Whether you call them stores, show rooms, or “slow rooms”, our work in the home space has continually found that in this sector, arguably more than any other, the role of a physical presence continues to be key to a brand’s success and growth.

Speaking to consumers, the ability to touch and feel a product is a key part of their purchase journey. More importantly, half of furniture and furnishings buyers use stores as key source of inspiration and to gather more information before buying. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that a similar proportion made their last furniture purchase through a store.

This, combined with the role stores play in growing brand awareness and penetration, explains why we are seeing furniture and homewares brands looking to open more sites across the UK. Loaf and sofa.com both began life as online pure players but are now establishing compelling store estates, recently opening new sites in Shoreditch and Guildford respectively. Oka has also extended its estate with new sites in Knutsford, Edgbaston and a planned site in Guildford too.

Simply opening sites in appropriate locations is not enough, though. Recent visits to made.com’s showrooms and swoon’s pop-up in the Oxo Tower, where you can only browse and not transact, highlighted the significant impact staff, merchandising and in store communication have on the overall shopper experience.

Both brands offer stylish, well priced product, but are not as effective as their competitors when it comes to presenting these products in an appealing environment. With high ticket items available in both stores, the need for inspirational room sets and clear communication of product features is paramount.

On the latter point, both use technology in innovative ways to provide information to browsers and there is almost certainly capacity for more mainstream brands to follow suit. However, what is more apparent is the need for informed and engaging staff to assist customers through their buying purchase. In this sector especially, the number of variables, from delivery options to size / fabric variants, is broad enough that consumers are willing to place a premium on informed advice.

Given the investment required to open and operate stores, we would urge brands to carefully consider their in-store operations to ensure they are being utilised effectively. This does not necessarily mean turning them into transactional hubs, rather recognising the key role they play in the customer journey.

Asher Cohen