We’ve audited the top 50 home furnishings brands on Shopify Plus, assessing the adoption of customer bond building with practical suggestions for improvements. 

Whenever we speak to e-commerce teams, we commonly hear a version of the following: “We are growing web traffic from qualified sources, but our conversion rates remain low”.

The conventional wisdom is to optimize conversion rates with testing, personalization, upsell, and cross-sell apps.

Focusing on a low conversion rate ignores much bigger revenue growth opportunities achieved with an alternative approach. We call it the Customer Bond Building.

In this teardown, we evaluate the state of customer bonds across Shopify Plus’ top home and furnishing brands. And provide practical tips on how to add and strengthen yours.

We’ll be using Amazon.com as a reference point throughout the article. Love or hate them, Amazon is a long-time customer bond-building practitioner and understands how to play e-commerce at the highest level.

Top 50 Home and Furnishings Brands on Shopify Plus

There are countless home furnishings stores across the Internet, so to whittle down the list, we prioritized brands based on their ranking on Shopify Plus and number of products sold (hat tip: StoreLeads).

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Our research reveals shallow use of machine learning technologies – most of the top home furnishings websites built on Shopify Plus rely heavily on manual (hard-coded) customer-product bonds.
  • Collection pages are the least attended pages on any of the sites.
  • 90% of home furnishings brands on Shopify Plus do not personalize the buying lifecycle at all.
  • We see signs of improvement — with many brands already experimenting with conventional personalized product recommendations on the homepage, search box, PDP, cart, or checkout.
  • This is our ongoing project to help merchants crack the Amazon code for others to learn from and apply to their operations.

Customer Bonds

During our predecessor company, HiConversion, we spent over 10 years helping hundreds of well-known brands, like P&G, L’Oreal, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Timex, and many others, improve their conversion rates. We are using our innovative adaptive testing and experience optimization technology.

The truth is that testing and optimization work. The investment in such technology and services drives a high ROI.

However, after many thousands of conversion rate optimization projects. Plus, so many years of real-life ecommerce experience. We realized that brands are fighting the wrong enemy.

We realized that conversion rate optimization improves buying experiences of returning customers and visitors who are alike them, which only impacts up to 10% of all web traffic.

How about the remaining 90% of visitors? That every day, come to your site and leave without ever finding a product of interest.

We have a gaping hole in their operations. We call them Customer Bonds. Deep layers of hyper-personalized content create ‘bonds’ (real-time connections) with a wide variety of shoppers having different product preferences.

When done right, Customer Bonds deliver unmatched value:

    • Accelerate revenue growth from existing web traffic.
    • Differentiate your store with branded content.
    • Expand your market potential.
    • Improve your margins, lifetime value, and inventory management.

Symptoms of Weak Customer Bonds.

Your Shopify Plus metrics are leading indicators of damaged or missing customer bonds.

The ‘Amazon Way’.

One of the secrets of Amazon’s success is their application of the Customer Bond Building methodology.

The orange circles on the image indicate customer bond building ‘blocks’ on Amazon’s web pages.

The ‘Amazon grade’ shopping experience has become the industry standard, and it is essential that merchants bring the best of those experiences to their own Shopify store.

How we tore down the home furnishings brands‍

Using Amazon as a reference point, we wanted to see where already established brands are on their Customer Bond Building journey (and are they, well, any good?).

We rated our ‘tear-downs’ by (where possible) observing evidence of Customer Bonding activities. We map to the following ways you can manage your ecommerce shopping experience:

  • AUDIENCE – How well do you connect each visitor persona with relevant product discovery options?
  • BEHAVIOR – How your store is set up to detect, act on, and capitalize from dynamic purchase behavior.
  • CONTENT – How successfully are you taking advantage of the real estate across your store’s pages?
  • PRODUCTS – How dynamic are the ranges of different products you show visitors.
  • LIFECYCLE – How intelligently does your store engage different visitors across their buying journey?
  • GOALS – How effectively does your store achieve and measure your discrete business goals? (Note: knowing each brand’s business goals was beyond our audit, so we excluded this from our final analysis).

