Working from home is here to stay, at least in the foreseeable future. While the lockdown slowly continues to be lifted, people who can afford to work from home are staying put. This extended period of working from home has put the spotlight on a section that may have previously been neglected — ergonomic furniture for the home. While other discretionary spending on furniture is dipping, this section may see an increase.
Ever since e-commerce deliveries of non-essentials was allowed in the fourth phase of the lockdown, nearly two months after the lockdown began, furniture e-tailers have seen a considerable uptick in demand. This not only includes online retailers, but also rental players.
A Flipkart spokesperson said that along with essentials, consumers are also looking at categories to meet work and study requirements.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed a nearly 3x increase in demand for work from home essentials such as study table, office chair, laptop tables etc, as organisations extend work from home tenure for their employees,” Flipkart said.
Similarly, Amazon India told TNM that it saw 1.5x the demand for furniture as compared to the pre-lockdown period. “Customers are searching for ergonomic furniture to set-up a comfortable workspace at home. We are also seeing increasing demand for study from home furniture for students as online classes have commenced. Work & study from home furniture such as study tables, chairs and laptop desks have seen the highest surge with over 2X increase in sales,” it said.
Kavitha Krishnarao, country commercial manager at IKEA India told ET that the company is seeing a 2x to 3x increase in this space.
In April, a survey conducted by the Capgemini Research Institute showed that consumers will continue to prefer to shop online going forward, and 47% of shoppers had said they would buy more furniture and home improvement goods.
Online furniture retailer Pepperfry’s demand for work from home supplies reportedly doubled when they were allowed to start delivering again.
On May 20, Pepperfry CEO Ambareesh Murthy told the Economic Times that their sales had doubled each week for three weeks, but numbers were not even close to what it was prior to the lockdown. “The main issue right now is attendance levels with labour — it is still 40-50%,” he had said.
Pepperfry also drives a lot of its sales through its offline stores, which have been shut. Ambareesh told the business daily that he expects 60-70% of the demand to come back by mid-June.
Pepperfry’s COO Ashish told Inc42 that although home purchases fall under discretionary purchases, some things inside a home are essential.
“If you need a bed, you need a bed. Similarly, study tables, chairs are something people will keep buying. The way I look at it is that the overall demand in the category might go down because it is discretionary in nature. But the online businesses would go up,” he told the website.
Flipkart also added that it has been working with its sellers on furniture trends to develop affordable and DIY furniture for office essentials.
Rentals aren’t too far behind, with platforms such as Furlenco and Rentomojo also being seen as options.
Furlenco’s founder and CEO Ajith Mohan Karimpana told TNM that patterns of furniture purchase are the same as pre-lockdown, which include living room and bedroom solutions. He added that workstations and study tables are now seeing more traction that they did previously.
“The demand for workstations and study tables had already started picking up before the lockdown was announced. A lot many companies had moved to the work-from-home model by then and people wanted furniture that fit this new life. The demand has continued on that path since and I expect it to keep growing because working from home is here to stay and not just for safety reasons,” he said.
He added that with regard to demand in the context of the pandemic, they are not out of the woods yet. “Once the lockdown lifts entirely, we expect it to take 3-4 weeks to go back to the numbers before the pandemic hit. However, we are taking each step keeping in mind the vagaries that businesses have had to tackle in these last few months,” he said.
However, as we move into a newer world where work from home is likely to become more the norm than the anomaly, Ajith said that the demand for affordable services will keep surging, and in this context, furniture subscriptions perfectly fit the bill. “So, we expect order volumes and order value to go up as more people move to furniture subscription as a way of life,” he added.