Online suppliers target convenience
Heath E. Combs -- Furniture Today, May 20, 2013
HIGH POINT - Manufacturers and importers that supply online retailers are honing in on the needs of the channel.
Sales via online retailers are growing. Last year the category captured 13% of all home furnishings buyers and accounted for 9% of all furniture and bedding retail sales, amounting to about $8 billion, according to Furniture/Today research estimates.
Suppliers targeting the online segment focus on having a large variety of product - a must for SKU-hungry online retailers aiming to draw buyers to their sites with content. But that product variety must be in stock and available to ship quickly - a key attribute for suppliers. Many online retailers feel they need to promote items that ship in 48 hours or less.
And, with the possibility of boxes being handled several times, often by hands with little or no ownership of product, shipping in a way that minimizes damages is also vitally important. Damaged goods can really hurt the seller and producer, especially since product reviews help drive the online business.
Industry veteran Karl Eulberg was at the April High Point Market introducing ready-to assemble home office and entertainment supplier E-Ready, a division of Turnkey Furniture that aims to sell to the online channel.
Eulberg, president of the company, said it focuses on FedEx and UPS ground shipping, not white glove or less-than truck load shipments.
"It's vastly faster, it's trackable and it's way less expensive," he said.
Products combine design features developed for tablet computers and laptops for home office, and built-in surround sound for television stands. Eulberg said E-ready offers a step-up solids and veneer story not commonly found in RTA product.
Step-up features include full suspension drawer glides and box tail joints on drawers. The company will also promote its proprietary product development capabilities.
"We don't take the product to China and shop it with 10 factories. We have a multiyear partnership arrangement with a factory in Asia that does this RTA product," Eulberg said.
The company has East Coast and West Coast warehousing and parcel shipments that meet ISTA-3A - International Safe Transit Assn. - standards.
He said some e-tailers want to stock and warehouse goods on their own. While that may seem counterintuitive, those retailers want to offer same-day shipping so they can put that competitive statement on their websites, he said.
Dave Gingrich, senior vice president, multi channel sales, at Powell Co., said the company is now able to drop ship the Bombay brand products it introduced in October. He said most of the 800 items Powell offers can be drop shipped, a breadth of assortment that appeals to e-commerce players.
Products usually ship within 48 hours and meet ISTA-3A requirements, he said. Gingrich said one focus of offerings for online retailers is items at price points at $100 or below - the equivalent of "door busters" for online stores.
Personal attention is also a big emphasis, he added.
"We really work with each individual online retailer to customize their program. We don't go out to this market with a generic ‘here's what we want to do' with online retailers," Gingrich said.
Jofran President Joff Roy said the company is pointing out its improved photography to online retailers. The casual dining and occasional source has renovated its in-house studio, built new sets and silhouette backgrounds and otherwise improved this important part of online retail presentation.
Roy said value, content and photography are big drivers for online sales.
"It's our sense that we're going to be able to pull all those things together and make it a very very significant part of our business going forward," Roy said. "The consumer is going to eat with their eyes. We need to make the product as appealing looking in photographs as possible to truly make the individual item appear as it will in the home."
Home Meridian International launched its Right 2 Home e-commerce division at the April market with a focus on the online channel.
About 150 items are available for drop shipping from East Coast and West Coast warehousing and meet FedEx package testing requirements. Pieces include accent furniture, upholstered headboards, nursery and adult recliners, ottomans and wood, metal and gas-lift barstools.
The division ships products within 72 hours and averages 48 hours or less, officials said. Right 2 Home has about 1,500 white glove delivery items and includes product from HMI brands SLF, Prime Resources and Pulaski in addition to its drop ship items.
"We've put a lot of effort into packaging, We've put a lot of effort into the relationships with carriers and we see that there's a three-way relationship that must exist to be successful in the logistics side of this, which is the retailer, the delivery carrier and us," said Kevin Walker, president of the Right 2 Home division.
Monty Sihweil, executive vice president of sales for accent furniture source Butler Specialty, said the diversity of the company's line is a big selling point for the e-commerce channel. Much of the conversation with online retailers focuses on product development, he said.
"A lot of these companies know precisely what their customers are looking for because they're using social media more than ever before to know what customers like," Sihweil said.
Ready-to-assemble specialist Walker Edison introduced packaging at market designed to better resist damage from drop shipping with its Live Outside the Box Mighty Pak. The box features a signature red color and uses thick Styrofoam, with extra corner protection and individually wrapped foam rubber padding along with thick, triple wall cardboard construction.