Has the Online Furnishings Industry Been Able to Make a Home in India?
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The Indian home décor industry has been evolving at a fast rate. From being a market that was earlier accessible to the elite to today, finding growing customers from all across the country, the home décor industry has found a place to stay in the country.
Thanks to the growing online users, urban India is looking at shopping for the home interior products online making way for home décor to become a popular segment in the e-commerce industry.
Entrepreneur India spoke to founders of startups catering to home furnishing e-commerce startups about how the industry is growing and the barriers that restrict them today.
A Growing Industry
The Indian e-commerce industry is growing rapidly and the home décor segment is not one to stay away from the progress. Gone are the days when people wanted to buy products for their homes after a thorough check at the store, today the online-savvy crowd is open to save time and is opting for convenience by just shopping online. Raghunadan Saraf, Founder & CEO, Saraf Furniture said that this is a gigantic industry when we look at the market size. “After introducing options like partial payment and COD due to customer's apprehensive approach towards buying furniture online, we saw that the trust started building in. People tested us by buying smaller products first and then went ahead buying big products", he said.
Ashish Shah, COO and co-founder, Pepperfry agrees even though he says that the furniture and home products market in India is highly unorganized and fragmented. However, he adds that it is pegged to cross $32 bn by 2019, a testimony to the immense potential it holds. “Furthermore, with the significant increase of internet penetration across metros and non-metros Indian consumers are warming up to online shopping. In fact, we have observed that in metropolitan cities, our customers are online savvy and progressive, they prefer to do their research of the product online before making the purchase decision,” said Shah.
The Shift in Buying Behaviour
Over the years, the industry has evolved because of the paradigm shift in buying behaviour of the consumers. From being a segment that was mainly offline, witnessing consumers coming to the shop and buying products, the home décor and furnishings industry has become one where consumers are just buying online. Saraf believes that the homeware, the décor & furnishing market in India has witnessed phenomenal growth, particularly in the last 10 years. Despite this, the sector is in nascent stages in India as compared with developed countries. “The sector growth has been driven by socio-economic changes, a large base of young population with high disposables incomes and the will to spend on improved lifestyles. Home and home furnishing stores accounted for 87% sales of indoor furniture in India in 2016. With the increase in the number of online retailers, demand for a product online is also increasing as internet retailers offer a wide variety of products and at a lower price,” he said.
The surge has come from the huge behavioural shift being witnessed in the purchase pattern towards online shopping, believes Yash Kela, Founder, Arrivae. He spoke about how there was a time when people wanted to touch and feel the products and buying decision was made only after checking with multiple stores. “But thanks to the wide variety, ease of shopping and the return/exchange policies of brands, consumer’s trust has grown tremendously. This is a big boost to brands operating majorly in the digital space,” he said.
More and more people are turning to e-commerce thanks to the convenience it offers. Factoring in the presence of e-commerce in the Indian subcontinent, Sameer A.M, CEO& Founder, Bonito Designs, believes that e-commerce here has just begun stabilizing. “When e-commerce, in general, is simply begun ripening; it’s no wonder there would be a rub off on home & decor as a sub-segment. New home buyers who look for furnishing their homes are simply the tip of the iceberg of the bigger decor market that lies underneath. Enough and more online furniture retail companies have put up a respectable growth in their perspective market capture and eye on bigger chunks in future,” he said.
Companies too are giving them more and more options to get the right feel of the product thanks to advanced technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.
While a swift progress has been seen in the home décor and furnishings industry online, the development is mainly from Tier I cities and catering to the young. Abhay Jaipuria, Partner at Vaya Home believes that the market here too is segmented. He said that while the furniture and home accessories business has seen a successful shift to the online space, the home furnishing industry - carpets, curtains, and upholstery - has not been able to transition online. “A large part of this is because the customer needs to touch and feel the product before purchase. Unlike a table or chair, every curtain is custom stitched for a house and therefore cannot be returned back to the company if the customer does not like it,” said Jaipuria.
Meanwhile, Shah from Pepperfry, a category leader, puts forth his point about the challenges. He said that the biggest challenge they faced was poor infrastructure and supply chain. For a specialized vertical like furniture, large item distribution poses as a huge challenge. “There is no prototype in the online industry for a vertical like furniture that can be imitated. We overcame that by pioneering our own “Large Item Distribution model” which hasn’t been attempted by any other company in the past. Today, we have 21 delivery centres and a fleet of over 350 vehicles serves customers in more than 500 cities,” he said.
Shah believes that the challenge is now to help the early and late majority of consumers to cross the chasm – making them change their behaviour from offline furniture to considering buying and actually buying furniture online.