2023 retail sales report: Furniture is low on list of consumer priorities

Estimated 5.4% sales decline for the year shows sector trails significantly behind the growth seen in most other segments

WASHINGTON — A review of 2023 retail sales activity shows where furniture ranks in terms of spending and what segments posed the most competition for the consumer’s disposable spending.

As we previously reported in January from figures released by the Department of Commerce, 2023 furniture store sales totaled $133.6 billion.

This placed the segment at No. 11 in the Top 13 categories tracked by the U.S. government, falling just above sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and bookstores at $103.2 billion in sales and electronics and appliance stores at $92.6 billion in sales.

Miscellaneous store retailers, such as pet stores, florists, religious merchandise retailers and office supply and gift stores, for example, by comparison, did just over $50 billion more in volume than furniture stores for the year. Also performing better than furniture stores were clothing and clothing accessories stores at $312.7 billion, health and beauty stores at $433.1 billion and building materials and garden supply stores at $499.1 billion. 

Total sales volume for other segments are as follows:

+ Gasoline stations – $653.97 billion

+ General merchandise stores including department stores – $874.7 billion

+ Food and beverage stores – $985.8 billion

+ Restaurants and bars – $1.086 trillion

+ Nonstore retailers including e-commerce retailers and catalogs – $1.4 trillion

+ Motor vehicle and parts dealers + $1.6 trillion

So in the big picture, furniture store sales seem meager by comparison, although it’s perhaps unfair to compare the segment to higher-priced items such as automobile and automobile parts sales, for example.

To put things in even bleaker perspective, domestic travel spending for the month of September alone was $104 billion, according to the U.S. Travel Association, or about 78% of the total furniture spending for the entire year.

Thus, such figures give us an idea of the overall competition for consumer spending.   

But perhaps the most revealing data is the growth in each segment compared to growth of furniture store sales. As previously reported, furniture store sales for the year declined about 5.4% for the entire year based on the government estimates. Gasoline stations saw the highest percentage decrease at 11.5%, while building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers fell 3%.   

By comparison, just about every other category saw an increase in sales, even sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and bookstores squeaking by with a .4% gain and electronics and appliance stores with a .6% gain. This is likely not enough to give out raises or hire more workers. But it’s at least near flat, which some folks we speak with in the furniture industry say they would be thrilled to achieve.

Again, the segments with higher percentage gains show where some of the competition lies, particularly outside the travel and entertainment industries. Below is a quick snapshot of the increases by segment.

+ Clothing and clothing accessories stores – up 1.6%

+ Food and beverage stores – up 2.5%

+ Miscellaneous store retailers – up 3.2%

+ Motor vehicle and parts dealers – up 4.2%

+ Nonstore retailers – up 8%

+ Health and personal care stores – up 8.5%

+ Restaurants and bars – up 11.3%.

Consider for a moment spending at restaurants and bars. This is not just a double-digit increase coming off a low number. It comes off a high number, which pushes sales over the $1 trillion mark.

As with travel, many people are putting their hard-earned dollars on experiences that are fleeting, although they certainly can create lasting memories, which is hard to put a price tag on.

But furniture too can create a lifetime of experiences and memories inside one’s home. That’s one marketing message our industry can capitalize on for sure as it digs itself out of the doldrums and into solid growth territory. Let’s hope that happens sooner versus later.  

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at tom@homenewsnow.com and at 336-508-4616.

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