Recently, we discussed four trends disrupting furniture brands. But we saved one major trend for last: the craze for customization.
Furniture customers want style and comfort that meets their exact specifications. In fact, the ability to customize a piece of furniture sets high-quality brands apart from products available in big box stores and outlets.
Customization, however, presents highly unique data challenges. Managing these options can be tricky from a data perspective, particularly controlling associated pricing and costs for each feature.
Yet Amplifi has cracked the code. We’ve created a PIM solution to help companies manage configurable products effectively and with ease.
We know furniture brands and manufacturers need clarity on this topic. So, we’ve brought in Amplifier Eric Gilboe to answer a few key questions — from what’s behind the trend to the more technical aspects.
Q: Why are configurable products so challenging from a data and process perspective?
The more customization you have, the more data you have. Silos are one issue — but the sheer volume and variety of data is another. Most manufacturers need to manage thousands of attributes and options ranging from sectional configurations to beds with unique legs and many fabrics, patterns, and materials to choose from. Plus, if the company sells overseas, translations or dimension conversions may be required.
That’s why companies need a single source of data truth by implementing product information management (PIM). This implementation shouldn’t just include a PIM platform, although that’s important. The program should also include establishing the right people (roles) and processes to meet your needs.
Q: Does this data complexity end up impacting the customer experience?
Organizations often feel the pain of poor data management in terms of internal processes — like manual work draining your time and resources. But what brands are noticing is that the problems trickle down into the customer experience.
Our last furniture article discussed how younger generations, in particular, feel overwhelmed by the online furniture shopping experience.
It’s ironic because they are digital natives and are highly comfortable with online interaction. But as digital natives, they expect user-friendly digital experiences. Unfortunately, many furniture companies still operate legacy systems not designed to support or enable that experience.
As rising generations—like Gen Z—make up the primary furniture customer base, it will be crucial for brands to meet their desire for extensive online product research, a personalized experience, and an easy and enjoyable shopping experience.
Q: We’ve discussed how PIM helps companies offer configurable products. Can you give us specifics on how this works?
At a high level, PIM provides the central repository furniture companies need to centralize, manage, enrich, and publish product data. This functionality helps you improve data accuracy, consistency, and completeness — plus enrich your product data with digital assets that are crucial for digital commerce.
But when it comes to enabling configurable products, you really need to think beyond the basics of PIM. This is where deep knowledge of data strategy, PIM platform selection, and solution design comes into play.
To handle all the complexity of configurable products, it boils down to options-based SKU management. This involves finding a way to establish all the rules and relationships that you need, while streamlining how it’s presented to the internal user and end customer.
Pricing is a major consideration since the cost of a product will change based on which options the customer selects. There are ways to streamline this within the solution design.
For example, the options (e.g., cushions, body fabric, welt, wood finish, etc.) are often the same across multiple product categories. So, to help standardize the process, we identify all key master option types and store them as a repository.
Using this logic, we can tie a series of option values to a master option via a linked repository.
An example of this would be Cushion Options as the master, with valid options of “Dream,” “Standard,” “Plush,” etc. For each option value, we can set a base upcharge price.
Q: Regarding configurable products, we often talk about scalability. Why is scalability important, and how does the right data model come into play?
Scalability is definitely a key factor here. Anyone can manage configurable options for a single product in a spreadsheet. But one product isn’t going to set your brand apart.
The question becomes, how do I continue to innovate and develop my product line with customization — and then sell those options across online, catalog, and in-store channels? PIM is the enabler, and we build data programs that streamline processes and improve productivity.
Sometimes it helps to think of an example — so let’s look at grade-priced products.
Upholstery products can potentially come in thousands of fabrics. But it would not be time effective to manage each available fabric for each available product. This could result in millions of SKU options.
To resolve this, we can assign a Grade to each fabric record and then use “Grade” as a master option.
