Future Of Home Event Explores Changing Consumer Landscape

The inaugural Future of Home event, with the High Point Market Authority among its sponsors, was aimed primarily at interior designers but was sufficiently broad in scope to include Walmart executives and information valuable to anyone in the housewares and home furnishings industry.

Tom Conely, HPMA president and CEO, told HomeWorld Business that HPMA backed making the program broad. In that way, it provided information comprehensive enough to give participants a more expansive view of the marketplace. While home furnishings were a critical focus, the event included speakers who are movers and shakers in everything from retail to real estate.

For instance, Andy Dunn, founder of Bonobos and now a senior executive at Walmart.com, discussed direct to consumer brands, the acquisition of his company by his current employer and the state of the Bentonville behemoth’s e-commerce platform as part of the Future of Retail panel. Currently, he said, Walmart.com is particularly intent on developing omnichannel approaches to anything ventured online and, so, to closely tie the stores into online thinking.

In the Future of Affluent Consumer Behavior seminar, Jenny Fleiss, an executive with Walmart’s Store No 8 business incubator and co-founder and CEO of the recently introduced Jetblack text-based e-commerce platform, stated that the new operation is enjoying success and pulling in new subscribers to a $50 a month service that uses AI, machine learning and human employees to provide a concierge-style electronic purchasing vehicle for busy consumers in, so far, Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

As it grows, she told HomeWorld Business, Jetblack is operating as a stand-alone operation, developing independently of the larger Walmart.com enterprise although tapping parent-company critical resources such as distribution. Although it’s a free delivery with subscription service that tries to address wide-ranging customer needs, it is emphasizing development of some product categories more than others, with food and furnishings lesser priorities at the moment, and everyday and certain extraordinary needs the main consideration, whether a customer needs paper towels or an umbrella for an outdoor party that’s facing gloomy weather.

The shift in e-commerce to a service orientation was evident at the Future of Home, with, for example, a panel including furniture rental company executives Michael Barlow, co-founder Fernish, Lucas Dickey, co-founder Fernish and Kyle Hoff, co-founder Floyd discussing how younger consumers and frequent movers have come to view furnishings as something they might want to swap out rather than live with long term.

Other key speakers included Cheryl Young, senior economist at Zillow, whose panel covered how the real estate market is changing and even fragmenting under the pressure of consumers flocking to popular urban areas where landlords now, among other moves, are building shared space rentals, with a lease including a room and access to shared common areas, to keep living expenses reasonable.

The panel also included a look at the future of smart home, which developers are installing in new constructions as a benefit that, Young said, particularly appeals to younger consumers. As it develops, home automation may attract more seniors who are retiring in place rather than switching to smaller habitations.

In another seminar, Kate Freebairn, director of design, Google Nest, discussed that company’s efforts to make home digital assistants more user-friendly. Indeed, Google is downplaying terms such as smart home and digital assistant, and substituting home hub and hands-free help. She said that Google is developing its own line of products, working with partners to design smart items and making its platform more amenable to outside developers that want to bring new resources to its home automation efforts as it pursues consumers who may be wary but are gravitating toward such technology.

If the event included conversation about how technology is evolving retail and the home goods industry, the Future of Home event revolved more around changing consumers who are, rather than adapting to tech, finding ways to adopt innovation as a means of enhancing their lifestyles.

Mads Ryder, Lenox CEO, introduced a new product at the event, a set of plates and bowls that combines as an oblong shell. In that form, it can remain out as a decor piece or tuck away while taking minimal cabinet space. He said the product signals the start of one new approach the company is taking to the marketplace, developing starter tableware that consumers can build on as their living space and incomes increase.