Consumer confidence dropped again last month, marking a three-month low and largely summarising what has been a cautious year of spending for British consumers.
Ahead of the busy Christmas trading period that spells potentially worrying news for all retailers, for those selling big ticket items – usually the first to fall off the shopping list when pennies are being squeezed – its will be particularly scary.
Some will be left biting their nails and praying for some Christmas relief after an unforgiving year, others, like the UK’s largest furniture retailer Harveys, will be inspired to act.
“For us as a brand we recognise that within retail now there are some challenges,” Harveys head of buying Lisa Broad, who recently launched the brand’s new Bold collection in partnership with Louise Redknapp, told the Retail Gazette.
“We didn’t want to launch the Bold collection and feel that it was just about that, we wanted customers to recognize that we’ve had a total journey change within our brand.”
The collection, Harveys’ first ever in partnership with a celebrity, launched its first run in September, with a second revealed a month later and a third in the works.
It represents not only a stylistically new direction for the retailer, but according to Broad it’s a fundamental shift for Harveys as a whole.
Although it’s certainly in part a reaction to modern shifts in consumer sentiment, it is also the culmination of a wider journey for the furniture chain, one Broad has been an influential part of.
“I feel very privileged to have gone on such an evolving journey with the brand because when I first joined, it was very successful in what it did,” Broad, who joined in 2011, said.
“It was very price and value in terms of its message. It was very good at that and offered customers incredible value.
“But then it’s gone through that journey of being so much more than just that pricing message. Back in 2014 I was a massive part of the launch of the Sofas By You collection.”
This collection offered customers the choice of any fabric on any sofa in its range and signified the first major push away from its foundational value offering, exploring a more design-focused direction.
“Most recently, that’s meant heading up and driving that strategic direction, so we’ve got more segmentation in our range that not only reaches out to that value conscious customer, but also is really pushing us in a new exciting direction with the design-conscious led customer,” Broad reflected.
“Back when I first joined it was a really positive thing that it was driven by price, but I felt that the desire and want from the consumer is definitely more than that, its evolving.”
Not only are customers becoming more cautious with their spending, but they’re beginning to live different lifestyles.
As house ownership in younger generations declines, alongside smaller living spaces, customers are demanding different things from the furniture they do buy.
“It’s about longevity, it’s about how that piece of furniture will evolve with their lives,” Broad said.
“It’s been so much more critical for us to focus on design trends than innovations. Whether that is a modular piece of furniture that can grow with your lifestyle or whether its fabrics that can complement a white box space in your property, that’s definitely been a bigger demand.
“People are wanting more out of the money they are spending. It needs to be more than just a practical piece of furniture.”
All this provided Broad and Redknapp with a green light to create something that had never been seen before at Harveys.
After meetings began in January, the pair got to work putting together a collection that was simple, stylish and practical.
“We wanted to give something that was very exciting and that was different to anything else that we were currently offering in our range,” Broad said.
“We didn’t want to have any kind of me too ranges that felt that they were playing too safe. That really supported where we were in terms of our strategy within Harveys as well. We’re definitely on an exciting journey.”
Despite this radical new direction for the brand, which has been mirrored by its stablemate retailer Bensons for Beds, Broad is adamant that its new direction will not mean a diversion from Harveys’ value-led core positioning.
“There’s no point showing our customers new ranges if they’re not affordable,” she said.
“It can be aspirational but still within reach, that’s really important to us.”