Sentiment of the Week: Comfort with Furniture Retailers
August 13, 2015
Human commitment to home furnishings started with the cavemen, who began a long tradition of placing paintings above fireplaces. Like the cave paintings of Lascaux, buying a piece of furniture used to be a permanent decision, with bespoke pieces passed down through the generations. However, like so many things, furniture has become a much more transitory part of our lives. Still, whether we’re talking about antiques or do-it-yourself futons, furniture buyers are more comfortable when their retailers provide a good customer experience.
The shift to more temporary furniture choices has largely been driven by Ikea, a Swedish furniture retailer that pairs high-design and low prices. Their formula resulted in $32 billion in sales across 361 stores in 2014. Ikea’s massive economy of scale has been disruptive to smaller furniture retailers, especially those whose prices target more cost-conscious consumers.
In response, some companies have pivoted to go after the more affluent. For Restoration Hardware, for example, this strategy has reaped rewards, with sales increasing on average 25% for the past five years. However, as the furniture market becomes more polarized between lower cost and more upmarket companies, organizations will need to pay more attention to the needs of their specific clientele.
In this week’s sentiment of the week, therefore, I will look at low-cost versus higher-end furniture chains to see what they have in common and what they might learn from each other when it comes to the customer experience. I specifically analyzed data from Ikea, World Market, Pottery Barn, Pier 1, Ethan Allen, Arhaus, Restoration Hardware, and Crate & Barrel
- Overall the customer sentiment in both groups is positive.
- High-end stores have a more positive sentiment score overall, featuring a sentiment score .18 points better than the competition.
- High-end stores feature 25% more positive conversation on average, and 36% less negative comments.
In terms of sentiment, the two groups excel in different areas of the customer experience. High-end stores have higher sentiment scores overall. They also score higher for website usability and product design (although affordable stores also have positive sentiment). Affordable stores offer better operational metrics, fewer conversations around order fulfillment, and better problem resolution.
- Product design is the most mentioned topic, with 20% of all high-end comments and 14% of affordable store conversations.
- Both modern and more classical styles won approval from customers. This indicates that Restoration Hardware’s recent announcement of RH Modern, a line with more contemporary styling, will be well received.
- Price and Value are equally mentioned in both lower cost and high-end furniture stores’ comments with the same sentiment. This indicates that consumers compare prices within a category, rather than on an absolute basis.
- Fulfillment is an area of weakness for high-end stores, with 80% more comments around product shipping availability and fees.
- Website Usability is an area of weakness for affordable stores, with more mentions and lower sentiment.
Area of Opportunity: Higher-end stores should improve delivery windows and speed of delivery.
Higher end furniture stores emphasize the in-store experience. Some brands are focusing investments towards building new stores (Restoration Hardware’s new Denver location will be 6 to 8 times larger than the average store). While this translates into high sentiment scores for store quality, customers are unhappy with other parts of the customer experience—particularly order fulfillment. Higher-end customers were 80% more likely to mention an issue with fulfillment, and most of these comments centered on delivery windows and speed of fulfillment.
- Speed of delivery was mentioned 109% more often by higher end customers
- There were elevated mentions of inconvenient delivery windows, and changes to delivery dates, which led to proportional increases in comments around reaching out to the call center.
- Around 25% of all comments around fulfillment also mention reaching out to the call center to rectify the issue.
There is a clear disconnect between the high levels of in-store experience and the fulfillment process.
Already Dismayed that an 8-10 week shipment translated to December 20th on the order statement, 2 months into waiting I look on the shipping timeframe-estimate and see the sofa has been delayed to January 27th… that is 4 months (C&B did not even send an email alerting of this delay).
First they back-order my purchase for almost three months, then they call me the day before delivery to say that the item is damaged and they can not deliver for yet another week.
Horrible customer service, incorrect delivery information.
A month later, we still did not receive the order so we called again and they told us they do not know what happened to it, that it was supposedly in the warehouse waiting to get packaged and shipped.
Restoration Hardware uses a furniture delivery service that had absolutely no problem finding our house, or delivering in a timely manner, and our orders were delivered over a week before expected.
Area of Opportunity: Affordable stores should improve online checkout experience and allow for easy updating of orders
A strong online platform is very convenient, and is especially important for furniture retailers with fewer locations like Ikea. However, higher-end furniture stores seem to have invested more into their e-commerce websites. Crate & Barrel, in particular, recently reorganized their website to be more reflective of their in-store layout. The result was tremendous; the retailer saw its revenue per visitor increase by 128%. Similar efforts should be made by affordable furniture store brands. The largest issues concerning website performance for these stores center on checkout and order status, with 35% of all negative website comments focused on the online ordering system issues. Customers complain about not being able to check order status, cancel orders, or update orders through the website. These issues result in calls to the contact center, and high levels of negative sentiment.
So we ordered something from the website 3 days ago, and then wanted to cancel (actually to cancel and then re-order with additional items to get it all shipped at the same time), and I was unable to.
I was on the website and…unable to order it [website] online and no stores nearby (or within 400 miles) have it in stock
but guess what, once AGAIN, I get an email from the store, telling me, that again my order has been canceled and they can not fulfill my order for these two side tables— even though, I was able to go on the website put them in my cart and make a purchase, and get a confirmation email and receipt.
Why can I NOT check an order status via your website…, OVER 28 minute Ridiculous !!
How is it that in 2014 a well known international furniture store, does not have an area on their website that allows customers to cancel an order that they placed?
Furniture shoppers want a great shopping experience, from the time they start browsing (in person or online) to the time their new pieces are delivered. While overall sentiment may be positive for the furniture retailers we’ve analyzed, both affordable and higher-end furniture retailers have room for improvement to make sure every customer is nice and comfortable.
Want to dive deeper into how this type of analysis can work for your business? See it live with our team of CX experts.
Dheepan Ramanan is a data scientist at Clarabridge. Follow him on Twitter @DheepanRamanan.