Fulfillment, Home Goods and Quarantine: The Perfect Storm

The key is to get ahead of consumer demand and ensure that your business is prepared to deliver consistently reliable customer service.

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Just about everything about our lives has changed in the last year, including how and where we spend our time and money. While many industries have been decimated, one area that’s seen a marked uptick is furniture and home decor. People are stuck at home, and whether folks are trying to outfit their home offices, create workspaces for their kids’ remote learning, furnish outdoor spaces, or just refresh the rooms they’re sick of looking at day in and day out, there’s a definite trend happening.

Demand is there, but the model has changed. People are rarely walking through showrooms or retail stores, instead, they’re shopping online – looking at new couches from the comfort of their current couch. The question is, how well positioned are you for the new model?

Let’s start with customer experience. Online, the experience is often just as important as the products on offer. How easy is it to use the online interface? Can you see what a piece would look like in a different fabric or color? What’s the customer service experience like? What are the return policies? And the big one – shipping. What will it cost and how long will it take? For furniture, this can often be a matter of weeks or months rather than the quick turnaround of the few days that customers have come to expect from other types of online shopping.

Getting the item safely to consumers is the next step. Many furniture brands have been so overwhelmed by volume that their packaging standards have declined. People, process and technology need to be coordinated with demand planning in order to address these gaps. Packaging certification is a start, but how do you address it at scale?

Particularly online, selection and availability are critical. Brands need to stay ahead of trends with a robust assortment planning process.  This ensures that the desired consumer personas you are targeting always find what they’re looking for. And, if your demand planning isn’t accurate at the same time, you won’t be able to promise it in a reasonable timeframe. Both of these factors go into curating the proper consumer assortment.

Finally, none of this happens without great talent. Most furniture manufacturers that have started any kind of digital operation know first-hand that when Amazon comes to your town, their salaries and benefits are a strong draw. This can completely dry up the local talent pool. Even if you outsource to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider, you aren’t immune to its impact. If all your eggs are in a single labor market, your supply chain will always be an existential risk. How can you get your inventory closer to consumers and reduce your talent risk at the same time?

While some of the factors are unique to the furniture industry, many have universal impacts. The key is to get ahead of consumer demand and ensure that your business is prepared to deliver consistently reliable customer service. Continuously inventing new ways to better serve the consumer is the only path forward.