Laying Their Cards on the Table: How Consumers Make Large Furniture Purchasing Decisions
Buying a piece of large furniture is a substantial personal purchase, with preferences that vary widely from one individual to another. As online purchases become more prevalent and accessible, the furniture-buying landscape is changing, and purchasing decisions no longer happen solely at brick-and-mortar stores.
Luth conducted a Digital Purchase Path study in 2016 regarding large furniture purchase patterns. According to this study, 60% of consumers begin their furniture search online, whereas only 40% begin this process in an actual store. This study included primary or joint decision-makers considering one of four designated brands or retailers. The participants, aged 25-64, made at least $30k annually if under age 35, and $50k or more annually if over age 35. Every participant intended to purchase a large piece of furniture in the next 90 days for their homes.
Four weekly surveys were conducted to capture online and offline activities and the incentives behind activities. One month of online activities was tracked via Luth Research’s ZQ Intelligence software, and a final follow-up survey was reviewed for overall reflections.
Getting Started: Online or In-Store?
Consumers often began the search for a new piece of large furniture online, with the ultimate goal of testing out furniture in a physical location. The majority discussed the purchase with a spouse or partner.
A typical consumer starts the process online, using online research as a method of gauging prices and exploring options. Only a small percentage make their final purchases at the initial website. Consumers online primarily seek tools for easy comparison among cost and style — likely the reason 23% of online large furniture shoppers begin their search through Amazon. These findings suggest that online retailers would do well to offer user-friendly ways to view, compare, and analyze multiple products at one time.
Brick-and-Mortar Has Its Place
While websites can be extremely useful for research and comparison, data reveals the online experience still can’t compare to viewing a piece of furniture in person. In-store visitors have a purchase conversion nearly five times higher than those who only shop online. Those that began their search for a new piece of large furniture in-store visited department stores, furniture manufacturers, and general home furnishing stores. Many in-store visitors brought information with them on their first visit, like websites saved to a mobile phone.
Apart from communicating with a spouse/partner and with in-store sales teams, the consumer’s path to purchase is increasingly shaped by online reviews from other consumers. Perhaps in light of the accessibility of digital sharing, the impact of traditional advertising methods is declining — and, in some cases, even working against retailers.
The Internet has expanded the scope of word-of-mouth recommendations; consumers no longer need to know someone who has purchased the piece of furniture they’re considering, as they can access the opinions and experiences of strangers with just a few clicks. Visiting individual websites and reading reviews greatly influenced customers who expect to read both positive and negative reviews from others who have purchased the piece of furniture in question. Retail and brand site reviews prove to be the most influential.
Television commercials, radio commercials, and print advertisements all seem to have little to no effect on purchasing a new piece of large furniture; and for some individuals, they may have a negative impact. Static digital advertising had a slightly less deleterious effect, but still performed below average in terms of influencing a customer to purchase. This data may guide retailers away from spending on television and radio ads, and more towards spending on website design, content marketing, online resources, and enhancing customer service to foster positive reviews.
Hindrances to Purchasing
With a purchase as expensive and long-term as a piece of large furniture, there are always customers who begin the exploration process but hesitate to transact. Research reveals the most common reason for hesitation is not feeling “ready,” either financially or mentally; or, that consumers are waiting for certain sales or discounts, to make large furniture shopping more affordable. Other common frustrations are particular to the style of shopping.
Frustrating Shopping on the Web
One of the biggest obstacles to online shoppers is that they cannot try out the furniture before purchasing. Online shoppers can also feel overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of pieces available to them, becoming fatigued by the process of narrowing down the right option for the right price.
Your Sales Team Might Be Preventing Sales
The biggest roadblock for shoppers in a physical store is a pushy or unknowledgeable sales team. In-store shoppers are also more likely to feel disappointed by a lack of sales or discounts, and experience more difficulty finding pieces within their predetermined budgets.
Millennials trend toward building custom furniture online far more often than those 35 and older. However, they are surprisingly more likely to visit physical stores than older customers — and tend to supplement their in-store experience with information gathered online.
Half of all millennials who hesitate to purchase are awaiting confirmation from their partners. More than other cohorts, a positive in-store shopping experience is a key indicator of the likelihood of a future purchase for a millennial.
Since most customers blend their furniture-buying experience between in-store visits and online shopping, sales representatives need to be knowledgeable about the information on the store site, including any reviews. Sales teams should keep in mind that most consumers visit multiple stores in a 24-hour window, and make an effort to highlight why their store stands out from the competition.
Most potential customers hold consistent levels of rejection and reconsideration over the first three weeks of deliberation, regardless of furniture brand. Slightly more rejections occur around the fourth week — still, U.S. furniture brands see nearly as many purchases made after a month of deliberation as they do prior to one month.