Key Omnichannel Takeaways from KeyBanc Consumer Conference

December 20, 2017

As many of us can agree, the furniture industry is one of the last whales of retail yet to go online in a major way because there’s just so much that still works offline, like the ability to touch and feel and sit on a product before shoppers buy. And yet, retail is experiencing meteoric ecommerce growth and so will furniture, albeit differently.

Building omnichannel experiences to reach the digital consumer was top of mind on the home furnishings panel at the Keybanc Capital Markets® Investor Consumer Conference from December 4-6, 2017. Blueport Commerce’s Founder & CEO, Carl Prindle, was joined by SVP of Strategic Development, Erik Morton, at CommerceHub, Jason Conti, SVP of Finance at Casper Sleep, and Chief Commercial Officer at First Insight, Jim Shea, who all agreed that home furnishings, particularly large, big-ticket items, were ripe for continued offline to online convergence.

They discussed such topics as the pace of ecommerce growth in lock step with the role that that store experiences play along with website functionality for future success. They also discussed the potential role that augmented and virtual reality and analytics play in this convergence. Here are two of my takeaways from the panel:

Amazon and other furniture pure-play retailers are catalysts for furniture and mattress businesses

One of the most pressing topics covered on the Keybanc panel was that not more than a year ago, there was some questions as to whether brick-and-mortar retail was going to die. The truth today is far from it in some industries. While across all of retail there is a seismic shift in an overall $5T industry where retailers without intrinsic store advantages are moving online and shuttering stores, the same is not true in some industries like grocery, furniture and other big-ticket categories.

Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods earlier this year validated that an investment in physical stores is valuable and the balance online and offline is not only what shoppers desire, but is the key to retailer success. Erik Morton from CommerceHub noted that in some cases their retailers see 1/3rd of orders fulfilled for their platform drop-shipped to the store. Carl Prindle added that the reason for this offline to online convergence is that stores just frankly matter in the industries where products are harder to understand and harder to ship.

There is no one way around the fact that people shop online, but a reminder that it’s not always the only way they shop.

The panel agreed that while ecommerce growth continues to be steady, even in furniture, the key was not to disrupt offline sales with online sales, but rather accelerate the benefits of both to allow shoppers to discover, consider and buy however they want when they have the time. Home furnishings, and in particular furniture, is absolutely NOT an industry that can’t be online anymore, as much as some shoppers will always WANT to test drive a sofa in store. In both scenarios the shopper experience really does matter.

As brick-and-mortar brands are diversifying online, so must online-only retailers moving to brick-and-mortar to provide an integrated live experience for interested shoppers. This is where convergence of channels and enablement factors are critical – integrated and localized merchandising, deals, easy experiences, tight (and fast, and free) last mile logistics and a right-sized ecosystem of services – all wrapped in a trustworthy brand with trackable success metrics. Carl Prindle cautioned though, while deals and cheaper price options often do well online in other industries, easy beats cheap in big-ticket where you can’t convince someone to buy an ugly sofa online no matter how inexpensively you price it.

Companies like those represented on Keybanc’s Consumer Conference panel who can become (sof)arms dealers setting the pace in omnichannel industries have a chance at winning the war for retailers with expanded digital and ecommerce offerings and cross-channel integration and technology. Here at Blueport, we look forward to seeing what’s in store for 2018.