule that will ensure the legal, environmentally responsible sourcing of rosewood. The new regulation applies to nearly 300 major species of rosewood within the genus Dalbergia, as well as kosso (also known as African rosewood), East Indian rosewood, cocobolo, and Honduran rosewood.

It requires companies to obtain permits proving that their rosewood suppliers are harvesting the material legally and sustainability, and with no phase-in period, the regulation has required furniture companies to promptly assess their supply chains for compliance. Following the issuance of the new rule, many firms found themselves conducting audits of shipments currently in route to avoid issues at customs.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s new rosewood regulation falls under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty designed to ensure that business practices do not endanger natural habitats or the species that they host. Ratified by 182 nations since its establishment in 1975, CITES currently defends over 35,000 plant and animal species.

  1. Impending Duties on Chinese Plywood Imports

Mounting concern over unfair international trade practices could lead some furniture companies to reexamine their supply chains. In November 2016, a group of 12 American hardwood plywood manufactures, collectively operating as the

Coalition for Fair Trade of Hardwood Plywood, filed a petition alleging that unfair pricing practices by Chinese suppliers have led to layoffs and financial losses throughout their sector. To remedy this, the petition specifically requested that the government levy new countervailing duties on Chinese plywood imports, which would account for alleged subsidization provided to Chinese firms by the nation’s government, as well as anti-dumping duties, which would address concerns that suppliers have imported materials to US manufacturers at prices far below the cost of raw materials.

After several months of deliberation, the US Department of Commerce recently announced countervailing duties of up to 111.09% for 61 Chinese board producers. Going forward, the department may establish additional anti-dumping duties, as well as duties to address the financial damages sustained by the petitioners.

It is important to note that these duties do and will not apply to finished products imported from China. Rather, they apply only to panels imported for the construction of furniture within the United States, excluding all structural panels intended for use in ready-to-assemble furniture. While industry experts allege that these duties should have no immediate significant impact on American furniture companies, they may very well lead American furniture and cabinet companies to reassess the cost efficiency of their supply chains.

millenials

3 of the Most Effective Tips for Marketing to Millennials

As the largest generation in the history of the United States, millennials are already having a significant impact on the economy. By 2020, the generation will make up an estimated 30 percent of US retail sales, spending some $1.4 trillion per year. As individuals born throughout the 1980s and 1990s transition into adulthood, establish their careers, and begin to build homes and families, their effect on several industries is poised to grow even larger.

millennialMillennials already buy more furniture than any other collective group, being responsible for 37 percent of total home furnishings sales in 2014. Their buying power has continued to increase significantly in recent years, and they now comprise the fastest-growing market segment in the furniture sector. Between the peak home-buying ages of 25 and 45, millennials are likely to ramp up their furniture-buying activities going forward.

It’s quite clear that millennials represent a huge business development opportunity for furniture companies. One of the most effective ways for brands to cater to this highly-influential generation is via marketing. To do so, they must become more in tune with millennial lifestyles, preferences, and styles.

  1. Consider Millennial Culture

By understanding the causes and values that are important to their millennial customers, companies can reach them on a more meaningful level that is likely to garner lasting loyalty and trust. Market researchers have observed that millennials tend to value individuality and, therefore, likely to seek out and enjoy personalized shopping experiences.

For this reason, furniture retailers should strive to make in-store experiences unique for customers, positioning their brick-and-mortar locations as resources for detailed product information, style advice, and a guided shopping experience. When possible, companies can also implement features such as personalized recommendation emails or online home design tools to offer mobile shoppers a more individualized experience.

Millennials also tend to be quite socially conscious. They are aware of what is going on in the world around them and frequently dedicate themselves to causes that seek to better it. For this reason, it benefits retailers to take advantage of cause marketing whenever possible.

By leveraging resources to support a humanitarian cause, a company can establish a kinship with consumers while demonstrating that it is a socially responsible organization. Research conducted by Cone Communications concluded that over half of millennials – specifically, 66 percent – are more likely to give their business to companies they perceive as socially responsible.

