Operating in one of the more difficult consumer discretionary categories–something we highlighted in our analysis of At Home last week–we decided to take a closer look at Ashley’s (formerly known as Ashley Home Furniture) recent strategy shift to differentiate itself from competitors through experiential events including live music, workshops, and giveaways. We’ve seen several examples where commercial property owners have increased visit frequency, dwell time, and trade area size to their mall properties through community events and other engagement efforts in the years following the pandemic, so it’s not surprising that retailers are also adopting similar approaches.
Ashley’s decision to incorporate live events into its marketing strategy is a response to the growing demand for experiential and immersive retail experiences. While we saw a pull-forward in demand for home furnishing products during the pandemic, it’s been more difficult for home furnishing retailers to drive customer visits the past two years, with the category continuing to underperform other discretionary retail categories compared to pre-pandemic levels (year-over-four-year basis).
Recognizing this, Ashley’s new rebrand and engagement strategies focus on interactive and memorable experiences while also allowing customers to engage directly with the furniture and explore various design possibilities. Additionally, Ashley has collaborated with interior designers and industry experts to offer informative sessions and workshops during these events. These events also provide an opportunity for the company to gain insights about its customers, which can then be used to refine product offerings, enhance customer service, and drive future marketing initiatives (which is especially important during a time of millennial and Gen Z generation household formation).
It’s early, but Ashley’s shift towards live events has shown promise results in terms of visit acquisition. We compared visitation trends for Ashley stores to other home furnishing retailers in the Los Angeles market (where the company hosted “Ashley’s Beach Retreat” event on Santa Monica pier from June 17-18). For the first four months of 2023, Ashley’s year-over-year visit trends in the Los Angeles market lagged the home furnishing category by a mid-teens clip. However, we saw the spread between Ashley and its peers in the market start to narrow after the event. While it will certainly take more engagement efforts to build long-term brand loyalty, it appears as if Ashley’s rebranding and event strategy are having a positive impact.