Furniture makers are accelerating e-commerce options during the pandemic

Pbefore 2020, dutch furniture manufacturer Haworth Inc. only had one or two team members to oversee the entire e-commerce segment of the company.

“It’s almost crazy that there were so few people before the pandemic, but that’s where the demand was for what we were doing at the time and for our approach,” said Paul Nemschoff, vice -President of Haworth’s Global Strategy and Marketing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Haworth and many of its industry competitors to rethink and revamp their approaches to e-commerce. The number of Haworth employees fully dedicated to the e-commerce segment of the business has since grown by double digits as the company strives to meet the work-from-home needs of businesses and individual professionals.

“We always said that in 2020 we were going to build a new e-commerce operation, which was absolutely the truth,” Nemschoff said. “The schedule has sped up a bit (due to the pandemic) and obviously it’s been much more focused on work from home products like chairs, desks, monitor arms. … It was as much an opportunity as a challenge.

The race for e-commerce

In 2020, many of Haworth’s initiatives focused on the company’s digital presence. This included everything from an online showroom that allowed the company to display products in the absence of in-person trade shows like NeoCon, to a redesigned website and online store.

These hardened e-commerce solutions have been used much more by Haworth’s business-to-consumer (B2C) side, which ships work products directly to employees’ homes. As Haworth builds its e-commerce powerhouse, Nemschoff said the company sees additional opportunities in the residential space, serving home customers, not just the home office.

“E-commerce is here to stay at Haworth, and it’s not even just about maintaining what we have – we aspire to grow it and grow it substantially,” Nemschoff said.

“We will continue to grow beyond the office,” he added. “We believe we have the opportunity to influence the way people live, eat, work, go out and everything else. The good thing is that we believe we have great products that can do all of that.

Grand Rapids-based contract furniture manufacturer Steelcase Inc. has deeper roots in e-commerce, which makes the pandemic transition a bit more seamless, although it’s still far from easy. Steelcase has been using e-commerce since 2000, initially for its contract customers. This included an online product catalog connected to each company’s respective procurement system, enabling streamlined day-to-day purchasing.

It wasn’t until 2006 that the company launched its direct-to-consumer online store.

“Certainly – at least because our strategy is a bit more focused on leading companies – I would say that our consumer business was not a strategic part of our business until the pandemic,” said Rob Poel, director general of Steelcase’s consumer business. “It was a nice profitable side business and it allowed easy purchase of products for those with simpler needs.

“When the pandemic hit, as it probably did with our peers, when we went from 5% working from home to 95% working from home, our consumption volume skyrocketed.”

Like Haworth, Steelcase has made significant investments in talent and technology to create a more personalized experience for B2B and B2C customers.

This included tailored work-from-home programs for contract customers who were able to leverage their contracts for lower prices while allowing their employees to easily order Steelcase products for their home workspaces.

Steelcase also launched a chat feature in its online store and made other improvements to the customer experience.

Unlike Haworth, however, Steelcase isn’t necessarily looking to supply other areas of the home, but the company has found opportunities in adjacent market segments.

“The home office is the other side of the hybrid coin,” Poel said. “We’re probably still focusing on the home office and the performance products for the home office. However, there are markets really adjacent to this. Gaming is one of them, or a wider creator market – tinkerers, day traders. …So far, we’re not going too far into the house.

Fill gaps

Herman Miller Inc., which merged with competitor Knoll Inc. during the pandemic to form MillerKnoll Inc., is another large furniture company that already had an e-commerce infrastructure. The Zeeland-based furniture maker acquired furniture retailer Design Within Reach in 2014 for $154 million, establishing a strong position in the retail segment of the market.

These in-house e-commerce capabilities have helped MillerKnoll meet customer needs during the pandemic, knowing the best ways to package and ship directly to customers who might live anywhere from New York to rural America. central.

“As a company that has been doing home deliveries in this space to a retail consumer for many years, these are challenges we’ve solved before,” said Frank DeMaria, vice president of engineering and MillerKnoll digital platforms.

MillerKnoll offers three types of shipping for purchases. In addition to standard shipping, the company offers threshold shipping in addition to its premium delivery service, which includes assembly.

Prior to the merger, Herman Miller also noticed a gap between the B2B and B2C segments, which trapped small and medium-sized businesses whose needs differed from those of a large enterprise customer and traditional consumers.

In an effort to serve this segment well during the pandemic, the company launched Herman Miller Professional, a more user-friendly e-commerce solution for small businesses.

“We had traditional B2C models and B2B models for many years, but ultimately there were gaps between the two,” DeMaria said. “We’ve been trying to fill in some of that white space throughout the pandemic.”

About Oscar L. Smith

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