A new survey commissioned by the World Floor Covering Association underscores the unmistakable influence of big box stores in floor covering. Consumers who purchased flooring from either a big box or specialty flooring retailer in the past 18 months provided insights into their shopping experience. A finding that is sure to stir uneasiness among specialty retailers: Today’s consumer is twice as likely to rely on a big box store for their initial information as on a retailer devoted exclusively to flooring.      

When asked “Where did you first look for information?” 40% of the survey participants identified a big box store, while 18% said they looked to a specialty flooring retailer for their research. A follow-up question suggests that big box stores are also the primary source of flooring information found on the web. More than half of the respondents who said they used the Internet for research also noted that their first on-line destination was either homedepot.com or lowes.com. Overall, 17% of the shoppers said they relied on the Internet for their “first look” at floor covering.  Of those using the internet, 65% said they began the process by entering a general keyword on a search engine (10% said they went directly to a retailer’s website).

Apart from their presence on the web, big box stores edged out specialty stores in another key marketing area: direct mail. About 20% of all floor covering shoppers said they received some type of direct mail advertisement for flooring prior to visiting a store. Of those, more than 70 % said they received at least one mailing from Home Depot or Lowe’s (or both) while 57% said it was a specialty retailer that sent them promotional material. Participants also confirmed that the mailing-regardless of its source-prompted them to take action; about half of those who received a mailing said it spurred them to either begin researching a purchase or visit a store. Other key findings in the study include these:  

• The items most frequently mentioned as being purchased along with flooring were lighting, faucets and kitchen appliances.

• The top consumer magazine for “flooring ideas” is Better Homes & Gardens, (identified by 26% of consumers) followed by This Old House (11%).

• While men and women had similar responses when asked about color selection and quality; design trends are a far greater concern for women.

• The web still can’t beat word of mouth. Asked where they get their flooring information from before visiting a store, the No.1 answer was friends and family.

EDITOR’S NOTE:This is the first in a series of reports that explore how consumers shop for flooring. The findings are based on research conducted on behalf of the World Floor Covering Association, which commissioned Clear Seas Research (a sister company to National Floor Trends) to conduct the study. Future reports will look at such areas as “Flooring Products Purchased” and “Flooring Installation Experience.” For additional information contact wfca@wfca.org