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Often considered the focal point of any living space, the sofa industry has grown and expanded so much that the modern day sofas are almost unrecognisable from their very earliest ancestors – and yet the basic outline and design is much the same. Today, consumers associate sofas with huge savings and with the expanse of television adverts which seem to constantly be advertising some form of discount or sale on select models and various designs – so much so, that buying a sofa at full price seems nigh on impossible.
But how much of this savings and discount culture is really offering consumers a good deal, and how much of it uses marketing and smart messaging to drive consumers towards purchases that they may otherwise be inclined to avoid?
There has been a great deal of noise made around both the sofa industry and the bedding and mattress industry in recent years, with documentaries and mainstream investigations looking into their sales techniques to ascertain the meaning behind these sales and how they are designed to influence consumers demands and interactions with the industry. One of the major findings reported across sofa sales techniques looked at the additional extras that retailers are now adding to the sale cost of any sofa – including various insurances and fabric protection plans, as well as delivery fees and service fees. Add this all up and what you end up with is a very questionable sales plan. But it’s not all neon signs and hefty discounts.
The sofa industry is in fact one of the most successful of all the homeware industries and sectors, largely because when you list the items of furniture needed for any home, a sofa will likely be top of the list. The sofa is the mainstay of the family home – and that is the definition which has driven the success of the industry to this day.
Once an ornate and elegant piece of furniture reserved for the households of the wealthy and royal families, sofas were long regarded as luxury items between the times of the Ancient Roman’s and the 1620’s where furniture items became more commonplace. Even then, sofas resembled much sturdier and more solid church pews than the fabric covered products we herald today, with households and consumers using them as much for their weight in holding drafts out and doors closed as for their comfort.
To look at sofas as know them today, the first examples of these upholstered pieces of furniture were only really brought to the market when homes began to be built in a more structurally sound way, eradicating the need for furniture items to hold doors closed and keep drafts out, and instead allowing them to be used as the furniture provisions they were designed to be. Walls became warmer and more comfortable, and so fabric was pulled away from the walls where they provided insulation, and instead started to be attached around items of furniture in order to make those pieces more elegant and stylish for homes.
Of course, a sofa today is not just a frame and fabric – arguably the most important part of any sofa or comfortable chair is the padding, and in the case of the earliest sofas this was made from horsehair and dried sea moss, with comfort gradually improving as more and more new ways of padding out the fabric chairs were discovered.
That’s the history of the padding of sofas and how modern sofas found their comfort – but in terms of the construction and design, this came a little later. It wasn’t until the 17th century that sofas began to use longer seats and higher backs for optimum comfort and to allow space for more than one user at any time – creating furniture which the family could sit on, thus moving them away from the bed which, prior to the creation of the sofa, formed the most commonly used seat in the home.
And from there the sofa industry really took off, creating day beds and all manner of different styles and designs as fashions changed and trends were adjusted.
Looking back at the history of the sofa industry and where the modern day sofas came from, it seems clear that the invention and development of the industry was born from both a functional need and a desire for comfort – with sofas on the modern market not only offering consumers different comfort levels and firm ratings, but also utilising a wide range of styles so as to suit and compliment any kind of home.
Which styles and types of sofa are the most popular in any given season is largely a result of trends and the ways in which retailers adjust different sofa types in line with changing consumer demand and the rise of technology and other complimentary product lines – however some of the most popular sofa styles include:
When it comes to determining the most popular sofas, and especially in light of the revelation about how many sales and discounts tend to occur across the industry, retailers and manufacturers often find that it isn’t just the style and shape of the sofa which can impact its popularity on the market – other factors like the fabric, patterning and colour of the sofa are also hugely influential
Fabric and material finish is growing increasingly important with regards to consumer decisions about the best sofas for their homes, due to the effect fabric has on the appearance of a room and the way that different fabrics lend themselves to being washed or cleaned. Some of the most common fabrics associated with the sofa industry include:
And then we have the colouring of the sofa, with retailers and manufacturers paying close attention to the on-trend colours of each season and constantly innovating their product lines to deliver sofa products which both stand out and also create a complimentary finish with various home styling solutions. What this does mean, particularly with the very fluid movement of trends in the modern world, is that retailers are consistently finding stock becoming outdated and reminiscent of trends that have passed by – leading to two main outcomes. One of these outcomes is the sales and hefty discounts mentioned before. The other lies in the way that modern sofas are manufactured, with many retailers making one or two show pieces for shop floors and marketing promotional shoots, and otherwise only making sofas to order as and when consumers ask for them. This protects the retailer from making lots of stock which doesn’t sell, but it can cause long lead times for consumers which can have an impact on the overall customer journey and experience.
