Focus on customer convenience puts Vancouver furniture retailer in the perfect spot to meet growing pandemic demand

Article CEO and co-founder Aamir BaigKitt Woodland / The Globe and Mail

Here’s how it happened: During the pandemic, a young professional in a North American city found herself stranded at home, working from her kitchen table, or worse, her couch. Eventually, maybe in the middle of a Zoom call or while ordering groceries online, she looked up from the computer screen and realized she wanted – no, had need – to change space. So she sailed to article.com, where she spent $ 2,000 for a velvet sofa with mid-century modern lines and $ 800 for a sleek walnut desk. Then it happened again and again, with others in other cities across Canada and the United States, to the tune of 220,000 new customers and 70% year-over-year revenue growth. on the other for the Vancouver-based direct-to-consumer company. furniture brand.

It’s no surprise to learn that Article saw its sales increase during COVID-19; for retailers in the home decor sector, the pandemic has provided an excellent climate for growth. According to market research firm NPD, “unit sales in the home industry increased 25% in the first quarter of 2020”. People became aware of their surroundings and wanted to make it more comfortable. “This accelerates aggregate demand,” says Chunhua Wu, associate professor in the marketing and behavioral sciences division at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. “But beyond that, lockdowns also change consumers’ channel choices.” With many retailers shutting down, or at least limiting the number of people who can shop in-store, shoppers’ attention is being directed to online stores, especially those known for their convenience and good customer service, like Article.

But it’s what the company did before the pandemic that set it up for success.

In 2011, Article CEO and co-founder Aamir Baig was pondering what next problem he wanted to solve. He previously co-founded Etilize, an e-commerce database containing photos, titles, product descriptions and specifications for more than 20 million electronic devices. Then he wanted to tackle an important problem that affected many people. Together with his co-founders, Andy Prochazka, Fraser Hall and Samuel Prochazka, he decided to reverse the “painful” process of buying furniture, but not because of any particular interest or background in interior design.

“We opted for upright furniture to try them out, because it is much easier to fill furniture containers,” says Baig. “Initially, the idea was called Fill the Container, because literally the product was coming out of the factory, into containers and into people’s homes. But as we got closer to the furniture, the model changed completely.

As they discovered the area, they saw the tribulations that consumers experience when trying to furnish their spaces. At launch, Article’s mission was to offer customers the “easiest way to create a beautiful, modern space”, with an emphasis on the “easy”. At the time, there were few or no options for buying furniture online, and the co-founders knew they would have to overcome resistance from buyers to make expensive purchases without being able to touch and see the merchandise. Thus, they made convenience one of the core values ​​of the company, alongside style and value.

One key to delivering all three is proprietary e-commerce software that streamlines all possible processes, from sourcing and purchasing raw materials to managing Item warehouses to checkouts, and enables these different functions to ” talk ”with each other to find efficiencies and improve the customer experience. . For example, Item’s inventory and routing systems are integrated, so the site can display real-time delivery ETAs based on customers’ zip or postal codes. And since the software code for this app is owned by Article, they can remove unnecessary parts or customize according to their own needs, without asking a third-party developer. Over the past few years, Article has focused on controlling more of its supply chain, particularly on the shipping side, by building distribution centers across North America and by hiring an internal delivery team. The result? Customers can order beautifully designed modern furniture with just a few clicks and have it delivered the same way.

These innovations helped the company grow even before COVID, but during the pandemic they became a differentiator. As buyers attempted to spruce up their homes with new furniture, supply chain issues resulted in delays of several months, not to mention lost revenue for Article’s competitors. Abroad, factories have faced increased demand, shortages of raw materials and an unpredictable workforce as workers could become ill or have to go into quarantine after coming into contact with someone. ‘another who did. On top of that, the high demand meant that shipping containers were scarce and expensive. Overcrowded ports also made it difficult to import products. It’s no wonder that La-Z-Boy recently announced that it lost $ 30 million in sales in the first quarter of 2021 due to manufacturing and shipping delays. The article was not immune to these factors, says Baig, but previous efforts to “re-architect the supply chain” meant that he was still able to deliver most of his orders within. two weeks.

Wu says Article’s ability to be nimble sets it apart from its competitors in the direct-to-consumer space. “Before the pandemic, a lot of these retailers went to a lean model, it was more of a ‘just-in-time model’. They didn’t want to keep a lot of inventory. But with the pandemic, businesses needed more buffer. The article made sure they have this stamp.

And while North American consumers are starting to spend more time away from home, Article’s growth has yet to slow. This spring, sales for the company’s 2021 outdoor collection were 450% higher than the same period in 2020, and May 2021 was its biggest month ever.

But Baig still focuses on solving problems. His next goal is to figure out how to provide customers with the ability to completely furnish a space to their liking in a matter of days, instead of spending months looking for pieces of different qualities from different retailers with staggered delivery times. “We have always had great aspirations and a strong belief in the differentiated and better value proposition that we bring to the market,” he says. “The pandemic made it very clear [that we’re an option] to a market that didn’t even consider things online. It keeps us going. It makes the problem harder for us to solve, but it’s a good problem.

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