Online retail growth during the pandemic (2020-2022) averaged 21.9%, and home goods growth trailed at 15.5% during this same time frame. That contrasted with hardware and home improvement at 25.1%, sporting goods at 23.4% and apparel and accessories at 16.5%.
Each year, Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights looks at the behavior of home goods buyers. We begin with their online buying penetration, assess the user experience they seek and address the role of the store in a category where touch and feel may matter more than others.
I’ve been spending significant time on home sites as I help my daughter think about furnishing her first apartment. Thinking back to a decade ago and the impact of the pandemic on the online home goods experiences, online retailers have elevated their online and omnichannel experiences, driving category growth.
6 in 10 online shoppers purchased 26%+ of their home goods online in the past year
Online shoppers remain active with home goods research and cross-category buying as they upgrade homes, seeking savings along the way.
And online shoppers often have home needs that require researching to make the right selection. Part of those home needs included:
- Upgrades to their homes (47%)
- DIY projects (38%)
- Moving to a new home (13%)
- Kicking off contractor projects (12%)
Gathering information about these activities often meant researching ways to enhance their home online (29%) and perusing social media for ideas (25%). This should suggest to retailers that comprehensive information fosters purchasing for home goods shoppers.
A broad assortment allows for purchasing in many categories and we surveyed online shoppers across 4 particular areas: outdoor (35%), new furniture (33%), appliance/high ticket (26%) and home office (22%).
Remaining competitive with promotions encourages purchasing, and 42% of shoppers showed interest in saving money by taking advantage of promos on interested products.
Price, savings, past experiences and being in stock are the conditions most likely to lead to online purchasing
When online shoppers are asked what drives them to place an order, money talks. That starts with the right price at 68%, along with the always-in-favor free shipping at 61%. Free return shipping continues to see traction with 38%, suggesting it leads to placing an order. 26% cited promotions beyond free shipping, while the ability to finance (at 14%) saw more limited interest.
Past experiences with retailers engender trust for future buying. In fact, 57% suggested that was a reason to buy again. Other factors included trust in the brand (39%), being a member of a loyalty program (29%) and the retailer’s support of causes that resonated with the shopper (among 10%).
Online shoppers have become accustomed to a strong user experience that is efficient and replete with imagery, information and tools. Half of those surveyed cited the overall experience as an important conversion attribute.
Other UX elements focused on speed and included an efficient site search, which 31% cited, fast checkout (21%) and a fast-loading site (18%).
Content that most factored into conversion was the quantity/quality of product reviews at 43%. Others that had more limited impact on conversion were:
- Ample product information/imagery (16%)
- A personalized site based on past behavior (15%)
- Videos (12%)
- Interactive tools (6%)
Fundamentals such as product selection (at 53%) remain atop the list for online shoppers. There is no substitute for being in stock and having timely delivery, as 45% of survey respondents suggested. Logistics also continue to play a role with guaranteed delivery times (27%), BOPIS (16%) and curbside pickup (10%) a more limited factor.
Customer service had some impact as those surveyed cited easy access to customer service information (19%) and the ability to contact customer service via multiple means (18%).
Home goods shoppers require many details when shopping online and like to compare products along the way
Basic information is most important to guide decision-making, from ratings to price and getting a range of views of the product. Customer ratings/reviews topped the list of features at 52%, while access to pricing (51%) was also critical for the majority of online shoppers. Seeing the details was a must in this category and thus having the ability to zoom in on images at 35%, images in the home setting (23%) and photos from other shoppers (21%) also resonated with shoppers. Videos at 12% and livestreaming (5%) were the least important elements.
Product comparison is important in this feature-rich category. Being able to look at products side by side is invaluable for shoppers, as 35% noted. Category-specific content that enriches the experience seems to have more of a niche following. How-to guides were important to 17%, while room design tools (11%), product configure (10%) and product customization (9%) followed behind. Trailing in the end were augmented reality (8%), fabric swatching (7%) and styling profilers (7%). While tools are abundant, only a small group of shoppers see them as important.
Logistics are critical in this category, as it often lends itself to scheduled delivery with more complexity than a typical standard shipment. 30% said accurate delivery windows are important to them. That may be elevated due to supply chain concerns during the pandemic.
