Man sitting on a bed with coffee - wall mural behind him Photo by Alex Block.

Furniture retail is a constantly shifting industry, and staying competitive requires keeping up with the shifting demands of customers. These five trends capture the expectations of furniture retail customers in 2018, with convenience, immediacy, technology, and curation at the core of how the industry is changing.

1. Influencer marketing

As ad-blockers become more widespread, banner and pay-per-click advertising can no longer reach the same number of people. Advertising via “influencers” (a shorthand for people with large or highly engaged social media or blog followings), is becoming more common. A significant number of customers in 2018 are basing purchasing decisions on the tastes of their favourite bloggers and social media influencers, and research by AdWeek revealed that social media influencers may drive brand perception shifts more effectively than TV advertising.

The simplest form of influencer marketing is offering free product to relevant influencers in exchange for a public shout-out. An example might be providing a comfortable and sleek office chair to a YouTube star who then uses the chair while recording YouTube videos, and mentions your store or brand in one (or several) videos. If you are selling high-end products, getting coverage from an influencer in the interior design space may help lend additional credibility to your brand. Influencer marketing should become an important part of your marketing arsenal in 2018, particularly as demographic groups like young millennials become more difficult to reach through traditional means. You can contact influencers directly or check out Scrunch’s list of 50 Home & Interior micro-influencers in the U.S.

Influencer profile on social media Social media influencers may be the best way to reach certain customer segments, such as young millennials. Photo by Jakob Owens.

2. Bake-in technology to increase profits

Furniture retailers are experiencing high demand for multi-function and technology enabled furniture in 2018, such as sleep-tracking mattresses, power recliners, or furniture with built-in charging stations. Consumers expect every aspect of their lives to be enriched with technology, and this represents an important opportunity for furniture retailers. Consumers are willing to pay a premium price for high-tech furniture. In addition, the costs of storing and freighting this furniture are identical to the costs of storing and freighting cheaper, low-tech or no-tech furniture. Consumers may also be tempted to upgrade and replace high-tech furniture sooner to keep up with advances in technology, opening up further avenues for repeat purchases.

3. Cash and carry over built to order

Millennials have become particularly accustomed to purchasing products online and having them arrive quickly, often within 48 hours. For them, the process of ordering a lounge suite with weeks of lead time for upholstery seems like a relic of the past. Consumers are increasingly opting for cash and carry options, happy for retailers to offer a small, curated selection of patterns and colours that are available instantly, or with much shorter lead times than has been traditionally possible. Speed and convenience beats choice for furniture shoppers in 2018.

Several different pieces of fabric Photo by Karly Santiago

4. Tech-enabled sales staff

Customers buying products online expect the answers to their every question to be readily available, and this expectation now extends to sales staff in-store. The days when customers were willing to wait for sales staff to go “out the back” to check availability or confirm a negotiated price with a manager are long gone, replaced with the expectation that sales staff will be more knowledgeable, and quicker, than Google - otherwise, why would customers make the journey to visit in-store versus shopping online? Your sales staff won’t be able to meet this expectation if their performance is not facilitated by technology. Leading edge retailers have equipped sales staff with tablets and mobile devices running Arcade, an app that allows staff to communicate instantly with other staff in-store and across locations, quickly look up catalogs and price lists, and to confirm negotiated prices with a manager at the press of a button.

5. 3D configuration and augmented reality (AR)

Customers want to know one thing above all when shopping for furniture: how will it look in my space? For a long time customers have had to rely on their imaginations alone, but technology is changing this. Furniture brands are starting to offer online 3D configuration experiences, where customers can preview different materials, shapes, colors and accessories, as well as different configurations of modular furniture. Customers may do this in a self-guided way online, or with the help of a sales associate in-store. The best of these tools provide a dynamically updating quote for each set of options.

Augmented reality tools allow customers to view realistic 3D models of your products displayed in their own space via the camera on their mobile or tablet. Both 3D configurators and augmented reality apps are becoming increasingly common in furniture retail due to their effectiveness as a sales tool.

Using an augmented reality mobile app to see how furniture looks placed in the environment
One of many augmented reality furniture preview applications, Wayfair (source).

What’s next

As is evident from these five trends in furniture retail, leveraging technology, whether through the use of applications or via improvements to logistics, is more essential than ever before. Those players in the furniture retail industry who can make the best use of technology will continue to survive and thrive into 2019 and beyond.