With the e-commerce boom of the pandemic now in the rearview mirror, it’s clear that, of all the sectors of retail that enjoyed an increase in sales during Covid, the furniture and homewares industry likely had it the best. With many people around the world locked down at home, and looking for some kind of control over their lives, as well as something fun and different to distract them, redecorating became a big trend. This led to a marked increase in sales across the furniture an
ure and homewares sector, and helped solidify businesses like Temple & Webster, which were prepared to facilitate the sale and delivery of products online. But bricks-and-mortar retailers were also learning and growing through the process. Freedom Furniture kicked off a quest to replatform its own digital footprint near the end of 2019, and spent around a year reconceptualising how its business would function moving forward. At the time, online sales made up less than 10 per cent of Freedom’s total revenue, and it only shipped products from one store in each state, causing long lead times and inventory headaches. Now, it ships products from all 39 sites in Australia, and 10 in New Zealand. Today, Freedom’s online sales have grown to around 20 per cent of its overall business. Digital general manager Paula Mitchell said this is not due to a cannibalisation of in-store sales, but rather an increase in sales overall. “We haven’t migrated our customers from in-store to online, that’s never been our objective,” she told Inside Retail. “Rather, our objective has been to complement our traditional bricks-and-mortar business, as well as take up some new online sales [and] we’ve definitely seen our share of sales grow online.” From turnaround to tempering Working with order management system provider Fluent Commerce, Freedom has been able to reduce order cancellation rates by 85 per cent, and increase the stock availability of its online business by 10 times. Additionally, Freedom has opened its online store to a ‘dropship’ model, wherein 20,000 products that aren’t held in its stores can be sold and delivered by third parties. The success of this model, Mitchell said, has led the team to begin work on bringing a similar dropship model to Freedom’s stores. The result is an omnichannel operation that more closely brings Freedom up to speed with customers’ expectations, Mitchell added, with industry concepts such as ‘endless aisle’ impossible under the prior system. However, with furniture and homewares sales beginning to normalise and as spending redirects towards experiences outside of the home, Freedom is less focused on expanding the business endlessly and instead on gaining market share from its competitors. This also neatly synchronises with the business’ evolution out of a turnaround phase, and into one of refinement, Mitchell said. “How do you make sure that, under the hood, you’re fit and ready to fight?” Mitchell said. “There’s a lot of focus for us around opportunities for cost efficiencies — not necessarily savings, but being more efficient in what we do.” Game day With these systems in place, the team at Freedom is positive about the months ahead. Freedom’s e-commerce operations team leader Joshua Rich told Inside Retail that the upcoming holiday period was ‘game day’. According to Rich, the business has learned a lot in the past few years, and all the hard work and effort put into redefining Freedom will be tested in the coming months. “This is the big time. This is game day, and I’m confident in all the work that our teams have done: we’re going to smash it,” Rich said.