Home Furnishings Retailers Grapple with Shoppers’ Need to Touch and Feel

Home furnishings shoppers also like ‘buy online, pick up in store’ option
January 10, 2017Allison Zisko

ForeSee2017 FULLANN ARBOR, Mich.—Home furnishings retailers have a unique challenge in the modern shopping landscape—a considerable number of their customers research products online but buy them offline, according to ForeSee, a customer experience analytics company.

At a time when home furnishings retailers are scrambling to enhance their digital sales tools, they need to understand the mindset of consumers who prefer to touch and feel the merchandise before making a commitment, said Eric Feinberg, vice president of marketing for ForeSee.

Every year, ForeSee tabulates its Experience Index, a survey of about 40,000 consumers about their holiday shopping experience. It is conducted in November and December and ranks the leaders in customer experience across physical stores, websites and mobile platforms. As previously reported, Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams-Sonoma and The Home Depot tied for number one among home retailers on the Index in 2016, all with a score of 80, “generally considered the threshold of excellence,” according to ForeSee. Wayfair scored a 76.

Digging deeper into the numbers for HFN, ForeSee found that 34 percent of consumers shopping at home furnishings retail websites ultimately purchased goods in the retailer’s physical store.

“That’s way higher than any other [retail] category we have,” Feinberg said. On average across all retail segments, 26 percent of shoppers migrate from the web to the store. In consumer electronics, only 17 percent do. “They want to experience the product more—sit on the couch, touch the drapes, [see] that pewter means pewter. It’s the touch and feel thing,” Feinberg said.

A higher percentage of home furnishings shoppers prefer to buy online and pick up in store (BOPIS) than shoppers in other retail categories—15 percent of home furnishings retail shoppers, compared to 6 percent of apparel customers, for example. “There’s an expectation that not only are they going to journey to the store, but if they do choose to buy online they want to pick up in the store,” Feinberg said.

ForeSee also discovered that more than half (51 percent) of home furnishings customers go online to research products, compared to 44 percent of apparel shoppers who do so.

Addressing the specific high-scoring home furnishings retailers on the Index, Feinberg said that Williams-Sonoma and Bed Bath & Beyond, across all their platforms, “deeply know their customers and what they expect.” Online retailer Wayfair, on the other hand, opts for a “templated” approach for its various sub-brands which include Joss & Main, All Modern, Dwell Studio and Birch Lane, and doesn’t differentiate enough amongst them, Feinberg said. Gap Inc., whose brands include The Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy, among others, experienced a similar problem a few years ago when it stripped its brands of their unique identities in their online presentation, Feinberg added.

Templates offer great operational advantages, Feinberg said—they sit on the same platform, reduce costs and offer the same shopping cart. But they can also sacrifice a brand’s identity.

“Consumers are looking for an emotional connection with a brand. Many will vote with their wallet. A templated experience is simply not going to do it.”

Allison ZiskoAllison Zisko | Managing Editor/Tabletop Editor

After 15 years of covering the tabletop industry, Allison Zisko is still as enthusiastic as ever about the dinnerware, glassware and flatware categories. An in-depth analysis of how the category works intrigues her just as much as the latest fashion trends. As managing editor, Allison oversees the daily e-newsletter and works behind the scenes to help produce the print issue each month. She also directs HFN’s housewares coverage and covers the cutlery category. An avid reader, Allison is eager to talk to anyone and everyone about the latest book they are reading.


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