Homeware: The true cost of Instagrammable and unsustainable shopping

March 28, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic saw consumers prioritise their living spaces, but what damages could be wrought from rapid, trend-led purchasing of homeware?

Ostentatious full-length mirrors. Cushions of varying shapes and sizes. Candles and diffusers in abundance. Unusual plants in minimalist pots. Ornaments that take up more space than they’re worth. Abstract artwork that screams “Avant Basic” and catches the eye of many a guest that comes to visit. I can bet that you’ve purchased at least one piece of homeware in the last year – and who could blame you? When COVID-19 restrictions gave us no reason to put any effort into our wardrobes, we turned our collective attention to our homes.

In fact, online shopping for homeware among UK consumers rose from 48% in March 2020 to 63% the following year, coinciding with national lockdowns and restrictions that were in place during this period. Fast fashion retailers like Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, and Missguided spotted an opportunity, each launching homeware lines within six months of each other at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. Just as fast fashion was normalised by regularly showcasing a new outfit on social media, “fast homeware” was normalised by the desire to continuously tweak, update, and redesign our living spaces. 

What is fast homeware?

Fast homeware refers to the trend-oriented, impulsive, and often seasonal purchasing of cheap furniture and home décor. Although it seems like a new concept, fast homeware has long been part of our shopping habits, where there’s an increasingly blurred line between fashion and interiors. Take Zara Home and H&M Home, for instance, which launched in 2003 and 2009 respectively. This hailed the dawn of a new homeware era, as a growing number of supermarkets also reconfigured their non-food offering to offset the challenges in their own sector. 

The pandemic has merely exacerbated a booming and burgeoning industry that has been capitalising on the lifestyle trends of millennials and Gen Z for years. Fashion brands and homeware suppliers alike offer consumers a lifestyle narrative they can buy into, responding to the desire to aesthetically yet cost-effectively brand every aspect of their lives. Mango’s move to homeware in April 2021 substantiates this concept, with the brand stating its intention to “complete the lifestyle of its customers beyond fashion”.

Generation Rent

Of course, the relationship consumers have with their home can be heavily influenced by social media. Platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Pinterest have not only encouraged people to be more design-conscious, but also proliferated interior trends and, thus, influenced purchasing decisions. With a growing number of consumers taking us into their homes on social media, it has become more appealing to follow suit, which means finding new ways to showcase who we are through our living spaces and make them more “Instagrammable”.

For those who make up Generation Rent, this interest has been fundamentally shaped by increasingly challenging financial circumstances, due in part to job losses, salary reductions, and ongoing economic recessions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Many renters are balancing the desire to feel more comfortable, stimulated, and secure at home, with financial limitations and the likelihood of needing to move home frequently. Consequently, the affordability and accessibility of homeware that mirrors current interior trends has become particularly appealing.  

The fallout of fast homeware

The impulse to curate our homes is significantly driven by the continuous cycling of homeware and interior microtrends, which are proliferating at such a speed and reach that fatigue is setting in much faster with each new craze that emerges. You’re likely to have noticed this with smaller homeware goods – body shaped ornaments, tiny fake succulent plants, and fluffy cushions may spring to mind. On the surface, the increased accessibility of homeware that mimics their more expensive counterparts seems like a great concept. However, as we’ve come to experience with fast fashion, there is an inevitable fallout from consumer behaviour that’s swayed by rapidly cycling microtrends. 

This fallout can encompass the theft of ideas from small designers and businesses, in addition to unethical and environmentally damaging manufacturing processes – from the exploitation of workers for cheap labour, to the use of chemical dyes and low-cost, unsustainable materials like polyester. Another environmental impact of fast homeware is the waste produced from disposing of unwanted items, with a third of UK adults throwing away furniture and homewares in good enough condition to be re-used, sold, or donated. The transportation of homewares to meet ever-quicker turnarounds comes with a further cost. 

Sustainable supply chain

The good news is that consumers are becoming more conscious of what they’re buying, with many waking up to the potential effects of fast homeware in light of the discoveries made in fast fashion. According to a recent survey by the Sustainable Furnishings Council, 86% of respondents felt that the use of materials and processes that do not harm the environment is important when deciding to purchase furniture. An overwhelming majority also said that they would be willing to pay more for environmentally friendly home furnishings, with 4 out of 10 prepared to pay up to 10% more.

Growing consumer awareness and the rejection of mass-produced goods in favour of more unique and sustainable options are putting pressure on brands to improve their offering. This can range from introducing circular business models, to focusing on sustainable materials, upcycling, and extended product lifecycles. IKEA, for instance – which is often listed among the biggest perpetrators of unsustainable practices – has invested in forests, launched a buy-back system, and pledged only to use “recycled or renewable-based plastic by 2030”.  

Within the homecare sector, the delivery of more sustainable solutions ultimately carries across the entire supply chain, including fulfilment services for goods bought online. By outsourcing the fulfilment process to a premium 3PL provider like Zendbox, eCommerce businesses can meet consumer demand for eco-friendly products that are picked, packed, and shipped using sustainable materials and processes. At Zendbox, we only use recycled and/or recyclable packaging to process orders, and power our fulfilment centres with renewable energy, making Zendbox the first choice for environmentally conscious businesses seeking a sustainable fulfilment partner. 

Challenging our impulses

Worldwide online revenue for the home furnishing industry is projected to hit £345.1 billion over the next five years, representing a significant potential revenue stream for brands to tap into. This is also an opportunity for businesses to do better for the sake of the planet. Vital to the success of this is for consumers to challenge the impulse that blurs the line between over consumption and feeling at home. The most positive result to arise from purchasing homeware will come down to doing your research, shopping thoughtfully, and making longer-term investments in products that you truly love. Just ask yourself: do I really need another cushion?  

Discover the sustainable eCommerce fulfilment solution from Zendbox today.

Micah George
Marketing Specialist

Micah is a Marketing Specialist at Zendbox, where she produces articles, eBooks, and other useful resources to support eCommerce businesses in reaping the benefits of fulfilment and logistics. Micah’s industry-specific expertise on topics such as inventory management, B2B fulfilment, and sustainable logistics serves as a valuable tool for partners of Zendbox.

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