industry insider | Mar 19, 2020 |
1stdibs surveyed 600 designers. Here are the changes they made

For designers who have ever doubted the power of their dollar, a quick fact: On the online luxury marketplace 1stdibs, trade buyers account for more than half of the spending on furniture and fine art, the company’s largest category. No surprise then that 1stdibs regularly tweaks the trade program it launched in 2016—but this year’s changes, based on an extensive survey, represent a particularly significant overhaul. To mark the occasion, the company has even renamed the program, now called Trade 1st.

“Designers are really important, and we wanted to find out what’s really impacting their businesses,” says Sarah Liebel, executive vice president of the trade at 1stdibs. “The resulting survey, conducted last year, polled 600 designers and included in-depth interviews with 45. So, after talking to a fair number of them, what do designers want—and how is 1stdibs hoping to keep them happy?

Some of the changes are fairly straightforward. 1stdibs is altering its membership tiers so that designers can get benefits with less spend. For example, to access the “bronze” tier of membership, designers previously would have had to spend $25,000 per year on the platform; now, it’s $10,000. Cash-back rewards, previously only available at higher tiers, now begin at the “silver” tier—which now starts at $25,000, down from $50,000.

The appeal of easing up access to membership tiers is obvious, but Liebel says that the company’s research revealed the fact that the cyclicity of the design business made it difficult for designers to maintain the same level of spend, year over year: “[For designers] it can be the situation that last year was procurement year, and this year is construction fees, and they’re only taking on one or two massive projects,” she explains.

Another big pain point uncovered by the survey? The slow erosion of trade exclusivity. In response, 1stdibs is launching a new, trade-exclusive marketplace—a roped-off section of the website that consists of approximately 500 pieces, roughly split between vintage and antique pieces and new and custom makers.

The section, dubbed the Trade Private Collection, doesn’t prevent sellers from offering the pieces elsewhere on the web, but it does create a kind of exclusivity within 1stdibs. Liebel is hopeful that the launch, which includes dealers like Wyeth and Maison Gerard, will give designers a leg up in demonstrating value to clients. “The design business is becoming harder with the DIY movement,” says Liebel. “More and more consumers want to be designers, or feel they can do interior design on their own. That’s putting pressure on the value proposition and how interior designers explain what they do and why they’re charging the rates they should be charging for the services they provide.”

Another big change: returns. Sellers have long had the ability to set their own terms regarding what was returnable and what wasn’t. That’s still the case. However, 1stdibs will be guaranteeing a minimum seven-day return policy for trade members across the board—meaning the company will eat the cost if the seller doesn’t accept returns. For bronze tier members and above, 1stdibs will also waive restocking fees. (There are some exceptions: pieces over $35,000, and made-to-order items.)

Finally, 1stdibs is lowering the barrier around marketing support. Previously, trade members had to reach a particular spend level. Now, all participants in the program will get a portfolio on the site, making them eligible for promotion on its social channels and in its print and digital coverage.

1stdibs’s trade program currently has roughly 50,000 members—already a fair percentage of the working interior designers in the U.S. Liebel says that ideally the changes will swell the ranks, especially internationally, but just as importantly, it will entice current members to purchase more to cement the relationship.

And though the program was conceived long before the spread of the coronavirus, Liebel expressed hope that a more robust suite of benefits would be a boon to buyers and sellers who will likely be doing more shopping online for the time being: “Designers bring what we sell to life,” she says. “This is a very challenging time for the design industry, including designers, their clients, and sellers. It is our hope that these new enhancements will help support both designers and sellers in the coming months.”

Homepage photo: A living room by Robert Stilin, featured on the cover of 1stdibs's Introspective magazine | Stephen Kane

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our newsletter, which recaps the week’s stories, and get in-depth industry news and analysis each quarter by subscribing to our print magazine. Join BOH Insider for discounts, workshops and access to special events such as the Future of Home conference.