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How to shop for furniture without testing the sofa

A NEW platform called ITOOH is trying to change how you shop for furniture: all online.

ITOOH founders Jules Veloso, Andrew Bercasio, and Enah Baba told BusinessWorld in a phone call last week how they started. Ms. Veloso, co-founder and CEO, was faced with an empty apartment upon arriving in Los Angeles to pursuing further studies. With physical stores closed at the height of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, she had no choice but to shop online. “To my delight, I was really pleasantly surprised on how easy it is to shop everything online,” she said — at least in the United States. That served as the germ of the idea to bring online furniture shopping to the Philippines.

Ms. Baba added, “When we started this, it had one mission: to make frictionless shopping for everything, anything home.” The group talked about the frustrations they’d had with furniture shopping: long delivery times and a lack of choice, or mistakes like wrong measurements. With the click of a few fingers, the group plans to eliminate all that. For example: their delivery commitments are between five to seven days, and they have taken to measuring everything (even drawer depths and compartments), and providing context to the dimensions against the height of an average Filipino (5’6”, according to their calculations).

Partner brands they have included in the platform include Prizmic and Brill, Rudd Trading, Thomas & George, Sirius Dan, Jed Yabut, and Neu Muri, among others. Some of the brands on the ITOOH website might be familiar to those who attend furniture trade shows around the country. “Most of them — we’re proud to say — are locally made,” said Mr. Bercasio. “We wanted to be able to represent different aesthetics. Most of the established brands, they kind of have just one style, or one design all throughout. I think people have come to realize that it’s okay to not just be one-note.”

Ms. Baba said, “Our goal is to help the industry digitalize. That’s a big hurdle for mom-and-pop brands. They can’t do social media properly, or create their own website. They don’t have access to bringing on board various payment gateways.”

In addition to that, the platform also offers interior design consultancy with firm Grupo Santamaria. “Our vision is to democratize interior design and make it more accessible to Filipinos,” said Ms. Baba. Packages range from P8,000 to P30,000.

The thing is though: furniture is extremely intimate. It cradles your body, supports your weight, and becomes part of your life. Online dating aside, how does one trust something that will rest next to your body when you see merely a picture of it online? While the site offerings account for taste, how does one account for feeling and touch?

For starters, ITOOH is developing 3D and augmented reality for users, as well as employing an online concierge to handle customer questions. On a more practical note, Mr. Bercasio noted: “We went to all their warehouses, all of the showrooms, and really took every photo to make sure we represent [as] close to real fabric, color, and grain.”

He does acknowledge this issue, and credits progress made to changing attitudes after the pandemic. “I think we share the same discomfort. I’m very old-school like that. I think most Filipinos are, especially pre-pandemic.” However, since the events of 2020, “people embraced buying stuff [online], more than food or booking transport. That’s very similar to our goal to really change the mindset of Filipinos.

“Our hope is to really convince the market that they don’t really have to touch it and feel it. but the entire experience can mimic that.”

The ITOOH website is at https://shopitooh.com/. — Joseph L. Garcia