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Online furniture retail startups try to appeal to customers with price, selection

Online furniture retail startups try to appeal to customers with price, selection
Business
In the last few years, people are forgoing trips to cavernous showrooms humming with commission-seeking salespeople and instead going online to furnish their homes.

"Consumers are starting to realize that there are other options out there and they don t have to deal with the traditional store on every corner, which was a terrible experience," said Philip Krim, CEO at online mattress company Casper.

"It was an experience that didn t have to reinvent itself for some time. There s been very little innovation."

Unlike its big-box competitors, the New York-based startup, which launched in 2014, sells only one type of latex and memory-foam mattress ranging from $725 for a twin to $1,275 for a California King.

Over the past two years, the company has reported US$100 million in sales and secured financial backing from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ashton Kutcher and Nas.

Krim would not disclose Casper s annual sales figures in Canada. But he estimates the mattress market here is worth C$1.4 billion a year, with the global market about US$50 billion.

He said selling just one type of mattress and keeping the company s operations purely online has helped keep costs down. It also expanded recently to selling pillows, sheets and a dog bed.

One draw factor for Casper s customers is that they have the luxury of relying on thousands of online reviews instead of relying on one salesperson s pitch, Krim added.

"Lying on a mattress for 30 to 60 seconds in a store under fluorescent light with a commission salesperson standing next to you is not the right way to shop for a mattress or to know if a mattress is comfortable or the right bed for you," he said. "The only way to know is to sleep on it."

Casper and other similar startups like Leesa and Canadian-owned Endy also have 100-day return policies where they will pick up unwanted products from a customer s home, no questions asked.

Deborah Poole, general manager at online home furnishings retailer Wayfair, said e-commerce not only allows people to shop on their own time but also have access to an even bigger selection than from a warehouse. Based in Boston, Wayfair sells more than seven million items including upholstered furniture, decorative accents, throw pillows, end tables and chairs.

"Customers go looking for the biggest assortment. No store, no matter how big, can do that," she said.

"The idea that you go online makes natural sense, especially if you re already doing everything else online. You might be buying your groceries online, you are streaming your media content online -- why wouldn t you furnish your home that way?"

Jim Danahy, CEO of the Toronto-based retail advisory firm CustomerLAB, said although there has been a surge in online furnishers starting up, they won t replace actual shops.

"The shopping experience from bricks and mortar is still difficult to replicate online," he said. "It s a long way from walking into a showroom and seeing what the couch you like looks like in a living room setting and also deciding that you also like the carpet and the side table."
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