Furniture returns are consumers’ nightmare
If you are sitting in a chair while reading this sentence, ask yourself this question: What happens to the chair when you no longer need or want it? It will likely end up in the trash – unless you choose to recycle, donate, or sell it.
According to 2018 data, Americans generate over 12 million tons of furniture waste (sofas, mattresses, chairs, tables, etc.) every year. Environmental Protection Agency. Over 80% of it ends up in landfills.
At the same time, delays in the supply chain are wreaking havoc on American buyers – including large pieces of furniture. A customer who buys a custom-made couch online today can expect to wait three to six months – or longer – for delivery.
The growing furniture returns business
The good news is that a movement is taking place to change both sides of this problem that aims to provide retailers with a dual solution that manages their bulky returns while fueling a ReCommerce business at the same time. That solution is the work of Austin, Texas-based technology company FloorFound, a two-year-old startup that aims to keep bulky furniture out of landfills while helping its retail partners tackle two big problems – and reverse wasteful consumption too.
FloorFound – which recently partnered with Joybird, a unit of La-z-Boy Incorporated, to help consumers remove unwanted furniture in a sustainable manner, gives retailers the tools they need to reclaim goods in an environmentally friendly way to resell. Some of the dozen or so other brands that work with FloorFound are Feather, Floyd, Castlery, Inside Weather, and Sabai.
This business model – once limited to apparel and smaller luxury items – is a breeze for brands like ThredUP, Patagonia, and Urban Outfitters. But large items (like furniture as well as equipment or exercise equipment) have been prohibitively difficult to ship, return, store, and ultimately sell and redelivery until now.
FloorFound, which may have cracked the code on how to take a sofa out of one person’s world and put it in another to maximize the life of any product, enables retailers to streamline an expensive and complicated return process. It encompasses all customer-facing aspects: transportation, inspection, processing, and storage in the warehouse – and then a whole new customer transaction that eventually delivers to any location in the US
As Chris Richter, CEO and Founder of FloorFound, told PYMNTS that direct-to-consumer (D2C) furniture retailers like Joybird, Floyd and (new this week) Burrow attribute new sales and customers to their ReCommerce programs. What became very clear to Richter at the front end was the return-value promise – the conversion of returns into resale. In relation to the collaboration between FloorFound and Floyd in the introduction of a branded ReCommerce storefront, the CO2 emissions for liner transports have already been reduced by 80% and the average gross recovery by 72%. The average sales time is eight days.
Richter himself was frustrated when he wanted to buy furniture after remodeling a house and couldn’t buy anything in a store that could be delivered in less than two or three months. The soil samples spoke to him. “Why can’t I buy these on the website now?” He wondered. “Why don’t you share this with a nationwide audience?”
“So I put all these things together and said, ‘What are retailers missing out on today?’ Well, they miss out on selling those resale items that are in their possession. “
From problem to potential
Most buyers – 92%, Richter said, citing a FloorFound survey – have made resale purchases before, mostly through Facebook Marketplace, The RealReal, Poshmark, and the like. “We’re not trying to make resale mainstream,” he said. “It’s a smart thing, because otherwise [products] end up in landfills. “
“It was very clear that we can only get retailers to do this en masse by changing the economy around returns,” said Richter. FloorFound now has a nationwide network with around 30 warehouse locations.
Reach new target groups
Furniture from resale is attractive to millennials and Gen Z buyers. With soaring inflation in goods such as furniture, cars, homes and food – the bare bones of life – younger consumers are grappling with high prices for “the first time since they were old enough to notice” The New York Times. FloorFound (literally) the heavy lifting is what drives this process.
“Suppose a customer is in California, buys a sofa and wants to return it. The customer leaves us with what is known as a “ReCommerce” request – a notification stating that they have this item that can be added to our e-commerce inventory, but it must be picked up from that customer’s home. You just put it in our system and then we take care of everything else at the end, ”explains Richter.
“So there is no elevator on their side. We took the headache out of coordinating with the customer and ensuring a good customer experience when collecting the return. We manage all of this and where we send it – if it’s picked up in California, for example, it goes back to our location in California. So that reduces the CO2 footprint of the transport. “
It is common for the destruction rates to be high for returns and lower than hoped for recovery rates. As much as the return problem is ubiquitous in retail, most sellers of large, bulky items still have to get on the train and miss the opportunity to combine furniture with ReCommerce while raising customer awareness of environmental protection.