• Larry Thomas

Online consumers expect A+ service

Panel membersPanel members discussing e-commerce retailing were Lenny Kharitonov, left, Unlimited Furniture Group; Mike O’Hanlon, Wayfair; Patrick Cory, Cory Home Delivery, and Tony Haslin, Lovesac.
ATLANTA - Shipping furniture is much more challenging than shipping a book or pair of shoes, but consumers have developed similar delivery expectations when they order any of those products online, a panel of e-commerce retailers said here.
     During a panel discussion at Furniture/Today's annual Logistics Conference, retailers who sell home furnishings via e-commerce said consumers don't realize that a piece of furniture usually can't be picked up at a distribution center by the next FedEx or UPS truck.
     "Amazon.com has driven customer expectations to higher levels, and that puts pressure on us," said Tony Haslin, director of logistics at Lovesac, which sells furniture online and at some 50 traditional retail stores.
     Mike O'Hanlon, vice president of corporate and business development at online retailer Wayfair, agreed, saying his customers expect delivery to be free as well as fast.
     "Our customers don't care if it's furniture. They want it right away," O'Hanlon said, noting that furniture is his company's "biggest challenge and biggest opportunity."
     Joining O'Hanlon and Haslin on the panel were Lenny Kharitonov, president and co-founder of New York based Unlimited Furniture Group, and Pat Cory, CEO of Cory Home Delivery.
     Cory, whose company handles furniture deliveries for several e-commerce retailers, said consumer expectations need to be altered so they won't come to expect FedEx-or UPS-like service for shipments of large, bulky items such as furniture.
     "A lot of education has to take place," Cory said. "(Consumers) don't realize ... that we may have to repair an item before delivering it because the packaging isn't good."
     Kharitonov said his company doesn't offer next-day delivery like Amazon.com, but said delivery time is "about the same as it would be from your local furniture store."
     "In the future, I think stores will be a hybrid (of e-commerce and brick-and-mortar). The most successful retailers are going to be the ones who can do both," he said.
     Haslin said furniture presents special challenges for e-commerce retailers such as Lovesac since consumers can't see the product in person before buying it. That's why many of his furniture customers wind up speaking to a customer service representative on the phone before finalizing the deal.
     "It's a leap of faith when you're buying a room full of furniture without having touched it," he said. "But we have a 60% to 70% conversion rate when someone speaks to a live person."
     O'Hanlon acknowledged that many of Wayfair's furniture customers have shopped in brick-and-mortar stores before making their purchase. "Most people don't buy it sight unseen," he said.

Larry ThomasLarry Thomas | News Editor, Furniture Today

Hi, I'm Larry Thomas, news editor of Furniture/Today. Since joining the staff in 1989, I’ve written about topics ranging from wicker chairs to proxy battles at public companies. In my new post as news editor, I oversee the news coverage for both the print edition and furnituretoday.com. I look forward to discussing key industry issues in this forum, and I welcome your thoughts and opinions.

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