Online Furniture Sales Log Gains, but Shoppers Remain Wary

Younger consumers and those who live in cities are more open to using digital means

Author: Krista Garcia

August 13, 2018

Furniture, like food and beverage, has been one of the more ecommerce-resistant categories. Most consumers prefer to see large investment pieces in person, and many of the traditional home goods multichannel retailers add shipping and handling fees that can make purchases too expensive. 

According to our estimates, US digital sales of furniture and home furnishings will total $50.08 billion in 2018, making up 9.5% of total retail ecommerce sales. The category will climb 18.5% this year and annual growth will remain in the midteens through 2022, when digital furniture sales will hit $90.37 billion. 

An August 2018 survey by CivicScience reinforces this wary but shifting sentiment about home goods online. Most US consumers prefer to shop in-store for furniture, though there is a core group of satisfied online furniture buyers who make up roughly one-fifth of respondents. There is also interest among 14% who have not bought furniture using digital means. However, the majority of respondents have not tried it and don't want to. 

Gen X (21%) and those who live in cities (24%) had the highest levels of online furniture buying. Jokes about millennials still living with their parents aside, it is likely that internet users ages 38 to 53 have more wherewithal to buy furniture and home goods despite the amount of marketing attention on younger generations. It also makes sense that city-dwellers who might not have cars or want to avoid crowded urban stores would find it more convenient to get furniture delivered. 

What's changing to give digital furniture shoppers more confidence? Mostly better visualization tools, online reviews and omnichannel pickup options to mitigate delivery surcharges. Home goods retailers like Ikea and Wayfair have been ahead of the curve in their use of augmented reality (AR) to show how items would look in a shopper's space. 

The online furniture buyers in the CivicScience study had the highest preference for mobile apps. Fully 35% said they are "important." It stands to reason that consumers who view mobile as vital would see digital commerce as helpful more than a hindrance. 

There is a good deal of overlap among the home improvement, home and garden and furniture product categories. The top five categorized as home and garden shopping by SimilarWeb, ranked by US share of traffic in July 2018, included a mix of all three. The Home Depot (19.4%) and Lowe's (12.1%) took the top two spots, while the list was rounded out by online retailer Wayfair (7.4%), multichannel Bed Bath & Beyond (3.5%) and predominately brick-and-mortar Ikea (3.1%).

It might not be a coincidence that all of these retailers provide online shopping aids like AR, video, blogs and how-to guides. And even Ikea, a late adopter of ecommerce, has reduced the amount of print catalogs sent out this year by 50%, according to Ad Age, and is redirecting the budget to in-store digital experiences and pop-up events.