W&WP March 2000

 

 

Gimmee Furniture ... It's Just a Click Away

By Rich Christianson

 

The e-commerce bandwagon is not without its share of entrepreneurs aspiring to make their fortunes selling furniture on the Internet. Within the two hours I spent researching this month's column, my searches uncovered five independent Web sites catering to furniture retailing.

I'm sure there are many others. The aim of my exploration, though, was not to determine the overall number of on-line furniture retailers, but to sample enough of them to ascertain their potential usefulness to both consumers and manufacturers.

All in all, I must admit coming away feeling a bit underwhelmed by my Internet window-shopping experience. As a consumer, I felt that I did not receive enough information about the furniture products I looked at. For example, the notion of spending $1,500 for a home entertainment unit based on a color photo and 25 words of descriptive text -- type of finish, dimensions, etc. -- struck me as too big of a risk. I was also dumbstruck by the limited selection of brand name furniture that was listed.

Looking at these sites from the perspective of a furniture manufacturer, I was disappointed by the use of the tired strategy of emphasizing price over value. In many cases the furniture products are treated as commodities; the buyer is often not even told who the manufacturer is.

In fairness to the Web sites listed below, I realize that E-Commerce is still in its infancy and that this especially rings true for the furniture industry. Far better brains than mine have been pounded into the wall to figure out ways to profit from the Internet. Some of those headaches will no doubt be rewarded as more consumers gain confidence in buying online.

Online Furniture Sellers
The following E-Commerce sites (listed in alphabetical order) were culled from among hundreds of sites revealed in a key word search "Home Furniture." The search also uncovered dozens of home pages for individual furniture companies and retailers, located both here and abroad, plus home decorating magazines and oodles of seemingly unrelated Web sites such as "logsiding.com" and the Prescott, AZ, Yellow Pages.

AllShops.com, "The Web Shopping Directory," bills itself as "the best source of information on shops that sell directly online." This includes lists of a couple dozen non-brand name furniture manufacturers categorized by products such as "Bedroom Furniture," "China Cabinets," etc. I was gravely disappointed that my attempt to connect with "Phil's Phurniture Factory," under the "Home Office" heading, was met by an error message.

Furniture.com has a great name but surprisingly little content. For example, visitors clicking onto "Home Office Furniture" are only provided with five choices, only one of which houses a PC. The names of manufacturers are not specified.

The exit strategy worked for the developer of FurnitureFind.Com. The site was recently sold for $150 million by GoodHome.com, an E-commerce site launched only last September. FurnitureFind.com does list some well-known companies such as Howard Miller, Kimball, and Riverside Furniture. It will be interesting to see how far a lot of venture capital takes it.

Furnitureontheinternet.com is "the online gallery of original, fine quality furniture and accessories made by craftsmen available on the web." It offers links to several dozen custom woodworking sites divided into various furniture categories and by geographical location. The fact that this is a fledging site is apparent by how few states are included in the geographical search.

Furnitureshoppers.com, the Home Furniture Shopping Network is "an online store with one of the Internet's largest selections of contemporary casual and occasional furniture, lighting and accessories! ... It is our mission to provide you with the finest and largest selection of ready-to-assemble furniture in the United States at the Lowest Prices Anywhere!" But they don't tell us who the manufacturers are.

Share Your Experiences
I would be most interested in receiving reader opinions about marketing and selling furniture and other wood products on the Web. Who has the best site for selling products? Bend my ear at (847) 634-4347, ext. 652 or e-mail me at rchristianson@vancepublishing.com.

 

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.