From digital furniture stores to virtual furnishing consultants: How the furniture industry is making itself fit for the future
The signs point to growth for the German furniture industry. But not all of the 1,000 or so manufacturers and around 13,000 local furniture stores or branches will benefit equally from it. Because a decisive driver for sales growth is the increasing online trade in the industry. Anyone who misses the boat here will not be able to hold their own in the long term. Providing customers with useful and consistent information at all of their touchpoints and offering them an excellent shopping experience is crucial for sustainable success. A central and real-time-based administration of all product and marketing data is crucial for this.
The furniture trade is booming. If sales of just under 42 million are expected for 2021, it should be around 44.5 million in 2025, according to forecasts by Statista. The share of online trading increases continuously: 2015 – 7.3 percent, 2016 – 7.9 percent, 2018 – 9.3 percent and 2019 -10.1 percent. In 2021 it should reach 14 percent.
But even after Corona, the clocks are not set back. Many consumers no longer want to do without the advantages of online shopping when buying furniture: 24/7 opening times, an almost unlimited selection of products, good comparability and access regardless of device and location. But when it comes to furniture, people appreciate getting advice from stationary specialist retailers or looking at the products on site.
This is the case even with younger consumers who are supposedly more digitally savvy. However, they can be inspired by furniture influencers beforehand via Instagram and Pinterest. The aim is therefore to combine both worlds and to inspire customers at the POS, in the web shop as well as in social media. That only works if
the product and marketing information is consistent across all channels. For example, it is very fatal if the same item has different properties in the online and offline description.
all essential points for the purchase decision are adequately answered and clearly communicated. Common questions from practice are, for example, whether the dimensions of the piece of furniture fit through the stairwell, when it will be shipped or whether there are waiting times.
Data silos are the enemy of standardized product information across all channels. If the web shop accesses other systems than the social media campaign and the advisor at the POS gets his information from a third source, then misunderstandings and incorrect information are inevitable. The solution is a product information management system in which the data from all relevant sources flow together.
These include the ERP or merchandise management system, the product lifecycle management software (PLM) and the application used for supplier handling. We recommend combining the Produdt Information Management System (PIM) with a digital asset management solution (DAM). Then the corresponding media files are already assigned to the respective articles at the base. In this way, companies prevent images, videos, text modules, etc. from being stored on data islands and leading to inconsistent or incorrect information or (having to) be available more than once.
With a central system, data can be maintained very efficiently because it only needs to be updated at one point. If, for example, a furniture manufacturer converts the locking technology of the drawers to Soft-Close-Automatic for its entire collection, it supplements the product information with corresponding text modules in the PIM system. This information appears immediately in the item description in the online catalog and is available to the sellers in the entire branch network in the internal ordering system. Cross-product data can also be harmonized via the PIM system, for example if the general delivery times of a manufacturer change.
Other product information is not specific to a specific item, nor to a particular piece of furniture, nor to a single supplier. This could be, for example, care instructions for a special material. These are to be stored in the system in such a way that they are automatically assigned to each relevant piece of furniture.
It is also possible to anchor company-specific quality rules in the system. For example, each article must have at least five photos in a certain resolution. Or that the CE declaration of conformity should not be missing in a piece of furniture with integrated lighting. The system automatically detects where these rules are not being followed and notifies the responsible user.
Few furniture stores currently have the need to provide product information on the various sales and marketing channels in several languages. The case is different with producers who sell products not only in the DACH region. It is a huge relief for them if they only have to adjust the descriptions and text modules in the system once, but can access information that is already available for pictures or technical details. With the appropriate software, new languages can also be added step by step.
The mere product information on a piece of furniture, such as dimensions, material or shape, is usually not enough to persuade online customers to buy. High-quality images, animations, videos or even musical accompaniment to the visit to the webshop are crucial. These digital assets make the virtual furniture tangible and provide the decisive emotional component.
They are also in demand in the POS, because there is hardly any piece of furniture in the exhibition room in the exact version that the customer wants – on the contrary. In the furniture industry with its huge variety of products or the countless combinations of designs, patterns and materials, it is often a matter of custom-made products. It is therefore imperative that all product information and representations are digitally available to the seller. Additional technologies such as virtual or augmented reality ensure an effective advertising wow effect.
Admittedly, the assignment of furniture customers to certain interest groups is not that simple or clear. Nevertheless, intelligent tools provide enormous support in terms of target group-specific marketing. For example, they prevent a student from being offered expensive period furniture and instead include them in the campaign for very trendy small pieces of furniture.
On the other hand, a customer who bought a baby high chair two years ago now receives automated advertising for the new children’s room collection. Resourceful marketing professionals even go a step further and incorporate data from external sources. Like the furniture retailer who, shortly before an extremely rainy weekend, referred to his weatherproof garden pavilions on all channels.
It is unlikely that many customers will spontaneously decide to buy the first thunderstorm, but the temporal relationship will certainly remain in their memory. It is less complex to implement, but just as expedient to link marketing measures to the time of day. If information for setting up a coffee lounge is particularly popular in the morning, the focus should be on garden furniture in the afternoon or weekend in summer.
Not only the customers have to be provided with target group-specific information. A furniture manufacturer should also keep an eye on business partners and service providers. Whilst the wholesaler is interested in all sales-relevant data, the installer needs the detailed assembly instructions. If the end customer is also addressed emotionally, the interior designer focuses on product information on functionality and design. Even more: even country-specific product information can be stored. This is particularly with regard to various regulations regarding der Electrical safety an advantage.
E-commerce in the furniture industry continues to pick up speed. Stationary furniture stores will still exist – especially those who know how to take advantage of the opportunities offered by digitization. It offers retailers and manufacturers the best opportunities to inspire their customers with an individual customer journey. This includes providing them with consistent and relevant information. At any time, on all channels.