Future of Work


Electric Vehicles and Office Furniture–Things We Mostly Buy Online Now

June 22, 2022

Tesla may not have invented the idea of placing your order for a car online, but they certainly proved that consumers prefer it. The many advantages it has demonstrated over the decades-long car dealership model has even compelled stalwart Detroit car manufacturers like Ford to adopt the same online-only sales model for EVs.

Just as you can swiftly and easily fully customize your new car, order it, finance it, and even insure it online without ever stepping into a showroom to haggle with a slippery car salesman, big ticket furniture has shifted in the same direction. Consumers now routinely shop for, customize, and order all varieties of residential furniture online without ever stepping into a showroom–from sofas and dining tables to Murphy beds and entertainment centers. And commercial office furniture has been rapidly following suit.

As with so many things, the pandemic merely took existing trends and hyper accelerated them. We learned that everything from buying cat food to conducting business meetings can be done online, and the sourcing and acquisition of commercial office furniture is no exception. Prior to the pandemic, about 60% of standing desks purchases were already happening online, only 40% continued to be purchased through “contract furniture dealers.” 

That’s now more like an 80/20 ratio. Even the stock prices of office furniture behemoths like Herman Miller (MLKN), Steelcase (SCS), and Kimball (KBAL) are reflecting not just the same supply chain challenges affecting most manufacturing companies, but also the rapid erosion of the contract furniture channel and market share shift to online sellers. Most are trading near their April 2020 bottom prices, at the peak of the lockdowns.

If you Google “what is commercial contract furniture” you’re likely going to see some articles about how contract furniture dealers are adept at putting together larger orders with many customized elements, providing bulk pricing, and providing interior design consulting and installation services. But the fact is that buyers these days can actually find better deals, more customization options, relatively instant and completely transparent price quoting (no “discount-off-MSRP” games), much faster delivery, and installation so easy that company staff or a TaskRabbit contractor can do it. And it will all cost the company far less than going through their traditional contract furniture dealers. 

And so, naturally we’re continuing to see a massive market share shift occurring right now as enterprise buyers figure out what locked down employees figured out two years ago–that it’s much easier to shop for the ideal standing desk, chair, and other ergonomic accessories online than it is to go through the company’s Facilities, IT, or HR department to requisition them. Plus, it can save the company a lot of money and avoid the productivity loss from involving so many people in a simple purchase.

Further evidence of this was borne out at this year’s Neocon Office Furniture Trade Show in Chicago, where the percentage of floor space devoted to standing desk products was reduced dramatically from just a couple of years ago. The industry as a whole appears to have ceded much of the standing desk segment to online sellers, and taking up the slack with room pods and casual furniture for the new hybrid workspace. We were not all that surprised to see this. (The industry’s current ideology seems to be that if you make the commercial office look as much as possible like a home office, employees will happily return to “the neighborhood” to collaborate with their peers.)

Having pioneered on-demand manufacturing of standing desks back in 2014, iMovR has been the leader in offering more choices to the standing desk buyer–in terms of desktop shapes, colors and sizes, and lifting base platforms–in the industry. In desktop finishes alone we offer more than 60 choices of 3D-laminate and solid wood, in countless shapes and sizes. We stopped counting after 100,000 desk model configurations. 

The point is, most customers vastly prefer the option of designing their own state-of-the-art desks online, getting accurate and transparent pricing instantly (even bulk quotes are usually turned around in just hours), receiving them quickly and installing them easily–our most popular models not even requiring tools to assemble. Among the many indelible trend shifts that have resulted from the pandemic, the move away from arduous quote gathering from contract furniture dealers and towards ecommerce shopping seems to be one we can follow into the future of work.

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