In this article, we’ll share our findings via a sample of 10 brands, with a rating out of 5 based on the observable activities above. With this quick review, you’ll have an idea of what sets these shopping experiences apart from the rest of the pack and get you thinking about how you can improve your site.

Pier 1

Obviyo’s Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Overview: Pier 1 is a Texas-based online retailer specializing in imported home furnishings and decor, particularly furniture, table-top items, decorative accessories, and seasonal decor. A longtime brick-and-mortar brand, in 2020, it reimagined itself as an eCommerce business, launching on Shopify Plus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our take: Pier 1 boasts 90,000+ products and dozens of categories. But with only fundamental product recommendations on a handful of pages, like product or cart pages, we see a Shopify Plus store with so much unrealized potential. Even with minor changes, they could get outsized gains.

Activities breakdown
Audience 0 The same shopping experience for new and returning visitors.
Behavior 0.5 Recommendations are changing with each page load, but non-relevant product types—semi-effective attempt to upsell in cart.
Content 0.5 Excellent job with the ‘Outdoor Patio Furniture & Decor’ collection page. Other collection pages are just vanilla grid layouts.
Lifecycle 0 Visitors are treated the same irrespective of their stage in the buying cycle.
Product 0.5 A large catalog that requires effective grouping of products in reasonable-sized collections.
Total 1.5

What’s Good?

  • Great use of branded content
  • Enormous selection of products.
  • Robust social proof (reviews).
  • They offer a separate app for mobile buyers.

What could be Improved?

  • It is hard to discover products without using search or navigation.
  • Category pages are identical, have generic layouts, and have simplistic filters.
  • No upselling or cross-selling in the cart or checkout.

Amazon’s Example: ‘Collection Thumbnails As Navigation’

Overview: Founded in 2016, Homesick is a home fragrance and lifestyle brand known primarily for its innovative soy wax candles. Offering nearly 200 ‘personal’ products representing every US state, city, and country; to occasions, people, and moments.

Our take: Homesick is innovating their online shopping experience as a modern Internet brand. They use some of the leading Shopify apps, and it’s evident they care about their product discovery experience. It's a shame they missed the apparent state/city/country personalization win with me on their homepage.

Activities breakdown
Audience 0 The same shopping experience for new and returning visitors.
Behavior 0.75 Good upsell and cross-sell in cart and checkout. Needs to be more deeply personalized.
Content 0.75 PDP ‘Gift Builder’ is nicely done. Collection pages could be more robust.
Lifecycle 0.25 Simple combinations of products check the box, but we don’t see any dynamic merchandising.
Product 0.5 A very focused catalog limits broad product selections.
Total 2.25

What’s Good?

  • Exceptional branding and visual design of products and overall site.
  • They have an intelligent search bar (most likely powered by Algolia).
  • Seem to be prioritizing product recommendations and bundles on high-value pages.

What could be Improved?

  • Static collection pages do not aid more profound product discovery for casual shoppers.
  • Missed opportunity to directly promote my ‘state’ candle to me (e.g., I was browsing from a Florida city).

Amazon’s Example: ‘Dynamic curation on collection pages’

Overview: Based in LA, Lulu and Georgia design and curate the ‘best in interiors to inspire your home’. They are considered a ‘high-end’ brand based on their pricing.

Our take: Lulu and Georgia oozes sophistication. And while they get credit for a sprinkling of personalized experiences, there’s a missed opportunity to showcase more products on their homepage and create more dynamic, engaging collection pages.

Activities breakdown
Audience 0 The same shopping experience for new and returning visitors.
Behavior 0.5 Semi-effective cross-sell on PDP and in checkout. Not deeply personalized, with shallow selection.
Content 0.25 Most pages appear manually curated. Collection pages use vanilla layouts, with ‘trending products’ buried in the footer.
Lifecycle 0.25 Email and promo pop-ups tell us they are targeting first-time buyers.
Product 0.25 Broad inventory with minimal overlap.
Total 1.25

What’s Good?

  • Category signposting across their landing pages aids in deeper discovery.
  • Seem to be prioritizing recommendations on PDPs to aid engagement. They are positioned above reviews.