Corporate social responsibility initiatives are an excellent opportunity for organizations to inspire customer loyalty and strengthen their brand images. However, it is vital that companies are authentic in their social engagement efforts. Consumers are likely to pick up on philanthropic initiatives that are shallow and merely for show. As a result, it is important for brands to choose causes that are making a genuine impact, be consistent in their contributions, and make their activities known to consumers.

For example, Ashley Furniture’s A Hope to Dream initiative partners with communities and the NFL to ensure that local children have quality beds and bedding. The company’s Ashley for the Arts program brings approximately 30,000 people to Arcadia, Wisconsin, for a music and arts festival with plenty of local flavor.

  1. Leverage Technology to Your Advantage

Technology is firmly engrained in the millennial lifestyle. It has served as the foundation for many of their social experiences and continues to be an integral part of business, entertainment, and daily life. As such, millennials are well-versed in engaging with both individuals and organizations over the web. This means that businesses have a good chance of reaching them in the online spaces where they reside.

technologyIn many cases, online interactions are the preferred form of communications for these digital natives. One study by the Center for Generational Kinetics discovered that, if given the option, 40 percent of its millennials would choose to conduct customer service interactions completely online.

In addition to helping firms improve the efficiency of their customer service, taking full advantage of technology to market products and interact with consumers can help furniture companies provide a more modern and engaging customer experiences. Companies that maintain an active presence on social media platforms are inviting customers to engage with them in a familiar and easily accessible way while at the same time providing a visual introduction to their products.

When incorporating technology into their marketing strategies, furniture companies should carefully consider which social platforms to be active on based on their targeted demographics. This will help ensure that they are funneling resources only into the platforms frequented by their prospective customers. In order to track the success of their social media engagement strategies, it is also crucial that companies set up platforms to collect data on the results of their social media activity.

  1. Keep an Eye on Style Trends

As the millennial generation grows to comprise a greater and greater segment of the furniture-buying population, millennial tastes and preferences are beginning to influence aesthetic trends in the furniture sector. Historically, consumers have often associated complex and ornate furniture with elegance and quality. However, millennial shoppers are increasingly favoring simple and sleek styles. Clean lines and monochrome color palettes with minimal ornamentation allow millennials to display their individuality through their own unique accessories.

However, millennials do appear to favor complexity in one regard. When it comes to modular and multipurpose furniture, millennials are drawn to pieces that will allow them to save valuable square footage in their small living spaces and enjoy a great deal of functionality from a single product.

As technology is interwoven within the millennial lifestyle, brands are likely to have an easier time marketing pieces designed to accommodate common technologies. In addition, the social awareness of this generation has made sustainably sourced materials an incredibly powerful selling point.

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One of the Most Influential Furniture Markets Is Quickly Approaching

lasvegasmarketlogoIn April, registration officially opened for the Summer 2017 Las Vegas Market. For over a decade, the market has provided professionals from all corners of the home furnishings and décor sectors an exclusive look at the latest trends in home design while offering industry leaders a chance to showcase their latest products.

The next iteration of this biannual industry exhibition will be no exception. Set to take place from July 30 to August 3, 2017, the Summer Las Vegas Market is poised to be a can’t-miss event featuring an unprecedented array of attractions.

On the Rise

The recent Winter Las Vegas Market smashed attendance records, welcoming more buyers and exhibitors than any previous winter market. Held from January 22 to 26, the event filled an astounding 5 million square feet with showrooms and product exhibitions, adding 170,000 square feet of entirely new or expanded showroom space.

The winter 2017 event also marked the first time that the market displayed more than 4,000 brands and product lines. This record-breaking selection attracted interested buyers from all 50 states and 80 countries, leading to attendance increases in virtually every major product category.

As the weather warms, anticipation for the Summer 2017 Las Vegas market is on the rise. International Market Centers—the organizers behind the industry-leading High Point and Las Vegas markets—have already revealed a few details about its next trend-setting event.

