Scott McCubbin, Associate Director of Uniform, shares an insight into his predictions for the furniture sector in the year ahead.
2020 was a year of health crises, political turmoil and human rights movements – and people have adapted. They’re taking the time to consider what it is that they want in their lives, and in their homes, offices and gardens. Furniture brands that keep up in this rapidly changing landscape are far more likely to stay relevant in the eyes of their consumers.
We don’t mean radical transformation, just small tweaks that align your brand with consumers now.
In 2021, we believe adaptation must be a key part of your brand’s DNA. Right now, there’s four things we think you could do.
- Rethink connection
Our understanding of space has changed. Extended amounts of time in one place and shifting levels of comfort in public spaces has led to people re-looking at the spaces they use. Furniture holds new functions in these new spaces.
People are understandably starting with their own homes. Employees are wanting to maintain flexibility in where they work, with one company’s internal survey recording over 95% of employees wanting to incorporate home working in some way after the pandemic. Vitra is responding by launching products that create more flexible office spaces, while Dunelm has also announced a new home working range of furniture.
People have taken up DIY in their masses, house plants are enjoying their moment in the sun, and open plan living is gradually becoming more closed off. The spaces we occupy, with both their safeties and their stresses, have a tangible impact on our mental health. Design studio Le Whit stresses the importance of ‘emotional and physical barriers between work rooms, dining rooms and relaxation spaces’. Lidl, who are rolling out an affordable, wellness-led sleep range, have taken note.
This re-evaluation is not only happening at a domestic level, but at a societal one too. In a drive led by John Lewis, empty department stores have been tipped to be used as social housing, demonstrating the effect of space not only on individual mental health, but on the wellbeing of the population as well.
What you need to ask yourself: How do you balance form and function? How are you connecting people to the spaces they’re in? How might you connect them to a better sense of wellbeing?
- Voice your views
Furniture doesn’t only have a responsibility for people’s wellbeing either. Consumers are demanding a higher level of responsibility in all areas. According to one survey, 69% of experts expect consumers to care about sustainability more post-pandemic. And while responsibility in the past often focussed on the environment and the production line, 2020 highlighted new areas of focus as well, such as hygiene, community aid and anti-racism work.
Consumers are doing their research and holding brands accountable for their impact, or lack of. Having no voice is just as dangerous as having the wrong one. Websites like goodonyou.eco in the fashion space and didtheyhelp.com compile the actions of brands and put them into the public space. Consumers are quick to both stop buying products and call brands out that don’t meet their expectations. 64% of consumers would boycott a brand because of its stance on a political or social issue. Cancel culture is real and swift.
What you need to ask yourself: Does your brand have a voice? It might not be perfect, but is it clear? Does it stand out as you? Communicating your responsibility is key. What good are you doing in the world?
- Signal the right thing
With consumers treating what they buy as an outward reflection of their beliefs, furniture brands need to look at what they’re signalling. The idea of status is changing; values, rather than value, are the new status symbol; just look at the front line workers gracing the cover of Vogue last year. Those who are more affluent are more likely to see themselves as the product of luck, rather than achievement, as people see key workers, not celebrities, as the heroes of the hour.
As many as 78% of Britons said that 2020 had made them re-prioritise their life, and this is translating to what they’re purchasing and how they interact with brands too. As Florine Epp Beauloye, founder of Luxe Digital, says, it’s causing a shift towards ‘less conspicuous, quieter’ forms of self expression. Signalling the wrong thing is an easy way for consumers to decide that you are no longer relevant to their lives and what they care about.
What you need to ask yourself: What are you signalling? Does this fit with what your consumers value? How are you letting them know you fit with their life? What stories are you telling?
- Meet customers where they are
With showrooms and stores all over the country closed due to coronavirus restrictions, and a wider, global shift to online commerce already happening, consumers are far more likely to buy bigger ticket items either online or omni-channel. Connections used to be formed in the store or showroom. A consumer could ask questions, check out the product, and feel its quality. Rich narratives and strong values are only useful if the consumer can access them, and in an unpredictable landscape, if you’re relying on traditional sales channels and expecting things to get back to ‘normal’, you’ll be missing out. Furniture brands need to embrace new technology and meet customers where they are, build their brands and discover new ways for customers to experience their products.
Other sectors have already started to work in this space. Streetwear brand Pangaia launched their insulated collection inside a virtual Arctic wasteland, allowing consumers to explore their products with interactive pieces and embedded videos, all the while keeping their sustainability message (don’t forget the ice caps are melting) ticking away in the background. In the housing sector, property developers Urban Splash have gone beyond virtual viewings – allowing potential buyers to completely configure their own house and book viewings all in one place.
What you need to ask yourself: What experience are you providing? What role can technology play in your customer journey? How will you engage with customers where they are?
The last year has changed people, and it follows that brands must develop an ability to adapt in order to keep up. The brands that adapt to change will thrive. We believe this year you need to consider:
Your function in a space, as consumers’ demands from space change.
The way in which you voice your views, as people scrutinise responsibility.
Signalling the right thing to consumers who are increasingly values-led.
Meeting your customers where they are, as the hole that traditional showrooms have left grows.
If you don’t adapt to change, you risk having the rug pulled out from under you.