Ecommerce has grown exponentially since the dawn of the internet in the ‘80s and of email in the ‘90s. Shopping online as well as in stores is part of our culture now, and while few may be able to completely predict its future in this digital age, we know ecommerce and the technology behind it is continually changing. We’ll cover that and some things furniture retailers can do to avoid getting left behind in this week’s blog post. (Check out a variation of this blog post recently featured on the MITX blog.)
The State of Ecommerce Growth
According to Business Insider Intelligence: The Future of Retail, 2014, cross-channel retail sales from 2012 – 2017 are projected to grow by the billions. By 2017, 60% of all retail sales will involve the web. For the furniture retail industry – where we serve North America’s leading furniture retailers – online sales of furniture are growing at a rate of nearly 14% and will reach 6.4% of total category sales in 2017. Other sources predict even higher percentages by 2020. Forbes also estimates ecommerce growth at 16% in the U.S. doubling every five years, which creates challenges and opportunities for retailers. These are only some of the numbers available, and they are big and have an enormous upside, especially for the furniture category.
Furniture Retailers, Especially, Must Improve Their Online Shopping Experience
We’ve said this a lot, because it’s true – you need a functional, beautiful ecommerce site that is responsive and works for today’s shopper and – if you can stay a step ahead of the curve – the shopper of tomorrow. A responsive, ecommerce-enabled website is no longer a “nice-to-have,” even for furniture. It’s a must if you want to keep up with the pace of modern retail. In our experience building fully store-to-online integrated platforms and omnichannel services for furniture retailers, and through our own external research, we can boil this down to the following recommendations for providing an optimal online shopping experience. It’s one that allows you to:
- Add products and product information to your site easily
- Manage inventory across your site and in your stores (if you aren’t online only)
- Accept payments securely and keep customer data safe
- Make sure you’ve got sales tax down in states where you sell
- Offer efficient returns, free or low-price shipping
- Provide top-notch customer service
- Allow for customers to review and comment
- Market to customers to get them to your site
- Have an optimal checkout experience, offering additional features that are unique to what shoppers want from your merchandise
While we can’t possibly list them all, these are just a start to get you on the right track.
Brick-and-Mortar Stores Will Live On, Especially in Furniture
A responsive site with killer features (both of which are necessary), does NOT mean the demise of your brick-and-mortar stores – especially for big-ticket items like furniture. These days, you can personalize shoppers’ experiences online, guide their discovery and help them narrow their purchase considerations, whether they do so online or offline. Bridging the online/offline gap allows furniture retailers to target shoppers with one message seamlessly and easily, no matter how they choose to shop with you. (A little secret is that we help furniture retailers do this with Store-Sync.)
As Blueport President and CEO Carl Prindle said in his most recent post a few weeks ago, online and store retail are inextricably mixed, particularly for furniture, where stores play such a valuable role in the shopping process and shoppers do all their research online. The direction ecommerce is heading in means big things for business in this historically digital age.