Exclusive research: Consumers search for stores that satisfy

Consumers continue to prefer brick-and-mortar stores when shopping for some types of furniture, but they aren’t always happy with the experience, according to our exclusive Consumer Insights Now research.

The survey queried shoppers about their plans to buy home furnishings in the first half of 2023, along with their shopping habits, style preferences, budgets and more. Done in conjunction with our sister publications Home News Now, Casual News Now and Bedding News Now, research results are being released weekly leading up to the High Point Market to give you information you can use when shopping the show April 22-26.

The survey shows that the vast majority of consumers head to brick-and-mortar stores when they are shopping for items for which fit and feel are particularly important — items like sofas and mattresses. In fact, 69% of consumers say the primary reason to visit a physical store is “to touch/feel and sit/lie down on product.”

Some 77% of respondents said they planned to visit a physical store to buy a sofa, and 70% who are in the market for a mattress planned to shop a brick-and-mortar store. But two-thirds of those shopping for headboards, nightstands and other items for their primary bedroom also planned to go the brick-and-mortar route. So, it’s not always about fit and feel.

Other top reasons for shopping brick-and-mortar stores: delivery (37%), convenience (31%) and better sales/deals (28%). Another 28% of consumers shop physical stores because of habit: “I’m using to buying in-store.”

In general, older consumers are more likely to shop in-store than younger consumers, but the breakdown isn’t as neat as you might think. For instance, when it comes to shopping for mattresses, Gen X and baby boomers are, in fact, more likely to buy in-store, but so is the youngest demographic, Gen Z. When it comes buying sofas, Gen X and baby boomers are again most likely to visit brick-and-mortar retailers, but so are younger millennials.

(As a reminder, Gen Z includes youths but for the CIN survey, only adult Gen Zers ages 18-26 were queried. Younger millennials are 27-34, older millennials are 35-42, Gen Xers are 43-58 and boomers are 59-75.

The power of kindness

But even consumers shopping in-store say the experience can leave much to be desired.

If they are taking the trouble to drive to a store, consumers want to be greeted by friendly, approachable — but not overbearing — salespeople. That’s nothing new, but kind, welcoming salespeople are even more important when consumers can avoid surly or indifferent ones altogether by staying home and shopping online. One respondent said the in-store shopping experience could be improved by “a more welcoming staff.”  “With random hires, some people are just not nice to customers,” the respondent added.

“Be approachable, kind and knowledgeable of the items for sale,” said another when asked the open-ended question, “What could be improved about the in-store furniture buying experience?” Another consumer responded, “Greeting with a smile, and know everything about the products they offer.”

Know-somethings rather than know-nothings

That theme of consumers wanting knowledge salespeople was clear throughout the survey.

Although 52% of consumers say in-store salespeople are either “very knowledgeable” or “knowledgeable,” many responses to the question about improving the in-store buying experience centered on wanting better educated, better informed salespeople. “I want better floor salespeople who know the pros and cons of a piece,” one said.

“It’d be nice if the stores educated each of their new hires as to what types of furniture is sold there,” another replied. Still another answered simply: “I want associates to be more knowledgeable.”

E-commerce sites, with their rich, detailed product descriptions and plentiful customer reviews, may be raising consumers’ expectations that in-store salespeople offer that same level of encyclopedic knowledge. And the tight labor market may mean less experienced, less knowledgeable salespeople are on the showroom floor. That’s not a great confluence of factors.

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“Stores hire salespeople who have never worked in a furniture store before, so they have no idea how to answer any questions,” a respondent said. “It’d be nice if the stores educated each of their new hires as to what types of furniture is sold there.”

The takeaway: Brick-and-mortar retailers can still lure customers through the door but if shoppers get frustrated by poorly educated salespeople, they might not keep coming back. Training is key here, both onboarding education for new hires and regular training for everyone who interacts directly with shoppers, so they know exactly what’s on the floor, how it’s constructed, what finishes and covers it comes in, and what makes it special. Also important: easily accessible inventory systems that provide up-to-date information about availability and delivery times.

It’s the little things

One thing e-commerce can’t do: offer shoppers a snack or beverage, and consumers appreciate it when brick-and-mortar retailers do that. One respondent suggested that stores “offer free coffee” to improve the shopping experience. Another recommended “free donuts or snacks.” Gestures like that don’t cost a lot and can be a gracious gesture in an impersonal shopping world.

Up next: Consumer Insights Now looks at consumers’ overall design preferences and plans to buy rugs. Those results will be released Monday, April 24.

What you might have missed: Read more about what consumers actually bought in the second half of 2022, an overview of the furniture and accessories categories they plan to buy in the first half of 2023, a deep dive into their plans to buy sofas and massage chairs, and looks at their plans to buy primary bedroom furniture and mattresses.

About the survey: This survey was conducted among 1,868 U.S. consumers who planned to buy one or more home furnishings products between January 2023 and June 2023. All respondents are either the primary or joint purchase decision-maker. The sample includes a mix of females and males, ages 18 to 75, and a representative mix of ages, ethnicities, household incomes and homeowners/renters. The survey was fielded Jan. 21-25, 2023. Consumer Insights Now research is led by Dana French, who has more than 20 years of experience in home furnishings and consumer research.

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