Inevitably our attention turned towards improving and upgrading our domestic environment, especially as we weren’t spending on nights out and foreign holidays. That shift in balance is unlikely to reverse itself, which is why homeware is set to be one of the strongest ecommerce opportunities for the foreseeable future.
According to Zoopla, the UK has been undergoing a property boom, with the value of transactions 76% higher than the five-year average while the growth of the private rental sector has also played a significant role. We have rediscovered not just the importance but also the potential of our homes. No longer just retreats they are now places of work, education, entertainment and even fitness.
This means the homeware market is not only more buoyant but also considerably broader than it was before the pandemic, and according to the business information service IBISWorld, revenue is expected to increase by nearly 12% in 2021-2022, reaching almost £3 billion. At the same time, consumers have come to expect ecommerce businesses to continue and extend the convenience and sophisticated functionality of online shopping.
Traditional stores understand that digital transformation is essential, with the in-store experience becoming much more closely aligned with the digital offer. They need to resist the strong temptation to return to business as normal.
Meanwhile, businesses in the sector which operate on a genuine e-commerce model are already in the right place to gain a head start, which agile and inventive planning can help them to increase.
The three fundamental challenges that ecommerce businesses must address are to define and establish a distinctive customer proposition, create an efficient supply chain to meet customer expectations and embrace transformational digital technology and working practices which are compatible with the future of retailing.
Instead of simply replicating in-person shopping, an ecommerce website needs to reinvent the experience by developing an interactive environment where business strategy can be genuinely informed by feedback and driven by customer preferences. It is not necessary to offer a one-stop solution if that comes at the cost of the marketing benefits that data analytics make possible. Choice is good but it can never be king. Brand identity is a more powerful lure for custom.
An online homeware business cannot succeed without instant, uninterrupted access to products and cost-effective, swift methods of dispatch. Accurately forecasting demand is challenging but with the help of the huge volumes of data generated internally and available from external sources it can be mastered. In order to respond to those forecasts, forming reliable partnerships with manufacturers and suppliers is essential.
Close communication is vital to make sure the supply chain remains integrated and synchronised, without the risk of sudden shortages. Furthermore, the physical handling and delivery of products to the customer needs to be extremely well planned. An in-house operation has the benefit of being under the control of the retailer but its cost and complexity can make it sensible to consider outsourcing as well as creating a network of physical stations which can support a complementary click and collect scheme.
Finally, if nothing else is certain, we can say that change is here to stay. Any ecommerce business in the homeware sector needs a digital infrastructure that can meet both today’s and tomorrow’s challenges, with scalability built in and a company culture developed that understands and embraces the consistent imperative to be flexible, inventive and adaptive. Ecommerce is a reinvention, but one that exists as a process rather than an event. It was growing up fast before the pandemic but now it has been given a major boost towards maturity.