While they lament that they can not touch or feel the products they are considering, consumers using the internet to shop for flooring say they appreciate both the breadth of information available and the convenience it affords. Also, while it is clear that shopping on the web will not replace traditional brick and mortar retailing anytime soon, there are strong indications that the influence of web-based shopping will continue to grow. Those in the flooring business, who ignore it, would seem at a significant disadvantage.

These are some of the main conclusions to be drawn from consumer focus groups that looked at the buying habits of those shopping for flooring with a computer. Conducted by National Floor Trendsand BNP Media for the World Floor Covering Association, the research was aimed at seeing what consumers like and don’t like about shopping for flooring with the click of a mouse. About half of those participating said they used the Internet to research a flooring purchase that was later made at either a big box retailer or a specialty flooring store.

Often, consumers said their search for floor covering started with a keyword search, usually on Google (although other search engines are also mentioned). Those who opted to go directly to a site usually visited one run by a prominent manufacturer or retailer such aswww.armstrong.com,www.mannington.com, orwww.homedepot.com. Some consumers said they also looked for websites not promotional in nature, including d-i-y installation sites and consumer review sites includingconsumerreports.org. Typically, they used the internet to access product specifications (including pricing), installation information and care instructions.

Consumers said they do not necessarily believe that online content is more credible than what they would hear from a retailer. For example, a consumer from Milwaukee said, “It depends upon whether you can determine if the content is from someone you deem reputable. We tend to make our decisions based upon anecdotal experiences you hear from others.”

Of special interest was World Floor Covering Association’s new consumer website atwww.wfca.org, which is designed to offer information and connect consumers to member’s stores. The reaction to the website among consumers was very positive, with respondents particularly liking the large quantity of useful information. On a scale of one to 10 consumers gave it an 8.8 rating.

Consumers were asked about specific features including the site’s sections on all flooring categories and a Virtual Room Designer that encourages consumers to design a room around their individual style preferences. “If you’ve got a house that’s got a red room and you’re going to put something else in there, you look for something that’s red or change the color of the walls and then pick a carpeting or tile to match it as closely to your own,” said a Milwaukee participant. Consumers mentioned they would like the ability to be able to upload a picture of their own room.

Consumers also said the site was easy to navigate and was well-organized (8.7 rating out of 10). “I can see what I’m looking for right away,” said a Chicago participant. Another comment from the Chicago group, “Lots of helpful information that I would not have known.”

One concern expressed by consumers involved finding the website. Some of the group’s participants said they would not have been able to locate it on their own without prompting. Still, there was wide agreement that the Dealer Locator (searchable by zip code) was particularly useful. “I can call and see whatever I want. I can Mapquest and find out how to get there,” said a Chicago participant, with apparent enthusiasm.

Other findings from the consumer group research include these:
  • A majority of participants said they used the internet to help research their latest flooring purchase.
  • Nearly half of the consumers conducted a keyword search with Google being the top search engine. Another was Yahoo! Keywords commonly used included names of specific categories including hardwood flooring, carpet[s], ceramic tile, laminate flooring, porcelain tile and stone flooring. Some said they entered brand names like Pergo or the name of a retailer.
  • Focus group participants looked online to find the following types of information: general product information: color options, pricing, availability; product recommendations; design/project ideas; and d-i-y tips.
  • A major weakness of the internet, participants said, was that it is not physical. Because the consumer cannot handle the product they are considering, they are more inclined to gather information and go to a retail store to see it and feel it.

Some group participants said they visited a flooring retailer before they went online.

About the Focus Groups

The Consumer Research was conducted by Clear Seas Research, which is a unit ofNFT’s parent company, BNP Media, for the World Floor Covering Association.

The study was conducted using 4 focus groups conducted in Chicago and Milwaukee on October 18 and 19, 2006. The focus group participants were separated by customer type: big box or specialty flooring store with participants included in their respective group. Each of the participants was over 25-years-old, employed, homeowners, purchased flooring (excluding area rugs) for at least one room within the past six months, a decision maker in flooring purchase, and purchased products or services online.

The primary focus of the study is to explore end-user attitudes and behavior concerning their recent flooring shopping experience. Specific research objectives included: measuring consumer satisfaction with regard to their recent flooring purchase; determine the process used when shopping for flooring; explore attitudes and perceptions of consumers with respect to specialty retailers versus big box stores; and internet usage.