By virtue of its inventory, the furniture industry is a bit clunky. But it’s about to get a lot more nimble, thanks to technological breakthroughs, shifting consumer demands, and the arrival of fast-moving competition from Amazon (AMZN).
For a roadmap, look to the apparel industry’s shift to “fast fashion.” In the last decade, disruptive chains like Zara and H&M have trained consumers to expect up-to-the-minute trends in stores faster, cheaper, and with greater selection. The result? Consumers no longer limit clothing shopping to once a season—they can refresh their closet with cheap, trendy runway knock-offs every few weeks.
Now, that same customer demand is upending the furniture and home goods industry, a $100 billion corner of U.S. retail. Today’s furniture shoppers want the same thing they want from their clothing retailers: faster, cheaper, and with greater selection. “People are engaging with their home spaces or office spaces very similarly to how they engage with their wardrobes. A space is never really done—it becomes a continual reflection of themselves,” says Noa Santos, CEO and co-founder of Homepolish, an on-demand interior design service. The idea of waiting eight weeks for a couch delivery seems absurd, especially to younger consumers.
That shift has created an opening for upstarts like Cloth & Company, co-founded by DwellStudio’s Christiane Lemieux, and which launched in October 2016. Taking advantage of advances in digital textile printing technology, the company custom-prints fabrics in-house, to order, in a matter of days. (Eight to 12-week lead times with high order minimums were standard in the past.) That means Cloth & Company holds no inventory, and can take more design risks and spin up partnerships with retailers like Target (TGT) and Amazon in a matter of a month, says co-founder Meganne Wecker.
For incumbent furniture players, the challenge ahead will be more about streamlining operations than improving design. Most people can’t tell the difference between a $15,000 Eames sofa and a $2,000 replica, especially on Instagram.
And as for Ikea, original “fast fashion” disrupter of the home industry? It stands to benefit from this shift. The Swedish juggernaut has already figured out the hardest parts of the equation—speed, price, and logistics. As access to better materials and production goods increases, the quality of its goods stands to improve. “It’s easier to go that way than in the other direction,” Santos says.
A version of this article appears in the June 15, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline “Get Ready for Fast Furniture.”