What could be Improved?

  • Homepage visual merchandising is not dynamic, considering how many products they have.
  • Collection pages are static. ‘Trending products’ are buried at the bottom of the page.
  • No evidence of upsell or cross-sell in their checkout (despite having recommendations on the cart page).

Amazon’s Example: ‘Shop by Category: Visual Merchandising’

Overview: Burke Decor is an online boutique featuring home decor, furnishings, gifts and home accents by designers from around the world.

Our take: Burke Decor have clearly put thought into their visual merchandising strategy. Use of product photography as ‘filters’ on collection pages was a standout tactic. This is key to aid product discovery, especially when a brand has 10s-of-thousands of products. However, their cart experience, while rightly focused on the sale, lacked any evidence of dynamic personalization.

Activities breakdown
Audience 0 The same shopping experience for new and returning visitors.
Behavior 0.75 Multiple product recommendations are prioritized on PDPs.
Content 1 The ‘LOOKS GREAT WITH’ experience on product pages is excellent.
Lifecycle 0.5 Cart upsell/cross-sell inspires additional purchases.
Product 0.5 Broad inventory, with strong use of photography at top of collection pages.
Total 2.75

What’s Good?

  • Solid curation of products on homepage, but it wasn’t personalized or dynamic.
  • Product pages use 4 different kinds of recommendation widgets creating lots of inspiration.
  • Visual filters on collection pages help create strong jump-off points.

What could be Improved?

  • Checkout page misses opportunity to further upsell and cross-sell.
  • Product page recommendations could be expanded to further exploit category inventory.
  • The mobile shopping experience is ‘responsive’ but not ‘device specific’ for mobile.

Amazon’s Example: ‘Discover similar items’

Overview: Canadian stalwart, The Brick, is a popular retailer of furniture, mattresses, appliances and home electronics. Founded in 1971, it has a couple hundred retails stores and a busy online site.

Our take: The Brick has a rather unique approach to merchandising and product recommendations. However, it feels inconsistent, and the marketing bias of the website can at times overshadow the browsing experience. A big opportunity would be to create more dynamic, personalized deals catering to different visitors.

Activities breakdown
Audience 0 The same shopping experience for new and returning visitors.
Behavior 0.5 Category pages are strongest when it comes to product discovery, blending branded content with product lists.
Content 0.25 The entire site is bias towards promotional content, rather than products.
Lifecycle 0.25 Almost everything is geared only toward new visitors, but is not dynamically curated.
Product 0.5 Large inventory, with good use of curated category pages. But it is confusing where to start product discovery.
Total 1.5

What’s Good?

  • Fascinating visual merchandising and marketing strategy heavily focused on education and inspiration on high level collection pages.
  • Clear use of upselling inside the mini-cart popup.

What could be Improved?

  • The bias for promotional content is visually overwhelming, particularly on the homepage.
  • Surprised to see no dynamic product recommendations on PDPs, given visual merchandising is so strong elsewhere.
  • No further recommendations inside checkout.

Amazon’s example: ‘Dynamic, Personalized PDP Recommendations’

Overview: Famous for their sofas, Poly & Bark promise affordable prices, delightful customer support, as well as free shipping and returns.

Our take: With a fantastic, fresh web-design, Poly & Bark has so much potential to rapidly improve their personalization efforts. Their product pages have an untapped opportunity to showcase way more product variety and inspire more discovery beyond their best-selling sofas. (I also noted they are greeting EVERY visitor as “Dear Customer” with a Holiday shipping message).

Activities breakdown
Audience 0 The same shopping experience for new and returning visitors.
Behavior 0.25 Scant overlap of categories or product variety throughout buying journey.
Content 0.75 Products are beautifully presented, given room to breathe. Blending with more dynamic branded content would make this a 1.
Lifecycle 0 No product recommendations in mini-cart, cart or checkout.
Product 0.5 The ‘In Stock’ filter on collection pages is a smart way of thinking about leveraging meta data.
Total 1.5

What’s Good?