This effectively allows us to manage pricing for fabric upcharges at the Grade level instead of the individual fabric level.
We can get even more granular, creating overrides for rare occasions and adding a prohibited fabric option. This prevents specific fabrics from being considered, even if they are the proper grade. Examples would include fabrics that don’t work well with motion upholstery, fabrics unsuitable for outdoor use, etc. These rules allow for micro-management of fabric options without managing each fabric option for each product SKU.
Q: Scalability and speed to market often go hand in hand. Is that true here as well?
Definitely. Furniture options change all the time. Especially now, given all the supply chain disruption. You may need to find a new material source, update sustainability-related certification, add a new digital asset, or launch an entirely new option or product. Consider doing all of this manually — it would take forever.
PIM gives you the advantages of scalability and ease of updates. If the cost of an upgrade option changes, the data can be modified in one location, and all associated product SKUs are automatically updated with the new pricing option.
If a new fabric is added to the product line and it belongs to a specific grade, it’s now available on all products available in that grade of fabric instead of mapping the new fabric to each SKU option. Using this logic, team members can quickly update pricing and option types across an entire product platform.
Q: What other nuances of customization might affect pricing?
The example I often give is that ‘a sofa is not a chaise’ — even though the two items may fall within similar parameters. Context matters.
A full-size sofa would require more fabric than a chaise (or an ottoman), and we need to account for this when determining the pricing of base and upgraded fabrics on a product.
To accommodate variations, we can build an associated mapping table with price increases by product category for each grade of fabric and associated upholstered elements.
For example, if a dining chair has an upholstered seat but no back, the cost for fabric would be much different than a dining chair with an upholstered seat and arms. By creating an additional “product type” mapping, we can associate a specific upcharge by product type for specific option types on a product.
Q: Is there a way to link certain options to specific SKUs?
Absolutely! To allow options to be associated with specific SKUs, we created a SKU to Option linked repository. This allows any base frame design to be tied to a set of configurable options.
If a furniture product is considered “configurable” (via a flag on the product record), a business rule can be added requiring at least one product option to be configured.
In addition, specific option values could be limited for a specific option mapping. For example, for Cushion Upgrades, we might allow “Standard,” “Premium,” and “Cloud” for one sofa, but only “Standard” and “Premium” for another.
Q: What about the last mile of generating a priced SKU that the customer can order for fulfillment?
For a configurable SKU to be created and added to the ERP system, you need to know exactly which options were selected for the SKU.
To manage this process, we designed a way to combine the available options for the SKU (from the SKU to option repository) along with our associated upcharge amounts (from the product type mapping repository) — ultimately creating an orderable SKU string with a custom MSRP that includes all key options.
Q: Can you give a real-world example of a furniture brand using PIM for a configurable product approach?
We have several leading furniture brands implementing this approach right now. We’ve announced several in recent months, including Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM) and MillerKnoll.
Another client, Bassett Furniture, recently presented a webinar on their data transformation — noting that the ability to offer product customization was central to their PIM implementation.
Bassett is even known as “custom black belts” for their infamous made-to-order products, which include over 800 fabric types. For years, they managed their data options manually. But they realized PIM was necessary to scale and achieve their digital transformation goals.
With the help of Amplifi, they selected Precisely EnterWorks PIM, particularly due to the platform’s strength in supporting configurable products.
The PIM program now helps Bassett quickly establish hierarchies and product relationships — something their ERP system could never do. Having all data in one place, supported by automated processes, saves their team time and provides greater visibility into the product lifecycle.
Their journey has been extremely successful — full of ‘lessons learned’ for other brands. You can read Bassett’s success story here.
Your Configurable Product Journey Starts Here
Thanks to Eric Gilboe for the insights on setting your data up for a successful configurable product approach.
Are you curious about adopting PIM for configurable products? Amplifi knows the needs of the furniture business better than any data consultancy. We’ve helped many leading furniture brands achieve their data and digital transformation goals.