Furniture brands "terrible" at selling online


Joel Roos of One Nordic

News: the way design is sold to the public is "stuck" in the past and hasn't changed since the seventies, according to the founder of a brand that aims to sell high-quality furniture online (+ interview).

"I just feel that this whole industry is terrible at seeing that many people are moving online and willing to buy furniture online," said Joel Roos (above), founder and CEO of One Nordic. "It just feels like, when you go to Italy, time is stuck. Nothing has happened in this field."

Roos made the comments at the Stockholm Furniture Fair this week, where the Finnish company unveiled new furniture lines that fold flat to enable them to be shipped more cheaply.

"In many other retail fields so much is happening," he added. "But in the furniture field many, many companies retail exactly the same way as they did in the seventies."

One Nordic is developing innovative sales strategies that involve working with traditional retailers to showcase products to customers, who then buy them online. Retailers will be given a percentage of sales generated through their stores.

Hai armchair by Luca Nichetto

To reduce shipping costs, the brand has introduced products such as the Hai armchair designed by Luca Nichetto (above), which features a folding backrest. This cuts the shipping volume by half.

We don't want to call it "flatpack" because that has a bad ring to it," says Roos. "It's more about effective shipping."

"Most design furniture costs a fortune and is for this reason not accessible," says One Nordic's website, which can ship products to customers across Europe within two weeks. The site adds: "By making the shipping smarter and more effective, we can make our products more affordable."

Levels lamp by Form Us With Love

Another product, the Levels ceiling lamp by Form Us With Love (above), collapses to around a third of its size while the Pal Stool by Hallgeir Homstvedt (below) can be easily taken apart and put back together.

Pal stool by Hallgeir Homstvedt

A prototype shelf by Steffan Holm has a scissor-like structure so you can unpack it, open it up like a concertina and attach it to the wall.

Bento chair by Form Us With Love

One Nordic debuted at the Stockholm Furniture Fair last year where it showed the Bento chair by Form Us With Love (above), which also comes as a kit.

Innovation in the sale of design online has come from new players rather than established companies. Last autumn online furniture retailer announced it was opening a physical showroom in London, while flash sales site told Dezeen it had "IKEA-sized ambitions".

This month a private collector put his 1,000-strong of Braun products designed by Dieter Rams up for sale on eBay.

Here's an edited transcript of an interview with Roos conducted by Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs:

Marcus Fairs: We're at the Stockholm Furniture Fair on the One Nordic stand. Tell us about yourself and your company.

Joel Roos: I'm the founder of One Nordic, and this is our first birthday. We showed the prototype of the Bento chair by Form Us With Love one year ago, and now we're at the fair showing nine product families. So we've come pretty far in a year I guess.

Marcus Fairs: Tell us about your business model because it's quite different from other brands. You want to use the internet as much as possible; a lot of your products fold down for easy shipping.

Joel Roos: Yeah. I just feel that this whole industry is terrible at seeing that many people are moving online and willing to buy furniture online. But one of the biggest [limiters] has been the size of the items. What we want to do, without destroying the design and the high-end elements of these products, is to create smart shipping. We don't want to call it "flatpack" because that has a bad ring to it. It's more about effective shipping.

So, for example, our new lounge chair by Luca Nichetto has a folding backrest, which means that you get half of the volume of a normal lounge chair. All the air is gone so the shipping is so much more effective. Of course it's pretty green and good for the environment but also price-wise it's pretty effective.

Marcus Fairs: Are you going to be working with traditional retailers as well, or will people only be able to buy the products online?

Joel Roos: We are definitely going to work with traditional retailers. We're building a retailer network as we speak. We want to have good retailers. Because I don't believe in only online, or only bricks and mortar. It's about the combination. It's about having a really nice combo where you can rely on your retailers to show your products but then give back to them by, for example, giving kickbacks for sales online and so forth.

We're in a very weird situation in the field where some retailers are really suffering because of the big online stores, especially here in the Nordic countries. We have small retailers and customers go to their stores, have a look at the items and then disappear. The store never sees them again because much bigger retailers selling online with zero transport costs ship them for maybe 50% less to the customer.

Marcus Fairs: We call that "showrooming" in the UK. But how do you get around it? If a customer sees one of your products in a physical store but buys it online from you, how does the retailer benefit?

Joel Roos: This is a very interesting issue. We're looking into different alternatives. One alternative we've already started with is to look at where the purchased is based. Let's say Berlin: say we see a customer from Berlin on our web shop. If we have a good retailer in Berlin we give them a kickback for that sale via our web channel. It means that even though that customer might go home and buy it from our store, the retailer will still profit from this sale.

Marcus Fairs: Will people only be able to buy it online from you, or will they be able to find it cheaper on other websites?

Joel Roos: We're one of the few manufacturers that really focusses on selling through our own online store. So we'd like to be the most important online seller of our own products. Of course there are really beautiful online stores that we might use as retailers, but those are not the ones that are robbing sales from us.

Marcus Fairs: What about other aspects such as customer service? If someone buys an armchair online and decides they don't like it, or there's a fault with it, what will happen? How will you give the customer service that people expect?

Joel Roos: That's the other part of good retailer contacts. What we're working on is the mechanism of customer claims, so that unhappy customers can go to their familiar retailer in their city. The problem usually with online sales is that you have nobody in your country: you're trying to call Germany, nobody answers, they tell you to send an email. But if we have a good collaboration with our retailers they can be the ones doing this. Of course they will get their fair share for the work they do. This way we can make it more secure for the customer.