  • Excellent product photography captures attention and makes each product standout.
  • The carousel of sofas on homepage creates immediate jump-off points.

What could be Improved?

  • Single ‘Recommended for You’ widget on PDP gives impression this store has only a handful of products.
  • No product recommendations inside cart, or checkout.

Amazon’s example: ‘Dynamic Cart Upsell and Cross-sell interstitial’

Leon’s

Obviyo’s Rating: 2 out of 5

Overview: Founded in 1909, today Leon’s is one of Canada’s largest retailers, selling a wide range of merchandise including furniture, mattresses, major appliances and home electronics.

Our take: Much like The Brick, Leon’s homepage is nearly exclusively dedicated to static promotions versus dynamic product merchandising. The product pages have solid recommendations for related products and ‘You May Also Like’ widgets. A lack of dynamic upselling inside the checkout is an area of growth to explore. Collection pages are also ripe for better dynamic curation.

Activities breakdown
Audience 0 The same shopping experience for new and returning visitors.
Behavior 0.5 PDPs do decent job of introducing more jump-off points with various recommendations.
Content 0.75 The mattress ‘Ways to Shop’ guided navigation is excellent.
Lifecycle 0.25 Inconsistent product recommendations in mini-cart popup.
Product 0.5 ‘Shop by Category’ on homepage does nice job of creating jump-off points. Generally, collection pages are not dynamically curated.
Total 2

What’s Good?

  • Website has clear category navigation across the top of the site.
  • Well designed, visual search bar on each page (most likely powered by Findify).

What could be Improved?

  • Collection pages are busy and filtering is complicated, with endless toggles.
  • No product recommendations inside cart, or checkout.
  • Mobile product recommendation widgets are only ‘responsive’, not specific to mobile devices. Perception of product variety is reduced by the layout.

Amazon’s Example: ‘Highly-contextual recommendations on collection pages’

Overview: At just only a decade old, fast-growing Ruggable is well known for creating the first washable 2-piece rug system.

Our take: Individual rugs are hard to differentiate when merchandising a store like this (they have the same shape and footprint, creating a repeating pattern). While the homepage uses innovative filter illustrations, that visual experience is lost inside collection pages which feel generic in comparison. That said, Ruggable is absolutely a standout example of a brand prioritizing and strategizing with personalization.

Activities breakdown
Audience 0.5 Recently viewed products are prioritized for returning visitors on the homepage. (Note: the only brand on our list to do this!).
Behavior 0.5 Collection pages are weak when compared to the dynamic merchandising on homepage and product pages.
Content 0.75 ‘Find the Perfect Rug Size for Your Space’ widget on the homepage is excellent, but this ‘guided’ UX doesn’t continue through rest of buying journey.
Lifecycle 0.5 Incentive upsell in mini-cart, but no actual products to choose from. Checkout has no recommendations. I did feel like the site ‘remembered me’ however, with my recently viewed products easy to see.
Product 0.75 We love how product meta data is at the heart of how you ‘shop’ this site. We think they could further exploit this beyond nav, homepage and tag pages.
Total 3

What’s Good?

  • Strong UI design and visual merchandising make the homepage engaging for first time visitors. Highlighting recently viewed products creates immediate entry back into ‘shopping flow’.
  • Evidence of personalized product recommendations across their site (likely powered by SearchSpring).

What could be Improved?

  • No effective personalization in mini-cart, cart, or checkout.
  • Missed opportunity to better curate the collections pages with dynamic recommendations.

Amazon’s Example: ‘Highly rated and well-priced products’ (Note: use of combinations of meta data; price, color, size, rating, etc.)

Overview: Maiden Home is a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand featuring handmade and customizable furniture made in North Carolina.

Our take: Each product on Maiden Home feels special and the design of the site amplifies that. However, for there to be scant evidence of any personalization or product recommendations on any page left us wondering if they are leaving unrealized sales on the table.

