In 2011, India witnessed a new entrant in the online space - Furniture. Traditionally a hard online sell, the segment surprised everyone by its rapid, fast-paced growth.
Today the country’s $10 billion furniture market is serviced by both large and small online players who are invested in educating customers and changing consumer behaviour. Instead of having to scout through multiple shops or run after local carpenters, now Indian home owners have the option of decorating their living rooms or bedrooms, or even buying a customised kitchen or wardrobe on their laptops or smart-phones. With the ever-increasing range of products, exclusive styles, protected payment options, and customer-friendly return policies and warranties, this is one online space that seems to stick around.
But it’s not just been about timing or increasing investor interest that the online furniture segment has blossomed now. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ‘Make in India’ initiative came at the right time to make an impact in the minds of Indians and help push domestically manufactured products and brands. Until recently, the price competitive Chinese manufacturers or design focused European brands fulfilled the needs of the Indian market, giving little space for Indian made furniture brands.
The Indian consumer, who is naturally suspicious, was hesitant to trust such brands often questioning quality and finish. The Make in India campaign has helped to shift that thought process. It brought a sense of pride to Indian brands who now have the invitation to educate the customer of their benefits and value propositions which aren't difficult to spot. Local brands are more aware and capable of handling issues that arise with Indian conditions, such as heat, termites, storage solutions etc. They can easily accommodate and understand the needs of an Indian household which foreign brands may not be aware of. Then, delivery times and response times also improve as does customer service and speed in resolving any issues. The challenge now lies not in competing with international brands, but in being able to deliver products of value with unmatchable quality. A brand that manages this will see immense loyalty from the local consumer.
However, there are still hurdles restricting some consumers from buying furniture online. According to a survey, about 36 per cent of people want to get a touch and feel experience before buying a piece of furniture, especially, in case of high order value purchases such as kitchens and wardrobes. A few players are trying to overcome this by modeling themselves after international companies. They are using virtual reality and 3D technology to show the consumers how their customized kitchens and wardrobes will look before placing their order. In other cases, experience centres allow customers to interact with the product then leading them to the online platform to buy. Rather than being a traditional online seller, this segment is closing the gap between online and offline, educating and building trust in customers offline to then covert them online. This 360 degree experience of a brand helps overcome the hesitation in Indian consumers’ minds and gets them more comfortable with making large ticket purchases online.
This article has been authored by Jatin Paul, Co-founder, Modspace.in