Can Amazon Dominate Online Furniture Sales?

The next big move for Amazon will be toward much bigger items: couches, chairs and tables. The online giant is building “four massive warehouses” designed for rapid fulfillment of furniture orders, according to the Wall Street Journal. Overall, furniture is among the fastest-growing categories online: approximately 15% of the $70 billion U.S. market has moved online, according to IBISWorld.

Amazon faces tough challenges in this market — many of which are shared by its key competitors, Wayfair and Williams-Sonoma. Logistics costs for delivering furniture are high, and customers typically expect “white glove” service and extras such as installation and removal of old pieces. Returns are a thorny issue as well: if the customer hates the way the couch she bought online actually looks in her living room, she can’t just stuff it into a closet as she would with an ill-fitting dress.

Can Amazon Furnish Your Living Room? Experts Weigh In

The RetailWire Brain Trust recently debated whether Amazon will be able to disrupt the furniture market (as it has so many other areas of retail), and what competitors can do to up their own game to compete in an already difficult vertical.


Charles Dimov, Director of Marketing, OrderDynamics
You CAN’T discount Amazon! If they are stepping up their game in the home furnishings business, then all furniture retailers have to plan their strategies well. When Amazon sets its mind to an area they drive a hard competitive game.

Furniture retailers need to drive their omnichannel strategies more aggressively. Where Amazon is still weak is in their physical in-store capabilities. They don’t have the footprint and presence that many other furniture retailers have, so furniture retailers have to make sure they get their in-store pickup to click. Then they must make sure to emphasize the “come in to see it, touch it, feel it — before you pick it up” element.

Key message: Get your Buy Online or Reserve Online working well. Then ADVERTISE it on your web site. It can’t be an option that customers discover in the last phase of putting in their online order. Key strategy: Compete where Amazon cannot — in the omnichannel domain.

Lyle Bunn, Strategy Architect – Digital Place-Based Media
Visit the Nebraska Furniture Mart in Dallas before having too much confidence in answering this question. Discovering, selecting and sitting in the product, visual accessorizing, inventory visibility, quick picking from the warehouse and even financing on-site all provide an extraordinary experience in furniture shopping — with zero returns.

Ron Gerace, SVP, Product and Marketing, Exchange Solutions
The wild card is Amazon adding the home as a channel. Unlike omnichannel retailers and even Wayfair, Amazon’s technology such as Echo Show is a critical differentiator. The ability to scan a room for size, render furniture options and show what it looks like “in place” represents as close to a perfect furniture buying experience as possible. Better than uploading pictures, better than providing room dimensions and style preferences…better than even VR. With the expected install base of Echo Show, Amazon will truly have a diabolical advantage. In my humble opinion.

Doug Garnett, Founder & CEO, Atomic Direct
There are big challenges in the furniture market for Amazon or any other online retailer because the cost of returns, meeting shipping expectations and the pick and pack are quite high. Given that Amazon needs to find a way to show profit in retail-like sales, furniture seems an unlikely candidate. I’m told by furniture sellers that there is a particular returns problem. That the minute furniture leaves your warehouse, the value has dropped 10% to 20% because it doesn’t get returned in sellable form. That adds incredible cost to any return. Of course, this is Amazon. Either they sort out a way to solve that or it is another mis-direction designed to keep retailers on their heels. Still, register me as “doubtful.”

Chris Petersen, PhD., President, Integrated Marketing Solutions
Where online furniture sellers can disrupt traditional retail, Amazon has the capacity to disintermediate. Amazon Prime Air and leased ships can bring goods directly from Asian factories to consumers, disintermediating even distributors in the supply chain.

Brandon Rael, VP Retail Strategy & Operations
We should never underestimate the power of Amazon. Furniture is yet another frontier that Amazon may conquer with their relentless innovation and reach. However, unlike home goods, electronics or perhaps basic clothing, furniture shopping is a multi-sensory experience where the customer wants to touch, feel and see how the furniture will fit into their lives.

The mobile and desktop experience could be a good starting point. Especially when you integrate virtual reality and augmented reality capabilities, which enable the consumer to strategically place the furniture in their homes and determine the right dimensions, all conveniently from their smartphone.

This may also be another targeted category for Amazon to open furniture showrooms in strategic markets such as NYC, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc. as that would resonate well with consumers.

Ryan Mathews, Founder, CEO, Black Monk Consulting
Let’s unbundle the question a bit. Will Amazon disrupt a segment of the furniture business? Yes. Will the size of that segment grow over time? Of course, the online share of every category will grow over time. Could Amazon become a major force in furniture? I suppose so, if they choose to. So what’s to stop them? Well, it’s easier to ship a book than it is to truck around a fully assembled bookcase. You can leave a package with a CD by the door, but what do you do about a couch? How happy will third-party carriers be with hauling around large freight? And what about those nice bells and whistles like assembly, placement and takeaway of old furniture such as bedding or appliances?

So the answer is yes, they could take a bigger piece of the furniture market if they wanted. But the better question is, do they really want it?

Gene Detroyer, Professor, European School of Economics
The difference between Amazon and everyone else is that Amazon doesn’t start with the product. They start with the customer. They connect and understand the customer and how they behave and build the engagement around that. When you get down to it, Amazon really doesn’t sell products. They fit products into their connection and infrastructure. If they deem furniture fits, they will win, just like they do on everything else. Others who focus on the product (furniture) first will always come in second to Amazon.

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