The pandemic fueled interest in home projects for online shoppers and accelerated category-wide purchasing, according to a new consumer survey from Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights. Home goods topped the list of needs for 63% of online shoppers, while others purchased a broad range of other categories as well.

The pandemic meant a lot of time was spent at home.  Many of us were looking to organize our lives, preparing our households in a way that worked for what might lie ahead. For me, that included creating a design studio for my daughter, who now would be going to college virtually. In a matter of days, desks and work-from-home needs were elevated in importance as we were all on a mission to get set up. From the outset, product availability was challenging, and the unease of future lives was foremost in our minds. The comfort of home would serve as an important base from which to run our lives, for what turned out to be much longer than most of us predicted. Digital Commerce 360, in conjunction with Bizrate Insights, surveyed 1,096 online shoppers about how their home goods buying patterns played out during the pandemic and beyond.

As many of us spent most of our time at home, we realized that there was much to be done to both upgrade and maintain our homes. Home-related activities centered on do-it-yourself projects (DIY) for 47% of those surveyed. Lots of time was also spent on looking for ideas to enhance one’s home (44%). General home upgrades were also on the docket for 37% of online buyers. 

The pandemic fueled interest in home projects, accelerating category-wide purchasing. Home goods topped the list of needs for 63% of online shoppers, while others purchased a broad range of other categories as well. Outdoor spaces garnered the attention of 34% of shoppers as they provided a much-needed escape for us all. New furniture secured a portion of their budget (30%), 22% cited work-from-home office needs, followed by appliance replacement at 21%.

The pandemic pushed shoppers to increasingly purchase home goods online. The numbers speak volumes as 41% of online shoppers purchased at least half of their home goods online while 59% purchased less than 50%. One can only speculate that the volume of sales and the abundance of first-time online home goods buyers might further grow this category online. Certainly, these shoppers would better appreciate the convenience of online buying, which should result in longer-term adoption of the channel.

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Online shoppers were frequently in the market for home goods in 2021 as indicated by the following behavior:

  • 100% of online shoppers shopped for home goods online
  • 21% of online shoppers shopped for home goods at least weekly and 3% even shop daily
  • 58% of online shoppers shopped for home goods at least monthly

Based on these frequency numbers, home goods buyers have come to know and appreciate the digital landscape, setting a high bar for retailers in this category. This means that online retailers will be pushed to deliver comprehensive shopping experiences that are fresh, inspiring and highly functional.

We wanted to understand what inspired these online shoppers to make purchases over the past year. The “feel-good” factor amidst a COVID-19 backdrop should not be underestimated. We found that online shoppers were pushed to fix up their homes from both a decorative and functional perspective, all with the intention of making their lives better. Home plans were varied and included the following mindset and/or behaviors:

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  • Freshening up one’s home: 50%
  • Replacement: 50%
  • Updating: 45%
  • Personal pick-me-up: 26%
  • COVID-19 comfort: 24%
  • Seasonal shifts: 19%
  • Work-from-home continuation: 16%
  • Social events: 11%

Marketing, particularly promotions, could be impactful in driving online purchases, and 28% of respondents were inspired by such promotions while relevant marketing and social media were a factor for just 5% of participants.

A robust set of functionalities is critical for online home goods buying

Pricing, reviews, and information that facilitate product comparison topped the list of important home goods shopping features. Reviews continue to be a consumer favorite and should be both integrated and well-populated as they rank high in the minds of what’s important to 74% of online shoppers in the home goods category.

Shoppers appreciated detailed product information, merchandising and tools to guide purchases, including having access to pricing (72%). Unfortunately, this was not always forthcoming in this category, with supply chain shifts throughout the year. Retailers must give online home goods shoppers strong visual depictions of products and that starts with zoom features (48%), shopper photos (26%) and fabric swatches (7%), according to our research.

Showcasing products, such as through recommendations, smartly guides shoppers and was cited by 33% of survey respondents. From an importance perspective, other elements noted included new products (23%), top sellers (18%), product customization (10%) and trending products (9%).

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Delivery information deserves prominence given supply chain concerns as the importance of accurate delivery windows at 48% speaks to shoppers’ needs to know about the status of their orders. This was especially important given the urgency they felt during these times to keep their homes in order.

