While our favourite stores remain closed, the Office for National Statistics reports that online sales have reached a record high of 22.3% of our national retail spending. Homeware is at the helm of this boom, with sales at 10% above pre-COVID levels. But as an industry that’s so dependent on tactility, how is homeware selling better than ever?
Although we hear a lot about ‘the new normal’, it’s undeniable that the role of the home has drastically changed this year. They’ve become our schools, sanctuaries and workspaces – 46% of Brits worked from home this Apri). As a result, we’ve become interior designers overnight, bringing our home – and everything in it – into sharp focus.
“A lot of people have a new craving for their home to be a reflection of them, as well as a place they can spend their time,” says Stacy Longenecker, founder of NYC store LEIF. “We’re selling more tableware because people want their mealtimes to feel special. We’re seeing this trend everywhere – what was once only brought out for special occasions is now being transitioned into the everyday.” It’s clear that comfort is a key reason for the homeware boom: The Financial Times reported a rise in demand for plants, drinkware and office furniture. Home fragrance is another comfort-driven trend – online retailer Amara reported a huge 127% increase in orders for scented candles.
We’re not just changing what we buy, we’re changing where we buy it too. Shopping small has been a long term trend, but as many furloughed professionals start their own side-hustles, the #SupportSmallBusiness movement is becoming much more mainstream. “Buying homeware from independent brands is a really nice way to give something back under lockdown,” says Georgia Spray of Partnership Editions. “Art particularly resonates in this way, because you know that when you buy a piece of art, you’re supporting a creative.”
But when the stores are shut, how can you meet this demand? The answer lies in recreating the magic of real-life, online. The most successful brands have adapted quickly: take A New Tribe, who edited their latest collection into a ‘virtual showroom’ after their exhibition was cancelled. Or MADE.com’s highly-curated showrooms that can be seen from the street. “We see real traction in the areas we have a showroom because every day you pass by, you think of the brand all day long,” says Head of Brand Alice Hagger. “You just have to find the right way to connect.”
Recreating the magic of IRL in a URL space could be as simple as your product photography. “Often, the standard ecommerce shot has a white background,” Stacy says. “But lifestyle photography is so much more effective. It really translates the in-store experience, so your customer can imagine it in their home.”
While many homeware brands have had to rely on wholesalers or big retailers to get their name out, 2020 has seen a new generation of DTC brands that are taking their ideas straight to the consumer. Take LICK: a one-stop-shop for paint and wallpaper that values convenience and quick service above everything – a recipe for success both during and after lockdown.
Another successful strategy for many of these brands is how they’ve used social media to build a community around their brand. Hashtags such as creative events expert, Fiona Leahy’s #Tablescaping is elevating the everyday relationships we have with homeware. From this, their fans are brought together under lockdown and their relationship is strengthened with a brand. When asked why her #MakeAMealOfIt hashtag was so successful, HOSTE founder Laura Jackson said: “This is a time full of uncertainty, but setting the table punctuates the day and makes mealtimes memorable and positive."
While nothing quite compares to the physical experience, it’s clear that today’s forward-thinking homeware brands are still finding ways to connect with their audience and make the most of the boom. Instead of using online or offline strategy, they know that the future of their industry lies somewhere in the middle.