By all accounts, the pandemic year was a great one for home furnishings brands and retailers. Cooped up at home, Americans invested in improving their living spaces.
Home improvement retailers that served the DIY-inclined rose 14% year-over-year. These retailers were aided by being classified as essential retailers during the shutdown, but nonetheless, it was the “Year of the Home” for Americans last year.
According to HomeAdvisor, Americans spent nearly 10% more on home improvement projects last year compared to 2019, rising from $7,560 on average to $8,305 in 2020.
Once the walls are painted and the hammers and saws put away, people begin decorating, which is when the hunt is on for new furniture and furnishings to match the updated rooms. And as expected, Americans spent 7% more on these items last year, to the tune of $238.8 billion.
So one would assume it was also a boom time for furniture and home furnishings retailers. But that would be a mistake.
Retail sales in these stores actually declined more than 5%, down from $117.8 billion in 2019 to $111.5 billion in 2020. Admittedly, these stores suffered months of shutdowns, which might explain it, but a look at trends over the past five years suggests otherwise.
Since 2015, furniture and home furnishings stores have experienced a steady decline in their share of consumers’ furniture and home furnishings spending.
Five years ago, home furnishings retailers captured some 60% of spending in the category. It declined to 53% by 2019 and then tanked to 47% in 2020. Their loss has been the gain for e-commerce retailers, general merchandisers and home improvement stores which are leaning into the category.
Maybe, just maybe, home retailers will recover some of the business in 2021, but don’t count on it. Shoppers are creatures of habit and a year of shopping somewhere else besides the typical furniture and home furnishings stores for these items have fixed a new habit.
“In less than five years, 35% to 50% of small and medium-sized home retailers will be out of business,” says Bill Napier, a keen observer and advisor on home retail for 20 years and a contributing columnist for Furniture World.
The retailers that will fail suffer from what Napier calls the “Arrogance of Ignorance,” ignoring what is painfully obvious to the market leaders while they continue on the path to oblivion as the commoditization of home furnishings retail grows.
Home retailers face “a perfect storm of changing consumer buying habits with technology taking over every aspect of our lives,” Napier says.
“The ‘arrogance of ignorance’ will eventually destroy a great industry that has been focused on brick-and-mortar retail and an over-reliance on discounts and promotions – 50% off everything and ‘no payments until you are dead,’” he quips and adds, “It has to become a virtual experience and most retailers websites stink.”
The big will only get bigger
Napier predicts the demise of mom-and-pop retailers and the rise of the major players and big regionals, which will also take a fair share of manufacturers out that supply the market. The largest retailers can go to Asia and buy direct.
And they have built retail brands that mean something to consumers. They don’t rely upon the manufacturers to do the marketing for them, which in Napier’s view “provide virtually no support for retailers: no romance copy, little content and support materials.”
Furniture Today confirms the industry’s tilt toward the big home retailers. Nearly 50% of furniture and home furnishing retail sales ($48 billion) were made by its top 100 retailers in 2019.
And more than half of that ($26.6 billion) was credited to its top 10, in order by their furniture and home furnishings sales:
- Ashley HomeStore
- Mattress Firms
- Rooms to Go
- Berkshire Hathaway Furniture Division
- Sleep Number