Getting the right price is most important to shoppers—and that means the ability to compare products for 61%. Educational content is also critical to delivering an exemplary shopping experience. Beyond that, how-to guides at 22% and videos at 14% should be noted. I was surprised to see that a sophisticated onsite search was only important to 12%. Several of the more specialized tools saw interest, but their importance paled relative to some of the fundamentals:

  • Augmented reality: 8%
  • Room design: 7%
  • Styling profilers: 4%
  • Virtual appointments: 2%

Shoppers are multi-dimensional searching out a range of retailers. Of course, Amazon led the list of sites shopped for home goods, followed by Walmart and Target. Other mass merchants including Costco, Sam’s Club and an array of Dollar Stores also were a factor for 42% of those surveyed. Specialty retailers, department stores and online retailers such as Wayfair saw shopping from one in three home goods buyers. As the numbers suggested, direct-to-consumer brands had a more limited role in this category.

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The smartphone is integral to home goods buying

Online shoppers embrace smartphones and take advantage of videos, social and TV to gather ideas for home goods purchases. 55% of online shoppers used their smartphones for mobile research and purchasing. Under these circumstances, it’s advantageous for retailers to optimize their mobile UX to ensure shoppers can swiftly find what they need.

Content drives purchasing, necessitating that home retailers invest to both educate and inspire shoppers. Usage patterns were as follows:

  • Watched video: 40%
  • Perused Pinterest or other social media: 29%
  • Watched TV: 21%
  • Read blogs: 11%

While tools and services see lower penetration, their role is still important, putting innovative capabilities in place to meet the needs of the shopper. Tools saw penetration as follows:

  • Customized furniture: 8%
  • Augmented reality: 6%
  • 3D room planners: 4%

Services became more important as stores were shut down and with that said, I would have expected higher penetration among home goods buyers. The numbers for booking, however, were as indicated:

  • Appointment for in-home services: 6%
  • Home Advisor/Task Rabbit services: 4%
  • Virtual or in-store appointment: 1%

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Omnichannel is key to buying home goods online

The store is an integral part of home goods shopping, making it essential that product locators, accurate inventory, buy online pick up in store and curbside options be in place. Omnichannel begins with inventory transparency, which was elevated in importance as stock became a major issue. Other favored options extended to BOPIS and curbside, both of which curried favor during the pandemic. Customer adoption of these capabilities will likely only increase given the positive response and interest levels seen among pandemic shoppers:

  • Check for product availability at local stores: 56%
  • BOPIS: 40%
  • Curbside: 30%
  • Visited store prior to placing online order: 20%

Stock and logistics are increasingly a concern for online shoppers given supply chain challenges. Almost half of online shoppers surveyed (46%) encountered out-of-stocks when shopping online. Frustrations also likely ensued with 19% who said they’d had their orders cancelled. The inability to reach customer service in a timely fashion was a factor for 15% of those surveyed.

Delivery-related issues have also become a growing concern. Faster delivery and strong customer service support are expectations of online buyers. Unfortunately, late deliveries have become more of the norm for 27% of survey respondents. Positively, more and more shoppers have embraced same-day delivery as shared by 18% of those surveyed. Additionally, 11% took advantage of haul-away services for mattresses and other home goods while white glove services came in at 3%. Numbers were low for shoppers who continue to seek out incremental capabilities and services, with augmented reality at 6% and design service usage at 3%.

  • Late deliveries: 27%
  • Same-day delivery: 18%
  • Used haul-away services: 11%
  • White glove service: 3%

Tools

  • Augmented Reality: 6%
  • Used design services: 3%

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Online home goods buying will see some upside for the remainder of 2021, so differentiation and execution are both paramount with budgets likely tapped out. Almost half of shoppers anticipate spending less on home goods in 2021.

  • Less: 48%
  • More: 13%
  • Same: 39%

Now, retailers must be focused on the execution phase delivering on the promise of online home goods shopping and the heightened expectations of shoppers. This means paying close attention to the category as post-pandemic shoppers may be more discerning.

From projects to purchasing, the opportunity is strong but so are the shopper demands. Functionally, services and tools that help create a robust online shopping experience must be in place. At the same time, retailers will need to make the shopping inspirational to capture the customer’s attention with a user experience that accommodates both desktop and mobile devices.

Bottom line: Despite the fact that the home is where the heart is, it will take the complete online package to attract and keep the revenue trajectory headed in the right direction.

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