What to Expect

This summer, the Las Vegas Market will once more feature over 4,000 product lines spanning a comprehensive selection of categories. The event will feature more buyer resources than ever before, with organizers projecting an influx of activity throughout the market’s gift and furniture displays. Specifically, organizers expect a wealth of new offerings in gift categories such as housewares and artisanal products, while the casual and outdoor furniture exhibitions are also primed for increased activity. In addition, the Summer 2017 Las Vegas Market will feature exhibitions from each of the top-15 bedding manufacturers.

To accommodate its ever-expanding number of exhibitor partners, the Las Vegas Market is adding a number of new, permanent showrooms and temporary showcases. Attendees will discover a record-breaking number of exhibiting companies in the Home Furnishings category in section B2, while C13’s Casual showroom will feature temporary displays from several first-time exhibitors.

In addition to perusing product displays at their leisure, market attendees will have the opportunity to learn from the experts during designer-led showroom tours. They will also have access to a vast selection of educational panels and seminars focused on a variety of industry-relevant topics, from home design trends to best practices in furniture retailing.

The Summer 2017 Las Vegas Market will include the return of staple industry events and award programs, including the 7th Annual “Up on the Roof” Gift for Life fundraiser and the 3rd Annual ANDYZ Design Awards. As in previous years, the Summer 2017 Las Vegas Market will also offer a variety of amenities to enhance the buyer experience. Convenient resources will include complementary breakfasts; a mothers’ lounge; Internet-equipped workspaces for buyers, designers, and journalists; and a networking area for international attendees.

What’s New?

International Market Centers has made a number of updates to the Las Vegas Market program in anticipation of a record-breaking summer event. This year, the summer market will feature a streamlined sign-in system and a larger area in which to process onsite registrations. Attendees who have pre-registered for the market will also be able to take advantage of multiple off-site locations, including the Golden Nugget and the Aria Resort and Casino, that offer expedited badge pickup.

Market organizers recently introduced a new online resource to help attendees prepare for the market experience. Featuring insight from a number of home furnishings thought leaders, DesignOn LVMkt will present a series of insightful and informative blog posts focused on industry news, new products, and emerging design trends. It joins a host of other helpful web-based resources, including the online catalog gallery and online market planner.

A number of new organizational partners will join the Summer 2017 Las Vegas Market to develop exciting new events and exhibits around their unique industry niches. Incoming partners include the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, the Las Vegas Spa Association, the PLATIN-Latin American Alliance, Sierra Pacific Crafts, and The Munce Group. These organizations join more than 30 additional trade and retail groups.

The Summer 2017 Las Vegas Market will also mark the event’s first collaboration with Luxe Interiors + Design, a prominent home fashions publication. On August 1, the magazine will host a panel discussion for the Las Vegas Market Ahead of the Curve program featuring a number of influential designers from the western home furnishings market. The discussion will focus on regional trends in home furnishings and décor and will include time set aside for audience questions.

Attendees will receive another preview of the latest home furnishings trends when the market releases its biannual FIRST LOOK guide. Encompassing showroom displays, tours, seminars, and promotional materials, the FIRST LOOK program revolves around a series of style themes that embody the aesthetic spirit of each new Las Vegas Market. Keep an eye out for it as the market approaches!

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This Is How Furniture Logistics Is Evolving

When seeking opportunities to grow revenue and offer improved value to their customers, furniture retailers typically strive to stay abreast of the latest design trends and innovative marketing strategies. However, in recent years, some of the most significant opportunities to improve operations have emerged within the realm of logistics.

As enterprise technologies advance and become more firmly intertwined with business operations, digital tools offer furniture retailers and logistics providers new opportunities to reduce costs, increase sales, and improve customer satisfaction. Read on to learn more about how industry trends and technological developments are transforming furniture logistics, enabling companies to facilitate deliveries with more speed and transparency than ever before.

