Many BrandSource members remain open, embrace e-commerce during pandemic

Alison Denno-Hotchkiss and Ryan Hotchkiss get ready to re-open the doors at Denno’s Furniture & Mattress and Ashley HomeStore, in Saginaw, Mich. SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Most members of furniture, electronics and appliance buying group BrandSource have remained opened during the coronavirus pandemic and some are experiencing sales growth, according to […]

Alison Denno-Hotchkiss and Ryan Hotchkiss get ready to re-open the doors at Denno’s Furniture & Mattress and Ashley HomeStore, in Saginaw, Mich.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Most members of furniture, electronics and appliance buying group BrandSource have remained opened during the coronavirus pandemic and some are experiencing sales growth, according to recent survey by BrandSource parent company AVB.

The poll of some 199 member retailer respondents found most are supplementing in-store sales with transactional websites, and 85% are offering either curbside delivery or full in-home installation and repair services.

AVB conducted the survey April 17. More than one-fifth of the respondents (22%) reported an increase in in-store appliance sales of between 1% and 20%, while 28% reported the same range of gains for online orders. Nearly 8% reported online appliance sales increased more than 20%, and 3% said in-store sales of appliances increased by more than 20%.

Business for furniture and bedding store members, however, appears not to be as robust as many have been deemed “non-essential” by their local or state governments and forced to temporarily close. Only 5.7% of BrandSource respondents said in-store sales of furniture and bedding were up between 1% and 20%, and 4.2% saw comparable increases online. About 2% saw e-commerce gains of more than 20%. No specific date parameters were given for the period of the increases.

AVB said about 69% of its members have transactional websites. It noted the responses to the survey were anonymous and don’t indicate whether participants are furniture and bedding dealers, electronics and appliance dealers or all of the above. It did not disclose the percentage of respondents reporting a decline in business during the pandemic.

Extrapolating from the survey, BrandSource said about 65% of its members are keeping their showrooms open and their store hours unchanged. Another 12% are opening by appointment only, and 11% said they are operating with reduced hours, limited days and/or restricted product categories. About 13% of showrooms are closed.

Of the 69% with e-commerce websites, the majority use all the tools in the AVB Marketing toolkit to maximize traffic and sales, according to the group. Some 63% of members’ e-commerce sites use banners to indicate current service levels; 54% have enabled live chat; 48% list assortments by popularity, with best-selling items up top; 32% flag products as in stock and/or are available for next-day delivery; and 29% post their delivery, installation and/or haul-away charges.

Members are using other mediums in addition to their websites to communicate with consumers remotely, too. Phone calls are the most popular non-physical connection, employed by 98% of respondents, followed by Facebook (more than 70%), and nearly 60% said they use Google My Business to keep visitors apprised of any operational updates. In addition, the use of live videoconferencing via FaceTime was cited by 33% of BrandSource members; 13% said they are using Skype.

Regarding in-person customer service, BrandSource said its members “are taking no chances and have clearly adapted to the ‘new normal.’” Some 97% said they regularly sanitize high-touch surfaces in the showroom; 95% are following social distancing guidelines with shoppers; and 66% are limiting the number of customers permitted in the store at any one time.

Members are also following good personal protective equipment practices when they can, with 48% mandating face masks and 44% insisting on gloves for showroom employees. However, more than 56% said finding hand sanitizer is “extremely difficult,” and 43% were having trouble securing face masks.

More that 75% of respondents said they outline their sanitary policies and service levels on storefront signage. Also, nearly two-thirds of members (61%) are offering curbside delivery; more than 46% are providing in-home delivery with no installation; and 45% are offering in-home delivery with installation.

For those providing in-home delivery and installation, 68% said they screen customers for coronavirus prior to the appointment by asking symptom-related questions. The majority said their delivery and installation crews sanitize their hands and equipment before entering the household; 82% do so after completing the service; More than 75% are wearing face masks and gloves and 44% are wearing booties.

As for the employees, 58% of store owners said they are allowing them to work from home if they feel unsafe, and 55% are requiring workers to stay home if they or anyone in their household is exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.

Some 42% said they have reduced employee hours; nearly 15% have had to lay off workers; 14% are providing additional paid sick leave, while nearly 13% have furloughed employees.  Just over 33% reported no employee status changes.

The majority of BrandSource members are using the slower sales period to catch up on overlooked tasks, including re-merchandising stores and websites, training employees and starting or finishing renovation projects.

In a virtual town hall meeting last week, AVB CEO Jim Ristow told members that the buying group’s members are outperforming the industry and will emerge from the health crisis even stronger thanks to their leadership, resilience and support from the group and each other, according to a release.

AVB has nearly 5,000 independent dealer member owners in the U.S. and Canada through its various affiliates including BrandSource; ProSource (consumer tech and custom integration); TRIB Group (rent-to-own); Mega Group (Canada); and HFA Buying Source.

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