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Online furniture startups gain momentum

Gyanindra Ali

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Tue, January 29, 2019  /  09:56 pm
Online furniture startups gain momentum

Savvy shopping: Online furniture store Fabelio offers about 6,000 products, ranging from bed bases, dining tables and bedside lamps to curtains. (The Jakarta Post/Dhoni Setiawan )

Indonesian online furniture shops, like Fabelio and iFURNHOLIC, are stealing the limelight with their savvy designs and competitive pricing. However, they face a major challenge in convincing conservative consumers to buy their products.

Scrolling through Fabelio’s website feels like strolling inside a trendy furniture shop. Among the extensive furniture choices is the Taylor Sofa, a three-seater with wooden legs that boasts a simple, yet classy design. 

At a glance, the sofa and many of Fabelio’s other products might remind you of those offered by Scandinavian retailer IKEA. This is not a coincidence.

“Our design approach is Scandinasian, an Asianized version of Scandinavia,” said Marshall Utoyo, one of Fabelio’s cofounder.

Marshall, the founder of Jakarta’s Conclave coworking space, started the online furniture shop in 2015 along with two prominent e-commerce professionals, Khrisnan Menon and Christian Sutardi.

Khrisnan previously worked for Lazada and Zalora, while Christian was part of an online food delivery platform, Foodpanda.

“From what I observed, the next step [of the online retail evolution] in every country is furniture, but why was it not available in Indonesia?” Christian said about their decision to establish Fabelio.

“Indonesia has a long history of making furniture, especially in the field of wood crafting,” he added.

Christian and his friends made use of Google Analytics data to track furniture trends and develop their products. Fabelio now offers about 6,000 products, ranging from bed bases, dining tables and bedside lamps to curtains.

Another online furniture shop that is gaining prominence is iFURNHOLIC, which was founded by Sidoarjo-based businessman Edhi Sutoyo.

Like many Indonesian furniture businessmen, including President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, Edhi focused on the overseas market when he started out in 1995.

In 2015, Edhi tapped into the local market with online furniture brand iFURNHOLIC. The shop sells its products on its own website and through marketplace platforms such as Lazada and Bukalapak.

“iFURNHOLIC’s product designs fit to what is popular in the market, particularly the taste of women in Indonesia,” he said.

For small spaces: Online furniture store iFURNHOLIC develops a range of multipurpose furniture pieces that are suitable for small houses. One of them is the Bernard Bench, a dresser with a seat.For small spaces: Online furniture store iFURNHOLIC develops a range of multipurpose furniture pieces that are suitable for small houses. One of them is the Bernard Bench, a dresser with a seat. (iFURNHOLIC/-)

Edhi added that the online nature of iFURNHOLIC had helped his company reduce its operating costs, which in turn led to competitively priced products. 

Fabelio and iFURNHOLIC are among a handful of Indonesian furniture shops that provide an alternative to major furniture retailers, which are inundated with imported products.

While the online startups remain secretive about their sales figures, the latest series of funding they have received indicates that the online furniture business is alive and kicking.

In May last year, Fabelio raised US$6.5 million in fresh funds. Meanwhile, home-and-living platform Dekoruma reportedly received a “multi-million” US dollar investment from Indonesia’s Global Digital Niaga and AddVentures by SCG, an arm of Thailand’s Siam Cement Group.

These local online shops pride themselves on locally made products and competitive prices.

Their online platforms, however, seem to be two-edged swords.

Indonesia’s e-commerce market is growing steadily with more and more Indonesians shopping for clothes, food and electronics online, but it remains to be seen whether they are comfortable about making an online purchase of bulky (and perhaps pricey) furniture.

“For me, I have to feel the furniture and its material first,” said Galuh Prariningrum, a 51-year-old housewife in Jakarta.

Galuh prefers to get her furniture directly from furniture stores, although she is aware that online stores may offer similar products at a lower price.

“Although it may be cheaper online, I believe a higher price means better quality,” she said.

To boost customer confidence, Fabelio and iFURNHOLIC have set up a number of physical stores to let customers check out the quality of their products.

Fabelio goes the extra mile by allowing customers to return the products within 30 days after purchase in addition to offering a 365-day product guarantee and free interior design consultancy.

Marshall said they came up with the free interior design idea after noticing that many people did not have a budget to hire an interior designer.

“In a way, we also help the customers to better buy our products,” he added.

Indonesia’s poor infrastructure has also become a hurdle for online furniture shops to expand their markets.

Currently, Fabelio ships its products to customers in cities on Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi. Marshall hopes that his shop would reach all parts of Indonesia in the future.

Despite acknowledging some limitations of the online business, Edhi loves the fact that iFURNHOLIC’s online platform helps him to communicate better with customers. His company often conducts online surveys to understand customers’ tastes and needs.

While the online shops still have a lot of work to do to entice conservative buyers, they have a growing customer base made up mostly of professionals with a limited amount of free time.

“Buying online allows me to survey the models and prices efficiently,” said 52-year-old Prio Anggoro, who has purchased tables, chairs, a bed and a cupboard online.

“I don’t have to go from one store to another, which takes up a lot of time, cost and energy,” he added.

-The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.

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