Here to help furniture retailers thrive

David Marshall recently took up the role as Chief Technical Officer at ufurnish.com back in November 2020. We caught up with him three months on to find out how he is settling into the position and also his views on some key topics.

These include why retailers need a digital presence, how ufurnish.com’s team was recruited and a prediction to what the future looks like for online and furniture.

But before we get into all that, David shared a brief snapshot on his background ahead of joining ufurnish.com, the online furniture comparison marketplace.

David (pictured) has long been a technology leader in online B2C having previously held positions as Chief Technical Officer at restaurant booking platform, Bookatable and online travel industry stalwart, lastminute.com where he was Chief Technical Architect.

He jumped at the chance of joining ufurnish.com following a successful exit at Bookatable, which was recently sold to The Fork, a subsidiary of Tripadvisor. 

So now you know David’s pedigree, what plans does he have in store for his new venture?

“Our innovation roadmap will continue to focus on improving consumers’ search and comparison process. We are working to ensure that our website is able to both functionally serve our customers, but also delight them,” David said.

“As we look to develop the service, we’ll continue to enhance the search functionality but also build inspirational features such as the option to create design boards that enable consumers to collate a ‘look’ from products that are actually available to buy.”

This is certainly an evolution of other tools on the market which allow users to collate inspirational products with “no guarantee they could actually be purchased”.

“We are also making significant improvements to the way data is processed to help scale the number of retailers and ensure our data quality is as high as possible,” David revealed.

In keeping with data – a crucial cog in any business but none more so than online – David shared an insight into the lack of standardised data in the industry at present and what the company has implemented to tackle this anomaly.

“The biggest challenge from a technology perspective is the lack of standardised data in the furniture and furnishings industry, which has made it difficult to organise and use meaningfully. The reality is that manufactures and retailers describe things in different ways – for example, if an item’s colour is described as ‘grape’ that could be either green or purple.

“At ufurnish.com, we standardise this data and turn it into something understandable – and easily searchable – for consumers. We built a data integration server to manage data in the background. This enables ufurnish.com to ingest data from retailers and standardise it before pushing it onto our own website. This system enables the business to process a huge amount of data and then see how consumers interact with it.”

Sounds an impressive tool and one that their customers will no doubt benefit immensely from. And with customers comes shopping habits, which has taken a giant leap towards digital. So why is having an online presence important?

David said: “The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards online shopping generally, but this is particularly prevalent in the furniture and furnishings industry. The lockdown restrictions we’ve experienced over the past year have not only convinced the laggards of the benefits of online shopping, but they also gave consumers more confidence to purchase bigger ticket items, such as furniture, online too.

“This trend has been reflected across the industry. At the end of last year Ikea announced it was ditching its physical catalogue, that’s because consumers are increasingly heading online for their full purchase journey – from seeking their inspiration, finding their items and ultimately buying the products.

“As 2020 saw many established furniture and homewares retailers, including Debenhams, Harvey’s and Houseology go into administration, retailers have realised they need to digitalise at pace if they’re to keep up with quickly shifting buying behaviours. At ufurnish.com, we built an innovative technology company from scratch, so we’re well placed to thrive in this evolving market.”

The company didn’t just think about the tech side of things, but also the people who will grow the brand. This was a challenge, especially when launching during a pandemic. So how did the team get to where it has today?

“We had no choice but to set up as a distributed workforce, but it has proved a massive advantage for us as a business,” David said.

“It’s meant we’ve been able to adjust quickly to the challenges presented by Covid, we’ve ensured diversity and inclusion has been ingrained in all our processes from the offset and we’ve been able to secure the right talent we were looking for – including a development team based in Lisbon, Portugal – as we were no longer limited to recruiting those who were prepared to travel to a London office.”

ufurnish.com currently has 16 employees – seven of whom haven’t even met the founder in person yet as they were recruited over video calls.

At the moment, there are no plans to get everyone back into the office when the lockdown lifts either, but instead they’ve set up structured programmes for each individual team to support them working remotely.

“We have fully leveraged communication and collaboration tools, and the full team has become huge advocats of Slack and Miro. This has enabled four country locations and six nationalities to stay connected, helping us build a highly engaged team,” David added.

With an eye on the future, we asked where do you see digital going in 2021 for the furniture industry?

David’s response: “The online furniture market is estimated to be worth £11.9bn (2019) and is one of the fastest growing online retail markets, with a penetration of approximately 30% – we only see this trend continuing.

“We also suspect we’ll see an increased demand from consumers looking to support smaller retailers, as a result of the pandemic. We are ideally placed to capitalise on shifts in consumer behaviour as we can give those independent retailers a platform to showcase their offering to a wider audience.”

In addition to the consumer benefits, ufurnish.com has been set up to support retailers and is working with its partners, which continues to grow rapidly, to help them address the individual challenges they might be facing.

One key area of support is with regards to audience targeting. They give retailers unprecedented insight into consumer behaviour and preferences, which is a game changer for furniture and furnishing retailers, as David concludes: “Our retail partners benefit from the site’s data-led approach to marketing, which targets users with content based on their previous searches.

“This ensures that items are marketed to an engaged audience, and communications encourage them to move from consideration to action.

“Our data insights also allow us to provide retailers with a regular snapshot of a broader audience’s behaviours – not just their current customers – which can help shape their marketing and product strategies.”

www.ufurnish.com