The furniture retail sector, like with every other, has undergone a digital transformation over recent years. Traditionally a very hands-on, labour-intensive sector, the evolution of technology and the subsequent digitalisation in terms of design and manufacturing, has enabled companies to automate processes and drive efficiencies, leading to improved cost effectiveness and better employee safety.
When it comes to furniture and manufacturing sales and marketing, digitalisation has also enabled scalability and the opportunity to reach a larger market than ever before.
For example, a traditional bricks-and-mortar furniture outlet might only be able to create bespoke items of furniture for a couple of customers a month, depending on the size of its workforce.
However, an agile online player like Made.com, that designs and sells its furniture online and via a network of experiential showrooms throughout Europe, has access to an even bigger pool of customers. This can often be assisted using digital asset management (DAM) and product information management (PIM) systems.
Today’s furniture landscape
Over the past year or so, as a “non-essential” retail category, furniture brands have taken a significant hit due to national lockdown measures. But it wasn’t all bad for those players who were able to pivot to an online platform, in order to reach their target market.
In fact, using a recent poll from Made.com, it was discovered that out of 1000 adults across the UK, over two-thirds of respondents shopped online for their home at least once a month last year. Around 19% of respondents did so multiple times, and 40% claimed to have bought new home accessories throughout lockdown, with the same number rearranging their furniture.
Other furniture brands and manufacturers are now making the move towards digital transformation, looking to mimic the success of players like Made.com, with a contactless and frictionless customer experience. But where do these brands and manufacturers need to start?
For every digitalisation strategy, you need digital assets. This means pictures, logos, videos, product descriptions, and, increasingly, components for augmented reality visuals. But simply storing these digital assets in centralised systems isn’t enough. Rather, having a dedicated DAM and PIM system in place, will allow manufacturers to collect, organise, and distribute their digital assets both more effectively and efficiently.
Agility and flexibility
We’ve all exercised a degree of agility and flexibility over the last year or so, adapting to a new normal. And there are a number of reasons why it is important for furniture brands to remain agile and flexible in a digitally transformed marketplace:
- Consumers’, and therefore buyers’, expectations and relationships with brands have changed. There are more options now and the competition out there is strong.
- The need for digital transformation, and therefore streamlined workflow processes, no longer only applies to apparel but extends across all industries and sectors, including furniture manufacturing. Unlike apparel, however, it is more important in the furniture industry because clothing can be easily returned: furniture is harder to return and often comes with “restocking” fees. So, having all the correct information to choose from in order to make a big purchasing decision is crucial.
- Consumers are highly stimulated by visual content. To keep up with this demand, content management and distribution needs to be efficient, streamlined, and targeted. Providing customers with the content they need to make an informed decision across any purchasing channel can make or break a sale.
But, to fulfil consumer expectations, measures need to be taken to make a digital transformation strategy a success. This includes creating a clear plan for managing product information like data, marketing content, and digital assets to support a consistent customer experience throughout the buying journey. It also includes showcasing products in a way that provides all the right information, no matter the touchpoint.
Technology: from ‘nice to have’ to necessity
One example of how introducing DAM and PIM software has enabled a seamless transition into a digitalisation strategy and a streamlined workflow, is Suncast, a US manufacturer of home products like outdoor furniture. Suncast uses a DAM system to improve the searchability and access of its digital assets for employees and stakeholders.
(The results of Suncast’s efforts can be read in the case study, published in the June supplement, and here on the website.)
As the demands of consumers evolve further, and marketers look to explore new ways of leveraging digital assets to promote products and interact with resellers and influencers, the onus will be on brands to ensure they’re offering up-to-date ways for would-be customers to view products. 360° spin photography for example, or augmented reality (AR) options, along with more detailed information about products, give online shoppers increased confidence in making a buying decision.
When it comes to buying furniture, unlike other products bought for the home, there are infinitely more variables. Like buying clothes, in addition to being functional, customers are often looking to inject a degree of style and personality. The choice of a dining room table or a sofa might be down to specific elements like the material or fabric it’s made from, the colour and the style – in addition to all the practical elements like the size and functionality.
At the beginning of this buying journey, customers are also often just looking for ideas. Optimising content with accurate metadata and information supports SEO allowing content to appear in search results that otherwise wouldn’t have been seen without going directly to a brand’s website. For many retailers, this is one way to break into new markets and gain new customers.
A slice of the pie
According to a recent research carried out by Statistica, furniture was sixth in terms of overall year-over-year growth in e-commerce sales in 2019, and estimates show that 14% of e-commerce sales will be furniture in 2022, with total sales of $99.87bn. There’s no doubt, digital transformation is here to stay. So, if there is one piece of advice I’d like you to take away, it’s that if you would like a slice of the furniture retail pie, a DAM and PIM solution to strategically manage information and distribute branded content from one central location is a very good place to start.