Today’s Electronics Lifestyle Fuels Furniture Opportunity

NEW YORK— The time has never been better to stay at home, something that is reflected in consumer behavior and furniture purchasing, as related in the 2018 HOMEWORLD BUSINESS® Home Entertainment Report.

Consumers today have a range of entertainment choices that would have dazzled people from even a generation ago, and that is having a profound effect on how they spend their leisure hours.

In terms of lifestyle, consumers are dividing their time between specifically designated experiences, as market research has documented, and home-based entertainment, whether alone, or with children, family and friends.

Circumstances make the prospects for mass market home entertainment furniture sales attractive. As consumers spend more leisure time at home, the value, flexibility and style that ready to assemble and related mass-market furniture delivers can prove enticing.

With electronics linking the world ever closer together, consumers are on the lookout for products that provide functions that make device operation more convenient. Electronics are so central to consumer lifestyles today that people recast their living spaces to employ them and reconsider what functions furniture should provide. 

Flexible Features

A new question added to the Home Entertainment Report consumer survey, conducted by AIMsights, sought to reveal how attractive adjustable furniture such as sit/stand desks and lift-top coffee tables might be to consumers today. Video games are generating renewed excitement in the market, which is boosting demand for furniture that enhances the experience for players.

Not only that but consumers today use a range of devices as secondary channels as they watch television or listen to music, gathering additional information about what they might be watching or hearing, or multi-relaxing by checking emails or engaging with social media. In those circumstances, furnishings with adjustable height tops have a flexibility that enables them to suit multiple purposes in the home.

Although initially evolving from the commercial segment as a healthier alternative to sitting at a typical workstation all day, furniture with adjustable top surfaces has a leisure application as well in line with, for example, end tables with extending elements and charging stations specifically developed over the past several years for consumers who want to address multiple personal electronics at the same time.

As it turns out, a lot of survey respondents expressed an interest in the product segment. Although such adjustable furnishings are relatively new to the furniture marketplace, more than a quarter of consumers who participated in the Home Entertainment Report study said they definitely or very likely would purchase such a product and a third came in as somewhat likely to buy in the segment.

Consumers are reconsidering their living environments and the furniture therein to bring them in line with lifestyle preferences. As a consequence, many consumers consider function and flexibility when purchasing furniture today, often favoring items that can work in different rooms and suit a variety of purposes over time.

When asked if they prefer furniture designed so that it could be used in more than one room rather than in a specific space, 76.3% of consumers said they would rather have something that is flexible in application, up from 71.7% in last year’s study. More than 70% of consumers find the notion of flexible electronics-compatible furniture items that incorporate elements such as baskets or even a sound bar interesting or very interesting. At the same time, more than half of survey respondents said they would definitely or very likely purchase home entertainment furniture that they could customize to satisfy multiple cost, space and/or use requirements and more than 90% said they were at least somewhat likely to do so, in line with the overall result in the study last year.

In terms of function that directly supports personal electronics use, 13.3% of survey respondents said they would look to purchase furniture that could charge and/or mount a tablet or smartphone. More than a third of consumers said they would definitely or very likely make a purchase of furniture with those functions over the upcoming 12 months.

Electronic Intentions

In general terms, the consumer intent to purchase electronics and associated furniture remains strong, although gains have plateaued from last year. In parallel, the furniture result arises from less urgent demand in various categories of the personal electronics sector, where few new products have generated overwhelming consumer enthusiasm. So, personal electronics lacks a strong driver that might excite purchase intention in the sector and among ancillary products including furnishings. Tablet computers, for instance, have generated less demand and even the smartphone segment lacks a must-have device.

In the Home Entertainment Report survey, the proportion of consumers saying they definitely plan to purchase an electronic device was just about flat, down a percentage point, from the number in last year’s study. Indeed, some indecision is evident in the market as the proportion of consumers who said they would very likely purchase such personal electronic devices slipped while that for consumers who said they were somewhat likely to purchase in the product category edged up from the 2017 result. That being said, actual purchasing may turn out to be in line with what occurred last year as consumers chose personal electronics as gifts, including as gifts for themselves, in the holiday season and through to gift card days in January.

On a similar note, a commensurate slip in purchase intention year over year from very to somewhat likely or lower in many home entertainment furniture segments may get turned around by actual behavior, particularly during the holidays and gift card season. Impulse and at-need purchasing continues to have a significant force in both personal electronics and the home entertainment furniture that helps consumers get the most out of their devices.

As the survey demonstrates, the smartphone isn’t getting the same warm embrace from consumers that it got last year. That being the case, a big chunk of the consuming public still is mulling a purchase. In the 2017 study, 68.7% of consumers said they were considering a smart phone purchase versus 61.7% in this year’s study.

Yet, as they regard the range of electronics available to them, consumers continue to have a proportionately high purchasing intent, just not quite as driven as was the case last year. In an entertainment electronics segment that tends to boost ready-to-assemble furniture, a majority of consumers still have a television buy in mind, with 53.7% of consumers saying they are considering a purchase, even if the proportion slipped year over year, from 62% in 2017.

As suggested, a lesser if still significant proportion of consumers are thinking about buying a tablet computer, at about 30% this year versus 34% last year, according to the study. Also slipping a bit were personal computers, audio components, gaming consoles and a personal gaming device. However— and it’s good news for sellers of desks, task-ready tables and work stands— more consumers are considering the purchase of a laptop computer, with the proportion up more than six points to 47% in the 2018 study.

The proportion of study participants who said they would definitely purchase furniture to house a new electronic device gained marginally, but indecision played into the results as the percentage of survey respondents who said they very likely would slipped while the figure for those saying somewhat likely gained a bit.