Marcus Fairs: Another problem with buying furniture the traditional way is you go into your nice local design store, you choose your piece and then they tell you it's going to take three months to arrive. How long will it take people to get the products they buy online from you? People expect things to arrive faster when they buy online.

Joel Roos: This is of course a problem with online sales: people's expectations are really high. There's two sides to it. When people visit an online store they expect everything to work perfectly and their tolerance of mistakes is very low. And then of course with delivery times, people want things to arrive pretty quickly. We are now looking at two weeks, which for a lounge chair is okay.

Marcus Fairs: Worldwide?

Joel Roos: No, right now we're working in Europe with our online store. Outside of Europe we are working through partners because it would be too difficult to handle. Our own webshop works within the limits of Europe, where we can guarantee transport within 14 days. So far that has been sufficient for our customers.

This is such an interesting topic to think about. Where is this field going? Where are we now? It just feels like, when you go to Italy, time is stuck. Nothing has happened in this field.

I'm a lawyer by education but my family has a background in the furniture field. The family business is furniture retail. I was working as a lawyer in New York in 2008 when the market crashed. At that point my mother who was the CEO of the company called and said could I come back to Finland to help in the furniture business.

So I came and after that I started going to fairs and meeting people. It was so interesting that in many other retail fields so much is happening. But in the furniture field many, many companies retail exactly the same way as they did in the seventies. That's how this idea came up: that things that could be done differently.

Marcus Fairs: Are all these products available to buy now?

Joel Roos: Almost all. The new shelf by Staffan Holm is still a prototype. The other new items here will be ready in six weeks, for example the Luca Nichetto lounge chair. But all items that we already had in our collection, plus the Levels ??? lamp by Form Us With Love, are already available online.


  • Steve

    And yet, looking on their website their furniture costs exactly the same as Italian brands. Splitting a lamp into three parts costs more than putting an entire lamp into a box and shipping it.

  • reinierdejong

    Dear Mr Roos, I know this may sound negative and I do appreciate your initiative and efforts but you sell the same things as brands did in the seventies.

  • If you are not within striking distance of IKEA, how can you talk about accessible? And what I mean by striking distance is 2x the cost of a similar product. But when you are still 3+ times the cost, your rhetoric is merely the regurgitation of the BluDots of the world.

    There IS a gap in the market to be sure, but nobody seems to be demonstrating a way to occupy that margin.

  • marco ferrarini

    Says the owner of a company whose claim is “we work with Scandinavian designers”. How old is that way of thinking?!

    What would Vitra be without Eames? Or imagine Kartell saying no to Starck because he’s French. Imagine Nendo or Fukasawa working only in Japan. This way of advertising Scandinavian design is a bit ridiculus.

  • Joel Roos

    Thank you for your valuable feedback. Pricing is always a very difficult issue. Our young brand is definitely heading for that gap your are describing. However, I do believe that consumers are willing to pay a tad more for quality, good design and lasting products. It is not our path to try to go low on pricing, rather find a level where price meets quality and design, in a way that is more accessible to a wider audience than is the case with most of the high-end brands out there.

    To answer Marco, we do use designers from outside the Nordic countries. Our new lounge chair is designed by Luca Nichetto. I love the idea of having non-Nordic designers design for a Nordic brand – it gives a deeper dimension to our portfolio. In the pipeline we have several non-Nordics.

    Lastly, I do believe that the biggest threshold for online sales is the size of the items. The difference is that when you send individual products directly to customers you need to think of these things. They are, naturally, less important in the traditional manufacturer-retailer relationship, however they are important from a ecological standpoint. In addition, assembly and disassembly is very handy when a consumer needs to move. Saves a lot of space and makes life easier.

    Again, thank you for the feedback. It really helps us at the beginning of our path.

    Founder of One Nordic, Joel Roos

  • Nuno

    Real quality always costs a higher price, it is simply irrational to believe it may be another way things happen. Good solid wood is expensive, woodworking and jointing are difficult, using machinery and know how that takes years of experience, not to mention the cost of catalogues and websites development and ending with the transportation fees.

    It is a luxury item for most of the people. Is it hard to understand? People tell me that IKEA prices are not cheap at all, a really good piece of furniture starts at €4,000 euros (a dinning table, a writting desk). Of course one can buy a lot of IKEA style “good furniture” but I still prefer my home empty with only one of the good pieces. Italian furniture and French are still the best money can buy.

  • Alan

    I think today there is a kind of blurriness between segments in the furniture business. I was really concerned when I saw a Muuto or Hay products beside a Cassina lounge chair. Are those Scandinavian luxurious products? Are those products in the right place to be sold? I think that is how strategically Hay got big so fast, but rumors from the retailers are not so positive, especially in quality, as Nuno was mentioning.

    It is also a responsibility of the retailers to select the right goods to their costumer. I still think if you like a luxurius product you want to have an experience that is build upon humanity (service), experience (touching) and not just a series of digital images.

    I’m really happy to see people like Joel, finding new way to sell products, but I would trace a line between a low, middle range, premium or luxurious products, like could be a Hans Wegner chair compared to an Ikea one.

  • Andrea

    Italy is a weird country. Time is stuck for some, and the future is made by others. Be careful with your boastful assumptions. Your vision of the field is clear and agreeable, but it’s simply where the market is moving: being pretentious won’t make the difference. Good luck from Italy.

  • It’s great to see other companies look into different ways to get their products to market. It allows for a much quicker turnaround from design to being available to purchase.

    There is nothing more frustrating than shopping for furniture that isn’t in stock or has a three month lead-time. I think two weeks is more than reasonable for a chair.


    An interesting article.