By Reginald Tucker
COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way many consumers are living and shopping today, as illustrated by shifts in both spending habits and the way people interact with sellers and with each other. Nowhere is that more evident than in the digital sphere, where the trend toward online interaction continues to accelerate rapidly.
That was the main thrust of “Digging Beneath the Surface,” an informative presentation conducted during the 2021 Shaw Open Virtual Conference, which kicked off earlier this week. Panel members included: Valerie Clift, vice president of U30 Group, specializing in consumer research; and Heather Yamada, director of consumer marketing and merchandising, Shaw Industries. Keyla Manning, corporate training manager, Shaw Industries, served as moderator.
Following are some of the highlights and key findings from the presentation:
- 82% of people are spending more time at home
- 69% are spending more time online
- 50% are limiting in-store shopping
- 69% have reduced travel
- 78% are working the same or more
- 80% are earning the same or more
In preparation for the session, Shaw Industries and U30 Group interviewed 1,300 flooring consumers to get a better understanding of what matters most to them when making a flooring decision. Callers specifically spoke to consumers who were considering or have purchased flooring during COVID-19.
Among those consumers considering home upgrades, 38% said they found things they want to change, while 37% said they have completed multiple home-improvement projects. Interestingly, 26% said they can hardly stand their home, while 29% said they are ready to move.
While many respondents reported feeling “COVID-19 fatigue” and lamented the all-too-familiar feelings of isolation the pandemic has caused, there is, ironically, some upside. “It’s not all doom and gloom because a lot of our flooring consumers have found some silver linings with all this increased time at home,” Clift stated. “Consumers tell us the biggest change is the amount of time spent at home, which has actually had a positive impact on their attachments to their home. As a result, we’re really starting to see people appreciate more about their house and the space around them.”
In many cases, the pandemic has forced many consumers to “pull the trigger” on renovation projects they might have been holding off on. In illustration, Clift cited actual quotes from respondents: “I had a baby, and we put an addition on the house. It was crazy, but I’m glad we did it.”
The panel shared additional insights: Among the 1,300 homeowners interviewed, Clift said 51% have updated or are considering replacing flooring during the pandemic. The main reason, according to Yamada, is they want to improve the look of their current home. “Maybe it’s old, outdated or just worn,” she said. “They’re seeing it’s just really time to update their floors.”
So, what types of flooring specifically are consumers interested in? Be it hard or soft surface, Yamada said shoppers are looking for products that are easy to maintain while making their homes more comfortable. “What’s really interesting is that over half of consumers who are either considering or have purchased flooring chose carpet,” she said. “So, carpet is definitely top of mind. And if you think about it, it really makes sense in this time that we’re in with COVID-19. People are living in their homes. They’re trying to find a way to make it warm and comfortable and cozy. And those are all the attributes that carpet provides.”
When it comes to consumer preference of where shoppers bought their new floors, many overwhelmingly chose specialty retailers, the group’s research found. “As we look at where consumers are shopping for flooring and the services or where they shop, the services that those places offer, consumers find the independent retailers do a much better job of helping consumers,” Yamada said. “What really rose to the top was knowledgeable and helpful sales associates, which we hear time and time again because specialty retailers are the experts when it comes to flooring. Having samples to take home was also key, as well as design services. This is something they really appreciate about independent retailers. Consumers recognize specialty retailers have that service and our expertise in this area as well.”
Bridging the digital divide
When shopping for flooring, the ability to see and feel the product remains important to the consumer. At the same time, research shows shoppers continue to rely heavily on online sources when narrowing down their selection. “Ten out of 15 resources consumers rely on are online,” Yamada said. “One of the things we have learned through COVID-19 is the acceleration of digital engagement by consumers, and we really don’t see that changing moving forward. Just think about how we are interacting online more than we ever have, and there’s been a lot of trends where we knew this was happening. But due to COVID-19, this has really accelerated, and people are using online services and shopping and researching much more.”
The study also highlighted the need for more functional online tools. For example, during the shopping process, Yamada said consumers wanted tools that made it easier to compare product options. They also liked the ability to use visualization tools. “They wanted to be able to see that floor in a real space,” she said. “On the whole, the reason they wanted more information online was so they could do the research themselves and not have to resort to calling someone or reaching out to get more information. They want to do as much as possible on their own.”
While none of this is new, per se, it does reinforce the notion that the way the consumer shops is rapidly changing. “COVID-19 has definitely accelerated that online engagement,” Clift said. “Consumers have a new level of expectation, and how they engage with retailers, with brands and products. And I think because people are experiencing brands and products in new ways, we think that this will continue. People are enjoying some of these new services and ways to access online information and will want to see this continue.”
(Look for more coverage of the 2021 Shaw Virtual SFN Open conference at fcnews.net.)