A new report warning furniture retailers that they will have to raise their game to win business from fickle and demanding online shoppers comes as no surprise to Colin McCarthy, one of the leading figures in the furniture delivery sector.
As CEO of Panther Warehousing, a disrupter in the marketplace, he is well aware of the need to respond to changing customer demand – indeed the rapid growth of Panther over the past eight years is testament to that.
He was ahead of the curve in recognising in 2010 how a new generation of internet-savvy shoppers, accustomed to ordering online and receiving parcels the next day, would not want to wait weeks for beds, sofas or white goods to arrive.
Traditionally, the two-man, white-glove, furniture delivery sector was slow and unresponsive to customers, operating on a ‘we’ll-deliver-it-when-we-are-ready’ approach. Seeing the sector was ripe for innovation, Panther changed the dynamic and moved in to offer next-day delivery – a first for the industry.
The report “6 Trends for furniture e-commerce success in 2019” by Cylindo, a 3D product visualisation platform for e-tailers, highlighted the ever-increasing “sky-high expectations” of online shoppers who will switch to another retailer in the blink of an eye.
They expect a seamless shopping experience, from browsing a website on a smartphone while on the go, to the ease of purchasing to the delivery. More than half – 57% – have stopped buying from a company because a competitor provided a better experience.
By 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator, it predicted, repeating an earlier warning by customer experience consulting firm Walker.
“Gone are the days when companies were only selling products and services,” says the Cylindo report. “Today you have to sell delightful experiences.”
Colin McCarthy agrees, saying: “The old days when companies could deliver furniture at their convenience are long gone. The internet and mobile connectivity have changed everything. Consumers are enormously well-informed, busy and discerning.
“They can research your competitors’ offerings even while in your store, they can order any time or the day or night, the world is their oyster. If a retailer isn’t offering what they want, they simply go elsewhere.
“Delivery is an important part of the package – today’s consumers don’t want to waste time waiting for a delivery, don’t want to be dictated to about deliveries and they don’t want to wait weeks for a bed or sofa to arrive if they can help it.
“If an online retailer cannot provide what they want, they simply go elsewhere. And it’s easy for them to find alternatives – easier than ever before, thanks to smartphones and tablets. Retailers are now waking up to this new reality.”
Since making the switch to the premium white glove two man delivery sector, Panther’s turnover has grown from £5 million to £65 million last year, propelling it for two years running into both the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 and the London Stock Exchange list of Top 1,000 Companies to Inspire Britain. Panther was also named by the FT as one of Europe’s Top 1,000 Fastest Growing Companies.
Along the way it has attracted household names such as Wayfair, Habitat, Dunelm and Bosch. The Northampton-based company has expanded its network to have nine depots and has continually invested in training and IT to ensure the smooth running of its operations, introducing new services where customers demand.
“Here at Panther we aim to make delivery as seamless and easy as possible so our customers’ customers have happy memories of seeing their new piece of furniture arrive at their home for the first time,” said Mr McCarthy.
“Consumers are increasingly demanding. That’s why we have introduced 7-day-a-week deliveries, premium pre-10am ‘early bird’ and post-6pm evening deliveries and can deliver the next day orders placed as late as 10pm at night.”