Estimated at a whopping 20 billion dollars (Technopak 2015), the furnishing industry in India is complex by nature and predominantly dispersed across branded and non-branded regional retailers.
The furniture retail and home solutions segment has for long enjoyed an immunity from online competition until the rise and success of players like Urban Ladder, Fab Furnish and PepperFry who now pose an imminent challenge to the very operational model of traditional vendors.
The greatest competitive advantage enjoyed by brick and mortar retailers was the non-fungibility of home fitting products. People were just not comfortable or confident enough to buy a sofa set or a dining table without personally verifying the comfort, quality, fabric or size.
For some others, the experience of browsing furniture and trying them at an IKEA or Damro just couldn’t be replaced by pictures on a screen.
What has changed?
The ease of returning furnishings, the promptness in delivery and free installation became fairly alluring perks for a convenience-driven urban customer who would rather order products based on his instinct and give it a try for free rather than having to visit store after store looking for the desired design.
To add on to the list of temptations, leading home furnishing e-tailers including Urban Ladder, PepperFry and Home Lane have introduced augmented reality applications using virtual reality technology to enhance the experience of trying out furniture before ordering it.
What this means?
E-tailers integrating new and innovative technology that enhances convenience along with state of the art product quality and top notch service is definitely not good news for conventional furniture stores.
For one of the many problems, the whole advent of e-commerce retail giants has placed a burden on stores to stock a wide (more like unending) range of selection that matches the expectations of a ecom-savvy customer. Unless you’re a Hastens or French Heritage, customers would increasingly expect wider collection across factors of design, comfort and price.
This would be intrinsically impossible for even the best stores that take at least 2-3 months to turn over their inventory.
What can be done?
- Redefining your sales process
No marketing strategy can be successful if your sales process isn’t streamlined accordingly. The first step to developing a competitive marketing strategy that keeps up with the super-convenient digital marketplace is making the sales process smoother, enriching and likeable.
So any expectations of selling from a design catalogue placed at your front desk or flyers targeting walkins need to be ruled out right away.
Flexibility, convenience and service quality needs to stretched as far as they can to meet the needs of your audience. Phone lines will have to be used for reasons beyond giving directions and should cover price negotiation, on-site assistance and grievance redressal.
- Giving them a reason to visit
Simply matching the service standards of your online competition may not always do the trick.
Though virtual reality and real time imagery are impressive advancements, the need for a complete buying experience is still uncompensated by the Urban Ladders or PepperFrys.
This is a huge opportunity for traditional stores to cash in given they already hold ample infrastructure. They need to work on creating unique and compelling in-store experiences that add value to their customer’s buying process giving them a reason to walk in.
An excellent example of this is the IKEA sleepover which is a slumber party at which the store provides a pampered sleep experience to their valuable customers.
- Going digital
Going digital does not mean stores need to necessarily start selling online.
It is all about getting your marketing and advertising online and cleverly reaching your customers through the very medium that your competition uses to entice your potential audience. With search and social advertising becoming a level playing field, it takes consistent communication and a comprehensive strategy to reclaim your audience.
Bringing traffic to your website, engagement through social media and leads via strategically executed campaigns, there are innumerable possibilities of driving profitable results by simply leveraging the digital medium.But my business is doing fine now. Why change?
The undeterred growth of furniture retail is a known fact despite the entry of these online players. However, at this rate, it would only be a decade or so before they pocket a quarter of the entire furniture market.
The knowledge of this possibility should be acted upon and businesses need to make timely changes in their marketing model to adapt in a changing world.
The question you need to ask yourself is, “Would you run your business the same way if you knew online competitors would capture a quarter of the entire furniture market in about 10 years?”
This resource was published by Jeffin Thomas01 October 2015
Jeffin is the Content Marketing Manager at Webdura. He is a Hubspot certified inbound marketing professional with expertise in brand journalism, social media strategy and trashing mediocre content.