“Your item will be shipped within eight to twelve weeks…” is not what most shoppers want to hear after the excitement of purchasing a new piece of furniture or hardware for their home, but is the norm for many furniture and large-item companies.
Delivery is a unique challenge for furniture and other large item industries, due to numerous factors: shifting consumer trends, increasing freight rates, lack of control over the supply chain – the list goes on!
Signature Hardware, Mission Restaurant Supply, and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams are all companies that ship large or bulky items, each of them tackling the delivery dilemma in their own way.
Signature Hardware is a digitally native brand that sells kitchen, bath, and home items. The retailer offers high-value items, such as vanities, bathtubs, farmhouse sinks, and medicine cabinets.
“The worst thing for a customer is to pay $1500 for a vanity or bathtub, and it comes damaged and they have to send it back,” says Sean Fisher, Sr. Director of Ecommerce at Signature Hardware.
For this reason, Signature Hardware invests heavily in its three in-house distribution centers and packaging materials. For items like tubs and vanities, Signature Hardware uses heavy-duty triple-wall cardboard and custom foam for packing. When a customer’s order leaves the delivery center and gets on the delivery truck, they can rest easy knowing that their items are shipped and packed properly, leaving little opportunity for damage.
Fisher tells the story of one customer who watched their medicine cabinet fall out of the delivery truck and tumble down their driveway. Fisher states, “When they opened up the box, there was no damage to the medicine cabinet because of the packaging material used.”
When it comes to delivery time, customers have high expectations, which is why most home and hardware companies are focusing on logistics. “If you don’t, you will be obsolete,” says Fisher.
Signature Hardware’s logistics hub is located in northern Kentucky, a central location that allows the retailer to ship its customers’ orders within two to five business days. Most items, including some that need light customization such as faucet drillings, leave the distribution center under 24 hours.
Being in the home renovation space, Signature Hardware understands that timing is critical for its customers. Its quick delivery ensures that a customer’s order aligns with their contractors’ schedules. Anyone who’s been involved in a home renovation project understands how valuable this is in a home and hardware company.
About half of customer orders ship through parcel services, such as FedEx, UPS Ground, USPS 1st Class, or USPS Priority. Once the order leaves the warehouse, a tracking number is emailed to the customer, giving them full transparency of the location of their order and estimated delivery date.
The other half of customer orders ship through LTL freight services. Signature Hardware does not charge its customers extra for freight shipping for most addresses in the US. If freight is needed, the customer should expect a phone call from the carrier to schedule a delivery appointment.
All items over $50 ship for free to locations within the contiguous US. Orders under $50 have a $4.49 fee. According to Fisher, free shipping is table stakes at this point. Freight rates are on the rise, but Fisher states that Signature Hardware will continue to absorb the costs. To keep up with customer expectations, free shipping will be a growing trend in the home and hardware industry.
Signature Hardware’s free shipping is a critical benefit for its customers, particularly for the Millennial group who make up 37% of furniture shoppers. Millennials, having less disposable income and higher amounts of debt, are unlikely to spend hundreds of dollars on shipping compared to Baby Boomers.
Fisher states, “There is always room for improvement. We make sure we disrupt ourselves and that we don’t rest on our laurels.” Signature Hardware understands the changing needs of its customers and plans to focus on its logistics and shortening delivery time to meet those needs.
Mission Restaurant Supply
Mission Restaurant Supply is a supplier of commercial restaurant equipment and kitchen supplies.
Smaller items are delivered to Mission RS customers via FedEx. Items that exceed weight or size restrictions set by FedEx are shipped via freight company. If the items are shipped through this channel, a customer service representative contacts the customer to provide a shipping quote.
Most of its stock inventory ships from its distribution center in San Antonio, Texas within one to three business days after the order is processed. It does notate that Mission RS does not have control over made-to-order items or non-stock items and how long they will take to ship.
Mission RS provides their customers with an online tracking tool. All the consumer needs to track their order is the order number and their email address used to purchase the items. If their item is shipped through freight, the shopper must call the freight company for tracking information.
Freight companies are responsible for inspecting the customer’s items before signing off that it was delivered. If the customer finds damage to the product after signing off, they must file a claim with the freight company – Mission Restaurant Supply is not responsible for the outcome of the claim.
Based on their current delivery process, they are plagued with inconsistent customer experiences like so many other companies that sell large items. Once the item is handed off to the freight company, Mission RS likely has little control over the customer’s interaction with that carrier.
Another potential dilemma for Mission RS is increasing freight costs. Because shipping costs are based on the freight carrier’s pricing, consumers are directly impacted by the increase in rates.
Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams is a furniture retailer, selling everything from pillows to sofa-sectionals.
Their shipping process is based on several factors including stock inventory, type of item, and stock options. Once the shopper places their order, MGBW follows the traditional route of scheduling a delivery appointment: a customer service team member contacts the customer within two business days to finalize the estimated date. Items in stock deliver within three weeks or less, but anything built-to-order will ship in eight weeks or less.
Smaller items ship via FedEx and heavy items ship through a Residential Courier service, which includes white-glove delivery service. The delivery team places the items in the room of the customer’s choice, completes assembly (if not previously assembled), and cleans up the packaging materials on their way out. Customers do not have the option to pick-up their order in-store.
If the order ships through FedEx, MGBW will provide the customer with their tracking information. If the order ships through the Residential Courier, the courier will contact the customer to schedule the delivery appointment.
Focusing on white-glove delivery service is a crucial component in providing a positive customer experience. By offering this service, MGBW ensures their customers have an enjoyable experience from the time they purchase their furniture to the time it is delivered.
MGBW does not offer free shipping, charging customers between $15 to $200 depending on the item. Chris Guerra, Chief Marketing Officer at Blue Acorn, does not think this is a turn-off for MGBW’s typical customer. He says, “The type of client that purchases MGBW is not a price-conscious buyer, their target audience is willing to purchase products regardless of shipping costs. Brands like MGBW usually have a loyal customer base and are not as product comparison driven.”
Furniture, home and hardware, and other large-item industries are making strides to overcome their delivery dilemma and create seamless experiences for their customers. For some, the focus is shortening delivery time, for others it’s providing white-glove delivery service. “Those that are disruptive and provide differentiated services will win out in the end,” states Guerra.
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