Serving the Modern Consumer

furnitureShifting customer expectations have played a large role in driving many of the recent developments in furniture logistics. In the age of e-commerce, consumers have come to expect an efficient, transparent, and personalized retail experience. This includes a hassle-free delivery service that is on-demand, damage-free, and on-time—or even faster than expected. To meet these demands, many furniture retailers are working to increase the speed of their shipments with the knowledge that, with an ever-growing range of options for home furnishings, customers may very well choose the retailer that can offer the fastest delivery.

E-commerce has also changed the way that many consumers shop for furniture. Increasingly, shoppers are opting to buy individual pieces rather than full room sets, and while e-commerce has spurred growth in furniture sales, it has also driven an increase in returns, bolstering the strategic significance of the reverse supply chain.

To effectively serve consumers in 2017, companies throughout the furniture supply chain must collaborate to provide more efficient, customer-focused delivery services. Retailers will need to be more discerning than ever in developing their supply chains, partnering with manufacturers and logistics providers to ensure just-in-time manufacturing and shipping processes that meet the efficiency and quality standards of the digital age.

The Need for Visibility

One of the primary ways that furniture retailers can leverage logistical improvements to enhance the customer experience is by adding visibility to the product lifecycle. When retailers are able to monitor a piece of furniture at all stages of the supply chain, they can anticipate and efficiently respond to any issues that may arise.

For example, a retailer with excellent supply chain visibility might observe that a product will take an extra week to reach the distribution warehouse due to complications at the manufacturing facility. The company can then alert customers to the delay, keep them updated on their order’s journey via digital mediums, and work with them to set a new, mutually acceptable delivery time.

In this way, supply chain visibility can help retailers offer more value to their customers. Realizing this, furniture companies are now prioritizing visibility alongside factors such as style and price when considering supplier partnerships.

Harnessing Technology

furnitureAs furniture retailers work to improve supply chain metrics like efficiency and visibility, technology has become an indispensable resource. Furniture companies are increasing their investments in logistics technologies at a time when these digital tools are rapidly advancing, prompting the digitization of many processes.

In recent years, technologies such as GPS and radio-frequency identification have granted furniture companies greater supply chain visibility, allowing them to track the progress of vehicles and individual products from the manufacturer to the customer’s front door. In addition, the advancement of management information systems has allowed organizations to more efficiently manage the numerous processes and personnel involved in the delivery process.

Furniture retailers and logistics providers are also leveraging more advanced warehouse management software platforms, automated material handling equipment, mobile tools, and biometric devices to further enhance supply chain efficiency while maintaining high standards of safety and security. At the same time, advancing technologies have allowed logistics providers and retailers to shrink the environmental impact of the furniture product lifecycle. Electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, and other renewable energy sources have provided new ways for companies to reduce their carbon footprints, while the Internet of Things and AI-enabled technologies are assisting logistics providers in optimizing their vehicles’ routes, speeds, and fuel usage to be as sustainable and cost-efficient as possible.

Starting Small

Furniture companies need not launch extensive digital transformations to optimize their logistics strategies. Oftentimes, the most effective way to increase efficiency is to launch a small-scale, targeted effort to assess pain points throughout the logistics process and pinpoint specific areas for improvement. Business leaders should gather a few stakeholders to measure key metrics such as delivery timeliness, damage frequency, and overall customer satisfaction. While customer feedback should help inform these considerations, leaders should avoid responding to problems reactively. Instead, they should focus on locating the root of logistical mistakes and inefficiencies. After identifying a few areas for improvement, teams can research potential digital solutions within the vast landscape of emerging logistics technologies.

In the time-sensitive world of logistics, the speed of data collection and analysis is one of the most critical strategic considerations. When exploring how to improve their logistical processes, companies should consider not only what data they are collecting along the supply chain, but also the amount of time it takes to synthesize and act on this data. For example, a retailer may receive monthly reports detailing how many of their deliveries were on schedule, but it may be easier—and more effective—to act on this information if they receive it in real time.