Activities breakdown
Audience 0 New and returning visitors treated the same.
Behavior 0.25 This is a very passive site with regards to browsing – the content doesn’t change or update dynamically.
Content 0.5 The visual design of this site is stunning. However, the simplicity betrays how much variety is available under the surface.
Lifecycle 0 No personalized recommendations were observed during initial product discovery or purchase phases.
Product 0.5 The PDPs are rich in product meta data and shopping controls. Would love to see these combinations exploited in other areas of the site.
Total 1.25

What’s Good?

  • Excellent visual design and photography across the site motivates engagement.
  • The single column collection pages give attention to each product in a way other sites on our list do not.
  • The PDP ‘configuration’ logic is nicely done.

What could be Improved?

  • No personalization or dynamic merchandising on homepage, collections, PDP, or cart/checkout.

Amazon’s Example: ‘Complete the look’

Overview: McGee & Co. is not just a home furnishing website; it’s become an empire with a Netflix media deal and expansion into other major retail partners such as Target.

Our take: I was expecting McGee & Co to have more dynamic curation and custom visual merchandising techniques across the entire site. As I ventured into the cart and checkout, Shopify’s generic design made the buying journey feel more transactional than inspirational. They are taking good steps forward with product recommendations on cart and PDPs, but these also felt limited in scope for a store with over 20,000 products.

Activities breakdown
Audience 0 New and returning visitors treated the same.
Behavior 0.25 ‘Staff favorites’ recommendations had very shallow, non-personalized options.
Content 0.5 Great visual design and the vertical, persistent navigation is nicely done. However, all collections layouts are static with no personalization or branded content.
Lifecycle 0.25 Recommendations were observed as broken/duplicated during purchase phases.
Product 0.25 The PDPs are very simplistic. Huge missed opportunity to showcase depth and breadth of large inventory here.
Total 1.25

What’s Good?

  • Various product recommendations on PDP and cart page.
  • Overall, the design of the navigation and category options encourage initial discovery.

What could be Improved?

  • Despite upsells in the cart, these were duplicated and the layout looked broken.
  • No upsell/cross-sell in checkout. Another top brand missing this opportunity.
  • Generic collection layouts won’t appeal to new visitors.

Amazon’s Example: ‘Expanded category recommendations on PDP’

What top home furnishings brands tell us about Customer Bond Building on Shopify Plus

It’s foolish to make sweeping generalizations about Customer Bond Building adoption based on just 50 Shopify Plus stores in a single sector, especially as it’s still an emergent practice. But as we go into a new year and ecommerce teams are looking at ways of differentiating and competing, if I can give a few pointers to help you take the first step, here are three areas to inspire you:

  1. When it comes to customer bond building, it pays to behave like Amazon. Unlocking revenue potential from assumed non-buyers requires broad recommendation strategies. Designed for different buyer personas, actions, and context. When a greater percentage of visitors engage with recommended products, it influences a larger percentage of overall sales.
  2. Implement a separate device specific strategy for your visual merchandising and layouts. Mobile visitors spend half the time on ecommerce stores and convert lower when compared to desktop shoppers. Their shopping behavior is distinctly different and demands optimized experiences to influence them – not only responsive. Turning even 5-10% more of your mobile traffic into new customers can deliver outsized gains.
  3. Look beyond your existing customers and embrace your ‘cold traffic’ – after all, it likely makes up 90% of your audience. Every interaction by an anonymous web visitor could be a buying signal if your Shopify Plus personalization solution can detect and act on it. Visitors’ needs are always changing. What someone purchased in the past may not predict their future preferences.

Obviyo is the only certified Shopify Plus app powered by Amazon Personalize – the Internet’s most powerful personalization engine. In a few clicks you’ll be able to turn on and customize dozens of pre-built ‘Amazon-grade’ templates to help get visitors engaged and interacting with your products.

If you haven’t tried Obviyo Recommend, it’s free for 7-days*, and you’ll get the VIP treatment. Have us set-up the hyper-personalization strategy you need to improve your store and tap hidden sales from your existing traffic. Get it on Shopify, today.

Already deep into conventional personalization and want to make the shift? Book a demo to meet with one of our experts.

*for new, eligible customers only. Works best for stores selling 50 or more products and doing over $1-million in annual online sales.

Author: Zee Aganovic

Founder & CEO