The home category is replete with complexity. Change is in the air, and it starts with many traditional elements like directing shoppers to in-stock products. Retailers are focused on reinventing brands through collaborations and sustainability.
Tools have become the cornerstone of the home category, as visualization is both a confidence builder and a joyful way to make one’s purchases. Outlets and reconditioned products appear to play a role as they do in many categories. Services are an integral support network to the shopper as they can play a role from the design to the assembly of the product.
I perused many retailers from the Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000 database to review the evolution of the category and showcase some of the most interesting.
The supply chain remains a factor
One simple solution that retailers like Lumens are adopting is calling out sections of their site where the products are in stock and ready to ship. This way, buyers are clear on availability, averting disappointment. Additionally, the ability to sort by in-stock products within search functionality also provides a welcome service for shoppers.
Digital Commerce 360 in conjunction with Bizrate Insights surveyed 1,113 online shoppers in April 2022. The findings relative to features and functionality that are important to online shoppers in the home category set the tone for this article. One can see that many of the features may fall under 20%. Rather than be a negative, my sense is some of these are newer features that have proven to be valuable for a niche group of shoppers.
Year over year, I expect these should rise in importance among home goods/home improvement buyers. Examples include augmented reality for visualization purposes (17%), product customization tools (16%), styling profilers (10%) and virtual appointments with retailers (6%).
Services solve potential shopper headaches
One of the biggest obstacles for shoppers is the question of who is going to ready the space for assembly or installation of products. The Home Depot has more than 400 home improvement services available, which speaks to the breadth of consumer needs in this category. Both installation and popular repairs are available. Pro Referral connects consumers to local independent professionals based on their ZIP codes. FAQs come in handy for each of the capabilities.
Room&Board smartly positions its design services and lets visitors know these services are not limited by geography. The retailer can work with customers virtually or at a store. Some of the services include furniture selection, floor planning, guided shopping and home décor ideas.
Our research reveals almost half of those surveyed say they would be likely to take advantage of such add-on services. I know during COVID, I needed a table assembled, and I purchased this addition through Wayfair. While a third party performed the service, I would not have been in a position to make the purchase had this convenient option not been available.
Reconditioned/outlet products are part of the assortment
Over the past few weeks, I had a computer die on me. Even with a warranty, the turnaround time to send back to the manufacturer was four weeks. As I was discussing my options with the salesperson and tech representative, one said I could get a $500 credit toward a new Black Friday computer. He said they would then send the computer back and sell it. I was fine with that option as I didn’t want to wait. Black Friday meant I was already getting a good deal, and this way my out-of-pocket costs would be lower. Based on this discussion, I realized these resale options were prominent in this category and could also be important in the home category as well.
CPO Commerce is just one example of an online retailer that has made a market for reconditioned products. It promotes that it’s No. 1 in this category and specifies that all the products have been returned to the manufacturer and restored to like-new operating conditions. Some of the benefits include a 120-day money-back guarantee, along with 30%-50% off savings. It certainly seems worth a try, particularly in our current economy.
Home goods merchants highlight values
The consumer has weighed in, and some want retailers to act on good values. That can range from sustainability to diversity. While only 6% indicate a retailer’s values will factor into their holiday purchasing, we expect this will grow over time. Wayfair shares what it’s doing to make an impact in this regard. It also highlights that it’s making it easy to shop sustainably, allowing visitors to view which selections meet that criteria.
One of the newer tactics we are seeing on sites is using ambassadors. Weber Grills was just one example of a brand manufacturer trying its hand at this tactic. It’s an exciting way to expand the personality of the brand amid people who interact with the products. These ambassadors range from French chefs to backyard heroes. Weber Grills suggests its team is there to show consumers how to prep, smoke and grill like a pro. When clicking on Charlie McKenna, who owns Lillie’s Q in Chicago, shoppers will see his background, links to his favorite products, and recipe videos.
The evolution of merchandising
Over the years, retailers have expanded their assortments and their reach through collaborations. Crate&Barrel was an early pioneer in this space with its Marimekko relationship. Now, it’s showing off collaborations with three designers online. In-store visits also suggest these are integrated into the store experience as well.
Smart tools serve shoppers and sellers well
The home category is a natural for smart tools that support decision-making. Examples are plentiful, but I’ll showcase a few. Sleep Number helps consumers determine which smart bed is right for them. There are a series of steps that include who the mattress is for, its size and price range. The retailer inquires about satisfaction with current sleeping, desired firmness, sleeping temperatures, toss-and-turn frequency and any sleeping struggles one might have. After a shopper completes their profile, the retailer returns great, better and best options for review.
Visualization tools vault shopping experiences
The visualization tools are the most exciting to me. In the past, shoppers had to imagine what products and rooms might look like. Now, in real-time, they can configure entire rooms and make changes as both the pricing and look and feel adjust on the fly. Once again, the numbers are relatively limited among surveyed shoppers. But, we expect that testing these tools and services can be a first step, with greater adoption likely in the future.
Lovesac has a seven-step configurator. Shoppers choose their configuration, fabrics and colors. From there shoppers can add seat covers, add-on accessories such as storage seats, fill and stealth tech systems. For those using an iPhone or iPad, Lovesac also has an augmented reality tool option. Along the way, there are plenty of bells and whistles to view the products and a range of flooring options help to visualize selections. For those who live near a store, this can be an advantage as well.
Finding the right lamp is no small feat, and the size of the assortment at Lamps Plus can be daunting. At every product page, there is an option to view lighting in a room. Shoppers can use their own rooms or a sample room they have provided. The tool is easy to use and products can be positioned as shoppers like.
Floor&Décor allows shoppers to upload their own room or build off their models. All aspects can be designed down to the grout in the shower, including customizing the pattern, grout type and rotation. The cart is built as shoppers go so they have a sense of the costs. These tools are excellent examples of taking the customer experience to the next level, allowing shoppers to be their own decorators.
Memberships look different in the home space
We’ve been conditioned to embrace memberships in many categories. iRobot was an interesting find where, for just $29 month, memberships include a vacuum, accessories automatically sent to the door when needed, a dedicated support team, damages covered for accident and a new robot every three years. Depending on one’s need, this could be a valuable service.
Retailers are investing for a strategic advantage. Differentiation comes in the form of branding and partnerships that make assortments unique. The tools these retailers use have evolved to help shoppers imagine the possibilities and put design in shoppers’ hands. Ultimately, the services and the convenience they afford will be important in any final decision. It will be fun to watch this category evolve.
Stay on top of the latest developments in the ecommerce industry. Sign up for a complimentary subscription to Digital Commerce 360 Retail News.