Furniture Shopping: Major Differences Revealed Between Generations

January 18, 2013

For big-ticket furniture retailers, it’s important to know who is shopping, where, why and how selling furniture online is part of the equation. This week, we at Blueport Commerce are going to give you insights into all of this, drawing on data from a recent Furniture Today and Apartment Therapy study.

The unlikely pair partnered to complete a 1,600-respondent survey on where, why and how different generations shop for furniture. For this survey, Generation Y includes people age 18-36, Generation X includes ages 37-47 and Baby Boomers are 48-66 years old. While you can read the complete study in Furniture Today’s print publication, we provide some of the highlights and our expert insights.

Where People Are Shopping

It’s rare that in a survey, 100% of one group answers a question the same way, however 100% of Generation X and Y respondents answered that they “frequently shop” at lifestyle furniture stores. These stores are defined as retailers that carry furniture and home accents at full price, such as Ikea, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Restoration Hardware, and Crate & Barrel. Baby Boomers’ preferred furniture shopping source is also lifestyle furniture stores, with 69% saying they regularly shop for furniture there. Ikea is the most popular brand, with 44% of Generation Y and 36% of Generation X saying they regularly shop at Ikea.

Traditional furniture stores, where furniture is the store’s total business or single-largest category, were the next most popular shopping destination for many, but with significant generational differences. Half of Baby Boomers commonly shop at traditional furniture stores, but this number drops to 33% for Gen X and only 23% for Gen Y.

Lagging far behind was the  classic department store (defined as full-line operations carrying a variety of merchandise such as Macy’s, JC Penney and Sears), with less than 10% of any generation shopping there regularly.

Why People Shop at These Stores

We believe consumers of all ages respond well to lifestyle furniture stores because they promote a complete experience. Their showrooms and catalogs tend to focus on the feelings and emotions that the furniture and highly stylized rooms provoke, allowing less visual buyers to benefit from product placement and suggestions. They make the entire furniture decision and purchase process more enjoyable for their customers. Many lifestyle furniture stores also sell a wide range of affordable accessories – letting the aspirational shopper get a taste of the brand without committing to a big-ticket purchase.

Shoppers who liked traditional stores cited the quality product and variety as their reasons for shopping there, as well as being locally owned and having top-notch customer service. Comments such as “the store’s customer service and free delivery are great” and “I like to support local, small businesses” are typical reasons as to why shoppers preferred to do business with a traditional store.

Blueport Commerce isn’t surprised by these findings, as the advantage of localized big-ticket retail e-commerce is being able to close the gap between brick-and-mortar showrooms and online shopping. Consumers enjoy the experience of the stores and being able to touch and feel the furniture, while reaping the benefits of easy browsing, knowledgeable furniture sales staff and streamlined checkout.

How Furniture E-Commerce Fits In

One of the biggest surprises in this survey is how “online” was a top choice for furniture shopping across all age groups: 39% of Generation Y, 36% of Generation X and 27% of Baby Boomers regularly shop for furniture on the Internet. Why? Because online shopping is “easy” and “a great resource with a wide range of choices.”

It’s encouraging that each generation is more and more comfortable with shopping online for furniture. The increased comfort level is resulting in a significant likelihood to purchase as well. When asked if they’d be comfortable buying a sofa without sitting on it first, 24% of Generation X, 18% of Generation Y and even 15% of Baby Boomers said they would.

As the only localized big-ticket e-commerce solution company, Blueport Commerce has embraced the trend of the growing number of people who are ready and willing to purchase big-ticket items online. By offering consumers more of a lifestyle furniture shopping experience online – for example, using more complete room images and suggesting accent pieces such as lighting and rugs when looking at larger items – retailers can benefit from increased browsing and conversions online.

Additionally, an e-commerce store can offer a targeted experience to consumers, increasing the likelihood of closing a sale. Targeting consumers by generation, for example, makes sense: members of Generation Y may live in smaller-sized apartments and condos, so furniture specifically selected for them, as opposed to Generation X or Baby Boomers in larger homes, can make all the difference. With 46% of respondents claiming they continuously shop for new furniture, providing an engaging online experience could be one of the best investments any furniture store could make.