“The pandemic has led to consumers spending a lot more time in their own home,” Jason Pallant, Swinburne University Assistant Professor of Marketing, told Inside Retail.
“As a result, it’s natural that a lot more consumer focus has gone to making sure [their] home is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible… Household goods has been a category that continually performed above pre-Covid trends as a result of this shift.”
Earlier this year Swedish furniture business Ikea launched the ‘Big Home Reboot’ report, which noted that 40 per cent of participants had made changes to their home during the pandemic.
Australian furniture retailer Freedom just unveiled its rebrand this week to reset its focus on design-led products, taking advantage of those younger customers who are now looking to furnish their homes, now that their focus is on interiors.
“There’s definitely been a huge shift to [spending on] home [and] there are two views [on where that’s coming from],” Freedom CEO Blaine Callard told Inside Retail.
“One is that it’s driven by stimulus. That’s not my view. My view is that it’s a permanent or deep structural change in how we spend our discretionary income.”
According to Callard, since consumers aren’t travelling, buying clothes, or going out for dinner or drinks, they’re inadvertently saving funds and are looking for places to spend.
According to Matt Newell, CEO of retail strategy agency The General Store, the ‘Great Covid Cocooning’ will continue into 2021, as offices shift and consumers embrace the convenience of working from home in the long-term.
“Council applications for interior and exterior renovations have increased and these are often the catalyst for new furniture and homewares expenditure, much of which won’t flow into retail until early- to mid-2021,” Newell said.
“Combined with an increased tendency to work from home, this indicates that there will be plenty of tail winds in the home category well into 2021.
Bricks-and-mortar is not dead
As with much of the retail industry, the largest growth in the furniture category has been online. Ikea announced this month that despite its overall revenue falling for the first time in a decade in its Southeast Asia division, its online operations soared – with over half a million online orders placed during the year.
“This crisis brought out the best in us,” said Christian Rojkajaer, MD of Ikea Southeast Asia and Mexico.
Despite the e-commerce boom, the furniture giant is continuing to invest in its stores. In fact, construction has now started on its store in Pasay City, Manila, which will be the largest Ikea store in the world in 2021, with a supersized warehouse that will operate as an e-commerce fulfilment centre.
Meanwhile, Ikea Singapore is in the midst of hiring 200 staff for its new small-format store within a shopping centre and its Oceania store is slated to open in the first quarter of 2021.
“We like to think about the stores and the online as part of the same interaction with the customers in the market. Sometimes you want to see, touch and try a product in real life before your purchase – and sometimes you just want the convenience of online shopping and delivery,” an Ikea spokesperson for Southeast Asia told Inside Retail.
Since the pandemic hit, it’s clear that in all categories, the strongest retailers are those that offer an excellent omnichannel experience, catering to different customer journeys. It’s something that Freedom will be focusing on in the next 12 months, said Callard.
“One of the dangers of this kind of conversation is it becomes one-dimensional and people think online is killing physical. The dynamics of digital in the furniture space are different from other parts of retail. This year undoubtedly we’re seeing penetration rates driven up by lockdown, but we know in furniture that consumer journeys are complex, they’re non-linear,”Callard pointed out. “Online and physical stores are intertwined that can’t be separated in furniture.”
“I’m bullish about the future of bricks-and-mortar, we don’t view them as a liability or something to be right-sized, we see them as an experience point for customers. They’re billboards for our offering. Ninety per cent of interior purchases still happen in-store and over 95 per cent of furniture interiors involve a visit to a store.”