The Way We Shop for Furniture Is Changing—Here's How

A neutral Scandinavian living room

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There’s no doubt about it—our world is changing. From the content we consume and the conversations we’re having, to the way we decorate our homes and even react to situations in the day-to-day, we’re different people. But along the way, it's becoming clear that we are growing, learning, and adapting.

In the world of furniture, we are shifting, too. Although our homes don’t necessarily reflect our staunch political perspectives or overall world views, per se, they do showcase a lot about our personalities and what we care about.

Our consumer habits say a lot about who we are. And over the past few years, these habits have changed dramatically. In particular, furniture sales are changing. We are buying less, buying differently, and buying items that we perhaps haven’t before.

Here’s the inside scoop on exactly how our homes and home-related purchases have shifted and what that means for design and décor in the future.

We're Buying Online

We’re a highly digital society, so it goes without saying that trends in furniture sales have shifted to online. But what does that mean and why does it matter?

Well, for one, it lessens the importance of furniture stores. Whereas in the past, consumers would walk through physical stores to see furniture items, now they can browse through thousands of designs with just a few clicks.

“When it comes to trends, the obvious is the spread of omni-channel commerce (and straight e-commerce) to more and more categories—with furniture one of the largest growth rates,” shares Kristin Smith, President and COO of Fernish. “Customers no longer need to go to the store to find furniture and decor that they love—nor, often, do they want to!”

Meet the Expert

  • Kristin Smith is the president and COO of Fernish, an online furniture store.
  • Anna Brockway is the co-founder and president of Chairish, an online vintage furniture, art, and home accessories sales service.

Not only has this online viewing (and subsequent purchasing) become a matter of necessity with in the last two years, but it is also a matter of convenience. Is there a need to walk through warehouses when technology not only enables you to see the pieces but also virtually ‘add’ them to your space? This new technology is completely reshaping what it means to view and make the sale.

“This [shift] has happened slowly over the last few years, as e-commerce has become so prevalent in other categories and customers' comfort with buying online, in general, has grown,” continues Smith. “This trend has led to customers increasingly going online first. And the online experience is meeting customers with features they need—photography, AR (augmented reality), and information that makes it easier to shop for these bigger-ticket items.” 

Unsurprisingly, e-commerce has grown exponentially over the past eighteen months as brick and mortar stores closed. “E-commerce has also thrived as the differences in delivery times for furniture have been normalized.” Smith continues, “So, there is no advantage to shopping bricks and mortar.”

We’re Focusing More on Sustainability

One of the biggest trends around furniture is the shift to what’s called a ‘circular economy.’ Rather than linear, which is a straight path from use to disposal, or recycling, which creates loops of reusing before eventual disposal, the idea behind a ‘circular’ path is that we can truly minimize waste by reusing or reselling goods.  

And if we apply this to furniture, if we can reuse, resell, and repurpose furniture, then there is less of a need (or desire) to purchase these staple items to begin with.

This idea of sustainability impacts furniture sales in several ways. First, it lessens the amount of furniture purchased. And second, it creates opportunities for other options, such as renting or second-hand sales.

In a 2021 resale report conducted by Chairish, an online vintage furniture, art, and home accessories sales service, it was estimated that if consumers were to purchase more resale goods, over 32% of material consumption could be cut by 2030.

"Approximately 12 million tons of furniture are disposed of in the U.S. every year," shares Anna Brockway, Co-Founder and President of Chairish. "So instead, buyers are turning to the 'circular economy,' or reusing pre-owned furnishings."

This shift goes beyond sustainability and allows us to see the bigger picture. If we shift our consuming habits, we can make an impact on larger issues, namely global warming.  

As the furniture industry has faced complications with factory closures over the past two years, shortages in materials, rising costs in transportation, material, and labor, and, of course, the increasing expectations around quick delivery and shipping, it makes sense to offer a sustainable yet quick alternative. 

“Pre-owned furniture offers the critical benefit of availability because it already exists and is ready to ship,” reads the 2021 Chairish report. “These items aren’t subject to material or production delays. [Pre-owned furniture] can [also] be sourced domestically (and even locally) and distributed via a point-to-point model, reducing shipping times and minimizing the environmental impact of transportation.”  

In other words, perhaps vintage and re-sale furniture really is the future.

We're Rethinking Big Purchases

Another big shift in furniture sales is what consumers are actually investing in. Although furniture has continued to be one of the staples in home design, some experts argue that this won’t last, especially as people move, rent, or continue on paths that have already shifted, like remote work.

“There is another really interesting trend that is more recent, but I expect to gain momentum in the next few years,” shares Smith. “As customers move around more and their lives evolve more quickly (perpetuated by housing prices, remote work, and the technology that allows more mobility in general), the days of multi-generational furniture and decor are gone. 

"Customers no longer are looking to buy furniture that they will have for the rest of their days—and pass down to future generations. In fact, they are looking for
flexible, high-value/low-cost options and items that are easy to move around.”  

Due to the fact that more and more people are re-thinking some of these bigger buys, it has reshaped not only the popularity of the décor items themselves but the companies, too.  

Businesses dedicated to reselling, repurposing, recycling, or renting furniture have sprung up worldwide and offer sustainable, forward-thinking, (and oftentimes online) options for furniture sales that—especially in our current economy—just makes sense.