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NAHFA DataLink: What’s In It For You?

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 145 NO.2 March/April


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Rick Howard knows all too well the love-hate relationship that can develop between the home furnishings retailer and his website. Howard loves the added sales and visibility that come with his furniture store’s online presence. He also hates the time and labor that goes into populating the website with product data provided by manufacturers in a variety of different formats.

“It’s always been a hassle”, said Howard, owner of Sklar Furnishings in Boca Raton, Fla., “Everyone just thought all this time and effort was a necessary evil of doing business on the Internet. That you had to dedicate all this time and expense to your web site.”

A new service promises to change that. The North American Home Furnishings Association has partnered with RM Innovations to convert and standardize manufacturers’ product data, then deliver it to home furnishings retailers to use on their websites, point-of-sale systems, e-catalogs, digital signage and more.

“The new service, NAHFA DataLink, will reduce the amount of time and labor retailers like Howard currently invest in building their web presence and product libraries,” says Sharron Bradley, CEO of NAHFA, which represents more than 1,800 home furnishings retailers throughout North America.
“We really believe this will be a game-changer for home furnishings retailers,” adds Bradley. “NAHFA DataLink is going to help level the playing field between brick-and-mortar retailers and e-commerce giants.”

The service was announced at the winter Las Vegas Market and has been embraced by retailers and manufacturers alike.

Delivering standardized product data to merchants is commonplace in retail categories such as appliances and electronics, but furniture has been slow to adapt in large part because of expense and time. “It’s a service that has been very segmented over the years and who’s time has finally come for furniture,” says Patrick Bain, chief operating officer at RM Innovation, the Kentucky-based marketing company that partnered with NAHFA to introduce NAHFA DataLink.

Bain said DataLink already has data on more than 220,000 SKUs from 55 rug manufacturers and expects home furnishings to be even more successful.

Retailers have forever been frustrated trying to access manufacturers' data including photos, pricing, measurements and styles in a standardized format. Indeed, web-service providers often hire many workers whose full-time job is to download and format the different types of product data from manufacturers.

The labor is expensive, but much needed. Without that data, online shoppers who can’t find what they are looking for locally, turn to e-commerce giants to do their research and shopping instead.

And make no mistake: Consumers are buying home furnishings online. Overstock.com’s highest-performing product category from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1—traditionally retailers’ biggest selling period of the year —was furniture. Yet even as online shopping grows, Forbes magazine reports that 90 percent of shoppers would rather buy from a brick-and-mortar store.

Bain takes that one step further, pointing out that online shoppers will buy locally, provided the merchant offers three pieces of data online: a product’s image, its availability and a price.

“Armed with that information,” says Bain, “studies show 47 percent of consumers will shop at a store close to them that provides them with those three things.

“Consumers want to visualize what they are in the market for,” Bain adds. “That’s where NAHFA DataLink comes into play for retailers. The more likely a consumer is able to make an informed decision from your website, the more likely she is going to walk through your front door. But they can’t visualize and make that decision without the product information.”

Bradley says retailers using NAHFA DataLink can provide that information—the same photos, pricing, availability and other information as Overstock, Amazon, One Kings Lane and similar online giants—giving customers the chance to buy locally.

NAHFA DataLink isn’t about retailers replacing their brick-and-mortar store, says Bradley. “It’s about your online store enhancing your brick-and-mortar store,” she says.

John Wells is president of Wells Home Furnishings, a two-store chain in West Virginia, and a believer in NAHFA DataLink.

Wells says his store is a lot like most home furnishings stores. His business comes primarily from local customers who come in to look, feel and ultimately buy. But increasingly he’s seen those customers come in having done their homework online.

“They’ve already started their shopping before they come through my doors so I see the importance of being online,” says Wells. “It’s becoming very clear to me and a lot of other retailers that to stay in business 10 years from now, we’ll need a store and web presence. NAHFA DataLink will help us build to that future.”

Wells uses a third party to populate his website, but even with outside help, he still doesn’t have the entire product data set available for his 100-plus vendors.

Bradley and other NAHFA officials have been meeting with manufacturers since January to get them on board. She said most are eager to participate, and that NAHFA hopes to have more than 300 manufacturers’ catalogs available to retailers later this year. DataLink will be free to manufacturers, and retailers will pay a monthly subscription fee.

That fee will be determined by the number of SKUs a retailer has. She said the Association expects to have firm pricing in place in April. The service will be available to all retailers, but NAHFA members will receive a steep discount.

Howard believes this program is needed among small and large retailers alike. “(NAHFA DataLink) isn’t about an end to a retailer’s brick and mortar. Nobody’s ready to give that up yet,” he said. “But technology is such that the business is changing for all retailers. Why not get ahead of the game now?”

For More Information: NAHFA DataLink is available to all home furnishings retailers, though members of the North American Home Furnishings Association receive a significant discount. For information about subscribing to NAHFA DataLink, contact Mary Frye at mfrye@nahfa.org. For information about joining the NAHFA (North American Home Furnishings Association) contact Kaprice Crawford at kcrawford@nahfa.org.

About Robert Bell:
Robert Bell is editor the North American Home Furnishings Association’s magazine for members, RetailerNOW. He can be reached at rbell@retailernowmag.org.

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.