Still, just under 40% of survey respondents said they would definitely or very likely purchase furniture to house electronics. To put that figure in context, the proportion of consumers who said they were extremely or very likely to purchase ready to assemble furniture in general over the year ahead, as revealed in the 2019 Forecast consumer study, came in at around 15%.

When they are ready to purchase, more consumers anticipate spending across pricepoints. The mass market range dominates, with those between $51 to $250, with the less than $50 price figure flat year over year and the $251 to $350 and above $350 echelons down a couple and three points, respectively.

Electric Fireplace Opportunity

In the survey, consumers asked about the likelihood of their purchasing furniture to house a flat panel television provided a mixed response when compared with last year’s study results. More study participants said they definitely would, up almost two points to 16.3%. About four in 10 consumers said they would definitely or very likely purchase furniture to house a flat panel.

Study participants said that their most important consideration when purchasing furniture to house a television is style that matches existing room décor, the key factor to just over half of consumers this year, 51.3%, and last year, 53.3%. A bit more important this year versus last is price and unique features such as cord wire management, both up just over two points to 22% and 12.3%.

Television purchasing plays a role in the electric fireplace furniture category. Fireplace-enhanced TV consoles have become a key part of the segment after all. Still, electric fireplaces play a role in home entertainment generally, and a flexible one at that. On the one hand, they can become room centerpieces for social occasions, but they also can make a TV stand more interesting and become a key part of the party in the case of electronic fireplace furniture pieces that mount sound bars or speakers.

Of course, electric fireplaces have been growing in popularity across the mass market over the past few years, but the category still is relatively lightly penetrated, suggesting opportunity. About 15% of consumers participating in the Home Entertainment Report study said they had purchased an electronic fireplace for their homes over the past three years. The proportion that purchased an electric fireplace as part of a piece of furniture, 12.7%, was almost half again higher than the percentage that didn’t, 8.7%.

The result suggests that more consumers consider electric fireplaces as a key décor element for their homes rather than a secondary enhancement. As for purchase intention, 11.7% of consumers responding to the survey said they would very likely purchase an electric fireplace and mantel combination in the upcoming year, and 28.7% said they were somewhat likely to do so. In the case of the TV console/electric fireplace combination, 11.7% of survey respondents said they are very likely to make a purchase and 28% said they are somewhat likely to buy.

As has been the case, respondents in this year’s survey overwhelmingly said that aesthetics and heating capability are equally important as electric fireplace purchase considerations, with the proportion coming in at 76.3% in the latest study. So, as a purchase consideration, heating capability is critical despite research vendors cite that indicates most consumers make little or no use of the feature.

In terms of price, at a time when an increasing number of relatively low price electric fireplaces are entering the marketplace, more than 60% of consumers want to spend $300 or less on a purchase, no matter the housing, the study demonstrated. Year over year, the willingness to purchase at $100 or less gained about seven points, and constituted 25.3% of survey responses, while $200 or up gained about four points to 19%. Still, the willingness to purchase at more than $500 also advanced as well, up two points from last year’s result to 12%.

Remote control remains the favorite feature electric fireplace furniture may offer, participants in the study indicated, and at about the same proportions year over year. Timer controls bounced up almost eight points to 48.3% from 2017 to emerge as a second favorite feature, supplanting infrared heating, down a point year over year to 47.7%. Storage cabinetry won about the same proportion of kudos year over year but now is the third favorite feature, at 42.7%, as the ability to mount a flat panel TV fell almost six points to slip into fourth place year over year at 41.7%. The next most popular feature was the ability to change flame colors or patterns, at 30.7%, followed by built-in audio speakers, 15.3%, both of which remained little changed from the 2017 study.

Furniture Investment

As an entertainment furniture feature across categories, sound seems to be generating some enthusiasm. When asked if they would purchase furniture invested of a sound bar or speakers to play music or video sound, 39.3% of study respondents said they were very likely to do so this year versus 35.3% last year.

As for retail destinations where consumers might purchase home entertainment-related furniture, discount stores made the biggest gains as compared to the 2017 study, up just over three points to 11.7%. Department stores and home electronics stores advanced more modestly while traditional furniture stores and warehouse clubs slipped in appreciation. In a perhaps surprising result, survey respondents were no more likely to choose an Internet retailer this year than last for their home entertainment furniture purchases.

Where consumers use personal electronics shifted little year over year, with adult bedroom, office or study, kitchen and bathroom seeing more action. Entertainment and gaming room and children’s bedroom remained essentially flat in their proportion of responses compared with the 2017 study results. This year, in the Other category, up a point from the year-previous survey to 2%, a scattering of consumers said they liked to use their personal electronics in outdoor spaces, including the porch, outdoor patio or outdoor living room.

The living room and family room remained by far the top places in and around the home for entertaining guests. Although it got a relatively small proportion of nods, the patio/balcony, yard home entertainment designation gained from last year’s study, up three points to 5%.

As they consider home entertaining in a general sense over the next year and what furnishings they’ll need to make guests comfortable, more survey respondents said they would likely purchase a standard TV stand, folding furniture or a bar or bar cart. Fewer respondents said they would purchase an entertainment center, an accent table, a stool, a dining table or a kitchen island, although the year over year differences were generally small. Purchase intention for electric fireplace TV stands and mantels was basically flat as was that for accent chairs and patio furniture.

Wood, metal and glass mixed material furniture construction was just slightly less popular this year compared to last as the studies went, down two points to 48%. Constructions of wood, at 47%, and metal and glass, at 5%, split the difference, each up a point from the 2017 study numbers.