Merchandising is about inspiration, and retailers used it extensively to capture online shoppers’ attention. Topping the list were new products and product recommendations, both at 20%. They are often personalized using both similar and related products, making the shopping experience more efficient as well. Top sellers (at 15%) and trending products (9%) also had roles to play.
Add-on services are valuable for shoppers and can be an important revenue generator for retailers
The majority of online home goods shoppers are likely to take advantage of add-on services, with 23% on the fence and only 26% unlikely. The convenience and confidence that comes with being able to leverage such services is invaluable. Additionally, the likely margin among retailers and the growth of partners to help fulfill these needs appears to have grown in past years.
When buying home goods, shoppers increasingly use mobile devices while also watching video and gathering information. 51% indicate they have used smartphones for research and purchasing so certainly a mobile-first mentality is advised for today’s home goods sellers.
Creating videos in support of the buying experience is desirable to shoppers who take advantage of available content. 37% of survey participants watched video about a product in consideration and 26% watched home and garden TV.
Social media has a role to play in gathering information and inspiration, as 24% peruse social media to get ideas and 17% read blogs for design ideas.
Services are integral, but adoption is not universal
Tool usage including A/R came in at 13% and 3D room planners at 12%. While I have found them valuable personally, they’re not always easy to find on the sites and not all buyers have such sophisticated needs.
The same goes for appointments and services, which are often product dependent. From our survey respondents, just 10% booked in-home services while 9% booked Home Advisor/Task Rabbit services and 8% purchased product assembly.
From a design and appointment point-of-view, 8% used in-store design services, and/or a virtual appointment with an associate/designer, so they are still relatively limited among home goods buyers.
Online home goods shoppers have a heightened awareness of where products are available and enjoy the conveniences of an omnichannel experience
Omnichannel-wise, there was a need to know about availability as 44% checked product availability in-store. But unfortunately, from an inventory perspective, 31% encountered out-of-stocks online.
These shoppers have come to enjoy BOPIS (28%) and curbside pickup at 21%. And many like me visit the store in advance of placing an order (26%) for a variety of reasons.
Expectations around logistics continue to grow as 20% ordered for same-day delivery. Complications arose with late deliveries seen among 16% while 14% had orders canceled. And sadly, 13% said they couldn’t reach customer service in a timely manner.
Services-wise, 12% contracted for haul away as it certainly makes things simple, while just 8% used a retailer’s white glove service.
From a design perspective, just 11% took advantage of design services while 10% used AR or 3D tools. Though small in number, I imagine this customer would be of great interest from a dollar contribution standpoint.
Home goods buyers like to visit the physical store to see products in person when they need items quickly and to save money
There is no substitute for the visit as stores allow shoppers to see and experience products first-hand.
The biggest reason shoppers visited the store, 60% said, was to see products in person. 31% also wanted to road test the products. There is also a trust factor in play, too. 24% of online shoppers trust the product more when they buy in person. And of course, there is the experience for 22% as they enjoy seeing how products are displayed, while 18% find they get a full sense of the brand experience.
There is the people factor for 16% as they like to get advice from in-store experts. Some 12% find the website experience inadequate and 8% are not satisfied with online customer service.
A unified experience
Stores allow shoppers to avoid shipping and channel-only promotions are seen as appealing. In fact, 40% didn’t want to pay for shipping. 36% took advantage of in-store sales or promotions and 11% feared dealing with counterfeit goods.
Omnichannel options are convenient for shoppers facilitating pickup and returns. That especially comes into play for the 41% who need items quickly. Additionally, there is a desire among some 24% of those surveyed to support local retailers. Another 21% like the convenience of picking up at the store. Similarly, 16% appreciate being able to return to the stores as well.
Looking ahead, the home category has clear growth opportunities that would benefit online shoppers. The majority of online shoppers said they will at least spend the same (37%) or more (25%) in the first half of 2023.
The home goods category is one that requires investment. Retailers often add new products to the mix. The combination of inspiring merchandising, robust product and category content, and tools is just the start. This, coupled with the logistics and services to compete with the best retailers, will move the growth needle higher once again.
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