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Impatient customers? Paying nothing for something? Heavy goods shippers face same e-commerce delivery pressures as smaller stuff

Consumers are increasingly purchasing furniture and other large, bulky items online, forcing last-mile delivery providers to adapt. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Think those who order heavy goods such as furniture online don’t have the same fulfillment and delivery demands as those ordering smaller items that remain the staple of e-commerce? Think again.

Of 330 consumers surveyed who bought an oversized piece of furniture last year, 56 percent said they would avoid a boutique retailer if the shipping costs were too high, while 36 percent said they wouldn’t use such a retailer if the delivery windows were too long, according to a survey released August 29 by logistics technology company uShip and research firm YouGov. About 27 percent abandoned a boutique retailer’s cart because they were turned off by the delivery expense, and 26 percent said replacing their current furniture was either too difficult or costly, the survey found.

In what may be considered a wake-up call for specialty furniture retailers, about 40 percent of respondents said they would turn to mass merchants like, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Wayfair (NYSE:W) if a boutique retailer doesn’t offer free shipping. A smaller percentage – hovering in the low teens – said that big retailers either have too many furniture selection options or don’t have the products they want.

About 47 percent would track their order status once a day even though they knew the shipment would take weeks to arrive, a sign of customer impatience with the delivery process, according to the survey.

The results, if they are an accurate measure of the online furniture-buying public, elevates the challenges facing retailers and their shipping and logistics providers. Furniture is a high-cost item that is difficult to ship and is prone to damage. Claims can be very costly, and retailers have been burned using general delivery firms rather than specialists. Probably the most highly regarded carrier in the furniture home delivery market, Watkins and Shepherd, was closed earlier this month by transport and logistics company Schneider National Inc. (NASDAQ:SNDR) when Schneider said it would exit the final-mile delivery business.

An executive of an online furniture retailer that specializes in upholstered products said the survey’s findings were “pretty much spot on.” The executive’s only disagreement was that its customers typically track their shipments once a week, on average, if there is a multi-week delivery window. The executive requested not to be identified.

“Customer priorities are free shipping and then fast shipping,” the executive said. “Even if it [shipping] is built into the cost, it is much easier for consumers to understand and calculate when all they have to do is pay for the piece.”

According to Statista, worldwide online furniture sales will grow 11.8 percent per year from 2018 through 2022.

The current annual value of online heavy goods orders is pegged at about $10 billion.

Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.