Amazon Plans Furniture Assembly Service to Catch Wayfair

Amazon.com Inc. is experimenting with a premium service that lets customers opt to have furniture or appliances assembled as soon they arrive at their homes, according to people familiar with the plan.

The move, if adopted widely, would help the world’s largest online retailer compete more effectively with Wayfair, Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s -- which all offer similar options.

Amazon is planning to introduce the service in Virginia and two other markets, said one of the people, who requested anonymity to discuss an internal matter. The company currently offers scheduled delivery of big items -- like bunk beds and treadmills -- to a particular room in a shopper’s home. But customers are often disappointed when delivery people drop off the purchases unassembled in big boxes.

Amazon declined to comment.

Wayfair shares fell by almost 4% before recovering some of their losses. Amazon was mostly unchanged.

The new service requires drivers to unpack and assemble the items, remove the packaging and take the item back on the spot if the customer isn’t satisfied, according to a presentation reviewed by Bloomberg. Previously, customers had to schedule a different contractor to come to their home at a different time to assemble the product, assuming the service was even offered in their location.

A training video shows the delivery of a bed and mattress set, as well as a sofa and ottoman, which are fairly simple to assemble. Drivers could be trained to install appliances like washing machines, dryers and dishwashers, according to one of the people, posing a specific threat to Home Depot Inc., Lowe’s Cos Inc. and Best Buy Co., which also sell appliances with installation services.

The new offering simplifies the existing Amazon Home Services, which is available in a limited number of cities and lets customers hire contractors through the website to assemble furniture or install ceiling fans and wall-mounted televisions. The new service is designed to make delivery more convenient, cheaper and easier for Amazon to manage, one of the people said.

Drivers who hang out in online chat rooms are already balking at the new service. Concerns range from insufficient training to worries that Amazon will hold them to unreasonable job completion times. One driver in Virginia, who requested anonymity to avoid antagonizing his employer, said the company isn’t taking into account cluttered homes with narrow stairways, which can prolong how long it takes to make deliveries. Some colleagues fear catching Covid-19 because customers tend to hover over them when they drop off packages, he said.

Demand for bigger items like desks and office chairs spiked during the pandemic as millions retreated to their homes. Shoppers also became more comfortable buying big-ticket items online that they previously preferred to purchase from a store where they can lie on beds or sit on sofas.

Online sales of furniture and housewares jumped 41% in 2020 to $36.1 billion, according to Coresight Research. Sales are expected continue to grow this year, albeit more slowly, to $37.3 billion. The surge in demand for big items created delivery logjams and weeks-long delays, creating an opportunity for Amazon to bring its reputation for quick delivery to the sale of bigger items like furniture.

The Seattle-based e-commerce giant has struggled to match the runaway success of Wayfair, which supplanted Amazon in 2019 as the biggest online home-goods retailer in the U.S., according to 1010Data. Amazon has its own private-label furniture brands and in 2019 launched the virtual reality shopping feature Showroom that lets shoppers see what furniture would look like at home.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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