June 9, 2021

Americans are desperate for furniture, but stores are battling inventory problems. Here’s how to score deals – MarketWatch

Americans are desperate for furniture, but stores are battling inventory problems. Here's how to score deals - MarketWatch
Americans are desperate for furniture, but stores are battling inventory problems. Here's how to score deals - MarketWatch

Property sellers aren’t the only ones racking in the dough thanks to the feeding frenzy in the U.S. housing market — furniture retailers are also profiting off of Americans’ desire to move to bigger and better homes.

But the furniture industry has not escaped the supply chain issues and order backlogs that have plagued other sectors experiencing surges in demand from consumers as vaccination rates climb and cities reopen.

A new report from consumer intelligence company InMarket demonstrates the shopping spree happening at furniture stores across the country in recent months. Retailers are seeing foot traffic at or in excess of 2019 levels, the analysis found.

To produce the report, InMarket tracked anonymized location data from mobile devices and purchase data from a representative sample of consumers. Bob’s Discount Furniture, which operates in 22 states across the country, saw the highest increase in weekly visits relative to 2019 levels, with a 56% spike in late March.

Why Americans desperately need new furniture

Over the past year, Americans were on the move. A study released in April by Zillow Z, -1.49% ZG, -1.21% estimated that roughly one in 10 Americans had moved over the past year, whether by choice or not. Many people have taken advantage of their new ability to work remotely to move from cities further out into the suburbs, without needing to worry about a commute.

People who chose to move this past year opted to relocate to larger homes, research shows. And now, they’re facing the daunting task of filling up all that new, empty space. “There is a surge in demand for new home items as people have moved or purchased houses,” Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at coupons website RetailMeNot.

‘There is a surge in demand for new home items as people have moved or purchased houses.’

— Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at coupons website RetailMeNot

The real-estate market remains red hot, with home prices continuing to hit record highs month after month, suggesting that the need for new furniture won’t abate any time soon.

On top of this trend, Americans have also spent much more time at home over the past year, and many chose to spend the money they saved from not eating out or going to movies on home improvements. “This combined with increased usage and wear as consumers spent a disproportionate time at home drove demand for new furniture purchases,” said Michael Della Penna, chief strategy officer at InMarket.

The furniture industry faces a backlog of orders

Furniture retailers have not been lucky enough to escape the supply chain issues that have plagued other industries seeing a post-pandemic comeback.

“That surge has caused inventory issues and shipping delays,” Skirboll said. These problems run the gamut, from a shortage of foam to delays related to the recent blockage of the Suez Canal, Della Penna added. The rising price of lumber, which has caused problems for home builders, has also led to rising prices for wood furniture.

Labor is another factor, as the furniture manufacturing industry has faced a shortage of workers that existed even before the pandemic.

Furniture and bedding prices reached the highest level in April since 2013, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Furniture prices were up nearly 8% year over year in April, nearly double the overall rate of inflation that month.

Furniture prices were up nearly 8% over a year ago as of April.

Lower-cost retailers like Bob’s Discount Furniture have been the main beneficiaries of Americans flocking to buy new furniture, thanks in part to the rise in prices. Other lower-price-point retailers that have notched gains in foot traffic include Aaron’s, Rooms to Go and Ikea.

Higher-end furniture stores, like Restoration Hardware RH, -2.78% and Pottery Barn, have seen foot traffic exceed 2019 levels at points in recent months, though the most recent data collected by InMarket showed that visits were down slightly compared to two years earlier. InMarket compared 2021 visits to 2019 to account for the downturn in retail activity this time last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Across all categories, we’ve seen a shift to value-priced brands during the pandemic and in the face of an uncertain economy and job market,” Della Penna said.

Consumers can still score deals — here’s how

While furniture makers may be scrambling to meet the demand for their products, they haven’t held off on advertising discounts to attract customers.

“Retailers such as Target, Walmart, Kohl’s and Macy’s host lots of great furniture sales throughout the year,” said Brenda Raftlova, shopping expert at discount website Offers.com. “And while I wouldn’t say that deals are harder to come by, it’s important to note that the most enticing deals do tend to sell out quickly.”

The average discount on home furnishings in 2021 thus far, according to data from RetailMeNot, is 18.6%, down slightly from 19.8% in 2020 and 20.4% in 2019. But the discounts on mattresses are in line with previous years, demonstrating how pricing varies across products.

Shopping experts offered the following tips to save money if you’re buying furniture in the coming months:

  • Look for discount codes when you’re shopping online. These codes can often offer greater savings than in-store sales. Often, the store sales will be “up to” a certain percentage off, but most items will see only small markdowns. Also watch out for discounts that you can receive in exchange for adding your email to a retailer’s mailing list. Companies like Crate & Barrel and Ikea offer shoppers 10% off after they hand over their contact information.
  • Befriend an interior designer. “If you know an interior designer, ask if they will make a purchase on your behalf so you can take advantage of their industry discount,” said Trae Bodge, a shopping expert. Designers can get 10% to 20% discounts at many furniture retailers.
  • Buy secondhand. The more adventurous can scour Facebook Marketplace for deals on furniture, or explore thrift and consignment shops. Some retailers, including Ikea, also will offer discounts to sell items that were returned or on the floor model, Bodge said.