Furniture makers and sellers must constantly contend with changes in style, and Bassett Furniture underwent a major change in strategy in serving consumers’ taste for cross-channel shopping online and in stores.

Bassett Furniture knows about change. Styles change, new generations of shoppers want new looks and furnishings shrink and expand along with the size of people’s homes. About 18 years ago, Bassett realized the furniture industry was changing and its wholesale furniture model needed a “style” update, Kara Strong, vice president, strategy planning, Bassett Furniture, said Wednesday at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.

With its founding in 1902, Bassett is one of the oldest furniture manufacturers in the South, and the retailer realized it needed a new way to plant itself in the minds of consumers. “After all those years, we wanted our brand back,” Strong said. So, the company began opening stores.

Bassett’s business model, like many furniture wholesalers, traditionally went like this: Customers visit retail stores to view styles and fabric samples, store designers visit customers’ homes and customers order furniture built-to-order that arrives six weeks later. Since opening stores, the company has adapted to the marketplace with smaller stores and added an e-commerce site in 2003. Its latest challenge: how to develop an omnichannel strategy in which stores and website complement each other, Strong said.

Key challenges to undertaking the new strategy were how online sales on its website,, would affect addressing store-based sales representatives whose incomes are commission-based, and convincing company managers and staff to buy into the concept, Strong said.


One complication of integrating digital and stores was the sales model. “Sales are commission-based and customers are often working with a designer,” Strong said. “Our average ticket is in the thousands of dollars, and a full project can be tens of thousands.”

The advent of online furniture buying and influx of low-priced imports combined to drive down store foot traffic. Bassett suffered as well from declining store traffic, but by playing up its connection with HGTV and its online design studio, “we are sending a more qualified customer to our stores,” Strong said. “We have online (appointment) booking, and store designers are closing sales more frequently and at higher dollar rate.” That makes store salespeople happy and resolved some of their fears about losing commissions.

While purchases made online without the aid of a store designer don’t produce commissions, orders are typically sent to local stores. That provides access to new customers, Strong said.

Strong and other managers were able to convince top management that developing an omnichannel plan was necessary by describing how today’s consumers shop. “Leadership knew it was time to invest, the hardest part was agreeing on that investment,” she said. The new customer also wants to receive furniture sooner and Bassett now can deliver furniture, 70% of which is made in the U.S., 30 days after the order. Strong did not disclose the amount but noted that once committed, Bassett created a team of internal advocates.


Bassett joins many other companies wrestling with combining online and store sales, said Jim Okamura, vice president at retail consultancy McMillanDoolittle LLP and co-presenter at the IRCE session titled Unlock the Secret to Incentives that are Fair and Fruitful for all Channels. “Companies are realizing how difficult it is to effect change in an organization. It takes time to change behavior internally.”

In addition to developing policies to address who gets credit for sales that originate in stores and are completed online, and the reverse, companies need to implement an “internal public relations plan to move all departments up the omnichannel ladder,” Okamura said. “To really internalize it you need to practice it.”