The experience of consumers in the sofa industry is one which relies heavily on the ability to trial different sofas and compare the firmness and material finish of different products. The fact is that while ecommerce and online shopping is responsible for huge boosts across every retail sector, there are still some products which are best tested in person prior to purchase – and sofas are certainly one of those products.
As such, some of the most popular retailers in the industry are those which operate ecommerce stores alongside showroom stores – with many running out of larger warehouse sites in order to pack the space full of as many options as possible for increased exposure to their various products. Some of the top retailers operating within the sofa industry include:
It is worth noting that of these retailers, many of them promote not just regular sofas but all manner of different styles, with complimentary armchairs and occasional chairs available as well to provide consumers with a choice of package deals and living room sets. These are often popular with consumers who have larger homes or who wish to create continuity across their homes with sofas and armchairs in a couple of different rooms but all using the same patterning and aesthetic appearance.
A handful of these retailers are also offering additional services which elevate their customer proposition and help them to stand out to consumers, with some of the top names offering sofa cleaning services, re-upholstery services for tired exterior fabrics, and even tailormade sofas created from the consumer’s choice of material and their unique measurements.
As is the case across so many other retail sectors and industries, one of the leading trends in the sofa industry is of course the rise in technology and the influences that technology is having across the industry in terms of innovation and new products. From sofas with built in speakers, adjustable backrests, and extendable footstools, the way that technology is being integrated into furniture is primarily a response to the demand for convenience throughout the home – though some of the innovations built into sofas are purely aesthetic, for example lights around the base of the sofa.
Many of the other trends in the sofa industry relate purely to the standard comfort and appearance of products, with one of the most prominent being the materials which are used to make sofa frames and how much of those frames are on view. The modern sofa takes on many shapes and sizes, with some of the most creative actually exposing wooden frames and covering just the seats and small strips of the armrests with upholstered padding – leaving the rest of the frame on show in a very modern move towards creating more neutral lines and natural influences in the home. This trend of keeping natural materials on show in the home isn’t just exclusive to the modern styled home; it can also be found in contemporary homes and industrial styling as well, showing that many of the most recent style innovations are taking a step away from fabric and perfect finishes and are instead employing the use of har lines and angular finishes. And for those not keen on the natural material of some of the most modern sofas, there are also those modern creations which are employing different textures as a way of adding vibrant and sophistication to different spaces – retaining the neutral colouring of some of the most popular sofas on the market, but using varying materials and textures to add a little extra to the aesthetic finish.
Of course, a lot of the influence of sofa trends and popular products comes from the visual influences and inspirations that consumers have regular access to – with some of the most popular being social media accounts, home inspiration profiles and websites, home styling magazines, and home renovation and real estate programmes on television. The fact is that as modern consumers, we are hugely influenced by what we see and what we think looks good, with many different retail sectors relying on models and visual advertising to drive consumers towards the newest and most on-trend new product lines and ranges.
As a global industry, the sofa sector is one which has taken on great development in the last few years, expanding rather than changing in its focus, so that now the industry is home to a wide range of different styles and designs which are all suited to and preferred by different kinds of consumer. As a main staple in the home, the sofa industry is one where demand is everything – leading retailers to consistently lean on discounts and deals in order to keep their stock lines up to date and in line with various trends.
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