Much is said of the importance of digital transformation to modern businesses – TSG’s Natasha Bougourd argues that technology is essential to furniture manufacturers wishing to meet changing customer demand …
Digital transformation is the business priority of the moment, with a particular resonance in the furniture manufacturing industry. We’ve experienced a seismic shift in buyer habits, with research and transactions now overwhelmingly carried out online – respondents to a 2018 Royal Mail survey said they carried out 80% of their shopping digitally. And of those online shoppers, a significant portion shop on their mobiles, presenting new challenges to the sector.
In order to prioritise adapting to this digital-first world, a number of leading businesses have turned to managed IT services. High-street stalwart Marks & Spencer has committed to a five-year Technology Transformation Programme which saw 250 IT-based roles move to an external IT provider in March. The programme is designed to save the company £30m, as well as make the retailer “faster, simpler and more focused on achieving a seamless customer experience”, according to CEO Steve Rowe.
Through its transformation programme, M&S aims to focus on “delivering digital-first retailing across [all] stores and offices”, with technology as the driving force.
In the furniture sector, Godfrey Syrett has similar aims. The North East-based business has made the strategic decision to outsource its IT support in order to remove the burden of break-fix support, and to focus on its digital transformation journey. An external IT support company will manage Godfrey Syrett’s entire IT infrastructure and end-user support, as well as providing proactive system monitoring.
David Brown, IT manager at Godfrey Syrett, comments: “With the rapid pace of technological and digital change, it was clear that it would be beneficial to outsource our IT to a well-known and trusted IT provider rather than trying to manage this ever-changing landscape using an in-house model.”
This move comes after the business invested £1.5m in innovative manufacturing technologies including state-of-the-art fabric- and board-cutting technologies, which have helped the business become more responsive and fulfil new orders faster. The technology will automate the production of some of Godfrey Syrett’s key products, ensuring a more agile and streamlined approach to production.
The manufacturing sector is one of the highest performers in the UK at the moment, with the industry producing its highest output in 10 years, according to ONS data. The furniture sector specifically has seen a YoY growth of +8%, representing a positive future for designers and manufacturers alike.
Whilst buyer habits are changing rapidly and therefore proving challenging for the industry, consumer demand for furniture is growing – total consumer spend increased +24% between 2012 and 2016, according to the Furniture Industry Research Association.
In order to succeed and ensure a share in what is an undeniably competitive market, furniture manufacturers and designers must adapt to buyer demands – and, with the visible shift to online shopping, ecommerce is more important than ever. The Royal Mail survey found that over half of all online shoppers do so to compare prices and explore their choices.
There’s no doubt that showrooms and stores are still essential, as a lot of key furniture-buying experiences are lost online – the touch and feel, the comfort test, and importantly, the look and size of the furniture. That’s why augmented reality (AR) is becoming a huge trend in the sector – most notably Ikea’s implementation of the technology. Whilst customers can’t test their furniture for feel and comfort online, AR adds an element that wouldn’t be available in-store – the ability to visualise how furniture would look in the buyer’s home.
Shoppers can see how items could fit in with existing decor and get an idea of the space the items could take up. Interior companies including CTD Tiles and B&Q have also experimented with visualiser tools that will allow customers to see how, for example, their chosen floor tiling will look. This new shopping experience lends itself well to the increase in mobile shopping, with many vendors launching AR mobile apps.
Manufacturers that take care of their own delivery and installation must also ensure they meet buyer demands. The Royal Mail study further found that 84% of online shoppers make decisions heavily based on a business’ delivery rating – factors include cost, speed and reliability. Buyers are more prepared than ever to pay extra for delivery and setup, so it’s vital that furniture vendors get this service right.
With so much to focus on, it’s only natural that furniture manufacturers look to offload less profitable functions like IT support to managed IT service providers. There are a number of ways in which the furniture industry can acclimatise to the digital-first world – but there’s no question that to thrive in the sector, adapting is a must.
Natasha Bougourd is the lead applications writer for TSG, an IT support company that has expertise across a wide range of technologies and has helped businesses achieve GDPR compliance through the use of technology. From Office 365, Sage and Pegasus ERP solutions to IT support, infrastructure and cybersecurity solutions, TSG’s skilled workforce works across all areas of business technology.