“People spend more time researching which sofa to buy than which house,” Rob Bridgeman, CEO and founder of DTC sofa brand, Snug, told attendees at Econsultancy Live this week.

Why? Because long wait times and complicated assembly requirements often cloud the sofa-buying journey.

This is precisely what Bridgman set out to fix when he founded Snug in 2018, aiming to disrupt the furniture industry with their product and customer experience.

“We managed to reduce delivery times from nine weeks to one day. The product can be built in minutes without the need for any tools. It’s guaranteed to fit anywhere and can be reconfigured endlessly, and we offer a 100-day trial,” explains Bridgman.

With Covid changing “the way people live, work, and socialise” during the past 18 months, Bridgman says that “we have reached the tipping point, and the sudden shift [in consumer behaviour] has forced companies to innovate, to find new ways to reach and interact with their customers.”

Direct comms with customers leads to compounding growth

So, if we are at the start of the next retail revolution, who is going to win?

“My money is on companies that are listening to their customers,” says Bridgman. “At Snug, we encourage a test and learn philosophy; by doing this we can pre-empt changes faster than most due to the in-built feedback loops, and these insights feed straight back into our strategy.”

Bridgman breaks down a framework for innovation, which includes a combination of lean thinking, design thinking, and agile methodologies. “To be honest, all of them can be deployed in any business but I believe retailers and particularly ecommerce companies can cycle through this much faster, which essentially means that we – as digital-first businesses – are in the best position to disrupt. Direct communication with customers and feedback loops all lead to compounding growth.”

The D2C founder explains that one of the biggest risks for businesses today is over-complicating and to losing sight of what’s important – i.e. the customer.

“By being closer to our customers we can keep innovating,” he says. “We can use the insights gleaned from customer interactions to really focus and improve our offering. We can use all these insights to funnel it into one of these three key areas: product and supply chain, brand, customer journey.”

Social commerce to lead the next wave of innovation in retail

One way that Snug gleans feedback from its customers is through user generated content, which, as Bridgman explains, allows the company to “understand more about our customers, it helps us build a community, and it helps us create assets for marketing.”

Bridgman concedes that USG is nothing new. Crucially, however, he says that it “supports community building, which is a cornerstone for the next retail revolution.”

“I genuinely believe that the next wave of innovation in retail is going to be led by social commerce,” he continues, referring to the mix of content, community, and commerce, that Snug aims to create with its own live social events.

“Our latest Instagram Live was a huge success; we virtually filled Wembley stadium (that’s over 12,000 people). We generated over 40,000 comments which is the equivalent of 20 per second. And we blended social media with instant messaging, live streaming, celebrities, shopping, and more – including gamification – into an interactive and immersive 40-minute live which blurred the lines between entertainment and ecommerce,” explains Bridgman. “Off the back of it we’ve had record traffic and record revenue.”

Interactivity is key to customer engagement on social

While Snug is certainly innovative in its approach to social, Bridgman concedes that western markets are still way behind China in terms of social commerce. He references Lipstick King as a prime example – the Chinese influencer who recently sold $1.7bn worth of goods in 12 hours ahead of Singles Day.

“In terms of what’s next for the UK, it depends on where the technology takes us,” he says. “One of my real frustrations in trying to drive this forward is that the social platforms – Facebook and TikTok – have features that they are rolling out quite slowly. So, as retailers, you need to get on their beta platform, and retailers are currently limited by the technology that’s available to them.”

Bridgman suggests that the key to the success of social commerce is interactivity, which is becoming increasingly heightened by new platform features.

“If you think of QVC – we internally use the expression of QVC 2.0 – it’s quite 2D compared to social commerce. So, what I mean by that is you’ve got some talent or a presenter who is going through a script and essentially selling you a product.” In comparison, he says, “what social allows you to do is layer in community and interactivity. So, going back to the example of our Instagram Live, there were dozens if not hundreds of people who got the opportunity to interact with [host] Katherine Ryan, which I’ve not seen anywhere else before.”

Bridgman also says that this kind of strategy should not be limited to digital-only brands, but that social commerce is an opportunity for all kinds of retailers.

“If you keep an eye out in terms of what Facebook and TikTok are doing in terms of releasing new features, you’ll see increasingly that they are starting to include shoppable features in stories and feed posts and adverts – this will be driven largely by the platforms themselves, but ultimately retailers (whether that’s ecommerce or traditional retailers) are going to be the ones that are going to be executing on them.”

Pushing the boundaries of furniture retail

So, what’s next for Snug? Bridgman hints that a physical store strategy could be on the horizon, driven by the customer’s desire to see and try out furniture before they buy it.

“We’ve just recently launched our first pop-up store in Leeds, and we are also trialling some other innovations for example mobile showrooms,” he explains “On our website, you can arrange for one of our sofas to be brought to your home; you can try it and sit on it and if you like it, order it. We’re just trying different ways to keep pushing the boundaries on how sofas are retailed.”

Snug is also continuing to utilise short video content to help bring its product to life, which alongside imagery and other forms of content, is largely being driven by its own community.

“Our future customers want to see something in real life, so we’ve found that – whether its images or videos – it doesn’t work very well if we use something very staged. It’s amazing to see how engaged our customers are; they are typically very house-proud people and a lot of them have their own home accounts. Or, if they’re not an aspiring influencer, they like to show their friends or family or followers their latest purchases for the home.”

“Ultimately, our strategy is to work with our community, to be at the very heart of it, and encourage [the] sharing of content.”

Social Media Strategy Best Practice Guide