Business Issues  



Why Don't People Buy More Furniture

YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY I DON’T LIKE TO SHOP FOR FURNITURE? THE SALES PEOPLE ARE LIKED PIRANHAS. I AM ATTACKED AS SOON AS I WALK IN THE STORE. THEY MUST THINK I LOOK LIKE I AM GOING TO SHOP-LIFT A DRESSER OR SOMETHING

By Joe Carroll

THIS CRITICISM OF THE FURNITURE shopping experience is just one of the many reasons friends have given me over the years. Their complaints are very insightful as our industry constantly likes to examine the reasons people don’t shop for furniture more often. One of the standard excuses is that they prefer to spend their money on electronic “gadgets” like computers or TVs, travel or dining out. I’ve always felt these were not the real reasons. First, let me identify the major obstacles people cite and then I will pass on some of the positive solutions they offer.

REASONS PEOPLE DON’T BUY MORE FURNITURE:
1. Aggressive or overly inquisitive sales personnel. We like to be greeted when we arrive but we don’t want to have to sign in, give your name and address, and answer a barrage of questions about your buying intentions when you actually just came in to look around. We want sales people to be available when we need to ask a question. We want someone we can trust: “Furniture sales people tell you everything in their store is top quality at a great price. Why don’t they just be honest with you?”

2. Lack of product information. “Furniture retailers should list the specific features of the furniture and have it readily available.” “I know Wal-Mart isn’t Ethan Allen, but it would be helpful to be able to compare differences among manufacturers offering similar quality.”

3. Price/Value relationship. “Furniture is too expensive. The quality just isn’t there. I’m not ging to pay $1000 for something that has solid wood doors and sides but fiber board backing and particle board shelves.” “Is there ever a time a furniture store isn’t having a sale? And speaking of price, how about putting a reasonable one on the pieces instead of a wildly inflated one, marking it up and then putting a price on it that is several hundred dollars less?”

4. Delivery. False promises about delivery ranked right alongside frustrations with store personnel. Almost all the horror stories I’ve heard involved delivery times that were missed by weeks, or months, or learning that the piece had been discontinued weeks after the order had been placed without a believable explanation or even a preemptive phone call. Could home delivery times could be made more convenient for working people? It’s only reasonable to expect that furniture be delivered within the time frame promised.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE SUGGESTIONS I’VE BEEN GIVEN:
1. Give us more reasons to shop for furniture. “Start by convincing me that I would receive some benefit from buying something new, whether I’ve identified a need or not.” “Tell us how to get rid of our old furniture.”

2. Better advertising: “Effective advertising these days has to be smart, funny and not necessarily about the product.” “Make it easy for us to get in and out of the store. Stores should not be designed to look like an upscale fortress. Doors should be made of glass with room setting displayed in the outside show windows so you can window shop before you come in.” “Perhaps there should be some attempt to install small, rotating showrooms, like some of the department stores, to introduce customers to various styles and price ranges. This would make us feel more comfortable. We could idea-shop, like we do in the housewares or electronic departments.”

3. “Help us with decorating ideas. These buythe- whole-room-at-once places are popular because they give you decorating ideas. Regular furniture stores display their furniture by grouping the same categories. Many of these displays look haphazard.” “Something needs to be done to educate the consumer about the use of designers – how to find one, what they do, how they are paid, do they work for the furniture store and what are the willing to do for you? Some stores give the impression they aren’t very enthusiastic about customers shopping on their own without designers. Some stores seem upset when they see a local designer come in with a customer from out of town.”

4. “Let us purchase furniture from you online. You wouldn’t have to employ as many salespeople on commission as we could get all the information on the features and benefits, including room setting ideas, by going online. It seems less personal but that’s the way the world is today.

As we all know, there is an irony in these criticisms and suggestions. There are many polite, well-trained salespeople, many stores have outside window displays and fully accessorized groupings in the store, interior designers on staff to assist, good home delivery and online Web sites to provide product information on the lines they carry.

However, I believe some of the criticism is justified: lack of industry standard for various price and quality levels (admittedly easier said than done), long delays in delivery when the product is not in stock and sale prices that appear obviously contrived.

I believe consumers are asking the right questions. I hope we are listening and will come back with the right answers and solutions.


Joseph F Carroll is the former publisher of Furniture/Today and one of the original founders of the IAFP (International Alliance of Furnishing Publications). He is an international marketing consultant.