With lockdowns hampering furniture retailers’ ability to operate, Red Ant’s Stephanie Waite reveals how customers feel about buying furniture in-store and online, and why …

Despite initial restrictions on consumer activity, home and furniture shopping has seen an increase over the last few months. As we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes, many of us have taken on improvements and changes around the house to make profitable use of our time and our surroundings more comfortable. 

While home and furniture customers have turned to remote services including online ordering and click and collect/BOPAK (buy online, pay at kiosk) while stores are closed, it’s clear that they still crave a personal experience where they can talk through their plans and purchases with a trusted advisor. 

Making customers feel at home

With practical measures including social distancing and hygiene stations as a given, making a connection with customers means meeting them where they’re most comfortable, whether that’s in-store by appointment or in the comfort of their own homes. 

We took the opportunity to ask home and furniture shoppers how they feel – what their plans are, what they want from a shopping experience, and how they’re going to buy in the future. The responses from around 1000 people throughout the UK provided a clear snapshot of shopper sentiment, with invaluable insight into their behaviour and expectations.

Talking shop – today and tomorrow

We asked respondents how they usually shop, and while the majority confirmed they liked to buy both online and in-store, when it came to large items such as sofas and other furniture a significant percentage wanted to be able to see and try items in-store, even if they went on to complete their purchase at home.

For home decor and soft furnishings, the preferences expressed were: 9% online only; 27% in-store only; and 64% both in-store and online. For furniture and other large items, they responded: 13% online only; 36% in-store only; and 51% both in-store and online.

And more than half (52%) agreed that they would return to their regular shopping habits. Just 5% said they would be unlikely to go back to store shopping in the near future.

Valuable advice

While they clearly appreciate the convenience and relative safety of online shopping, most home and furniture shoppers (56%) rely on the advice of a knowledgeable store associate. More than two-thirds (70%) said they would be happy to consider receiving this advice via a virtual consultation, while 37% were looking for a combination of virtual consultation followed by an appointment in-store to try, confirm and buy. And nearly two-fifths (38%) wanted the ability to pay remotely, either as part of the consultation, or through links sent to them afterwards.

The top five most useful areas of expertise are: knowledge of the full range, including colour, size and availability; advice on manufacturing and delivery times; information on wear and tear/durability; suggesting appropriate alternatives if necessary; and after-care, including answers to follow-up questions.

Finally, we asked them to tell us the one thing home and furniture retailers could do to improve their experience - they said: about shopping, “I’d like the ability to book an appointment to view with a sales associate”; about store associates, “I want enough knowledgeable staff on hand to answer questions, and staff that are well trained to provide correct advice”; and about a personal experience, “I wish I could get one person to talk me through the whole project, and how the corner sofa I want will fit, and so on.”

Key takeaways

Our respondents have shown that they want the ability to speak to a knowledgeable advisor – in fact, it’s high on the list of their suggestions for improving the shopping experience. They’re also equally happy to receive advice in-store or via a virtual consultation. 

It’s invaluable insight that will help to shape the future of retail for home and furnishing, enabling retailers to: ensure they can offer a VIP service which will capture every engagement, whether customers are in-store and go on to complete their purchase online, or vice-versa; reassure customers that they have access to a personalised experience with an expert who knows their details and will be with them every step of the way; and build long-term relationships which drive lifetime value.

Stephanie Waite is client consultancy manager at Red Ant, whose platform promises to unify the tools, content and insights store associates need to provide exceptional customer experiences in-store or at home.