What people put in their homes says a lot about who they are and what their homes mean to them. And how people shop for what they put in their homes says a lot about what they value and how they decide what will go into their homes.

For designers seeking to market their services to homeowners, understanding their buying habits can provide insights into how they are likely to go about choosing an interior designer.

One of the most personal purchases consumers, especially female consumers, make when furnishing or refurnishing a home are decorative textiles. More than function, items such as curtains, drapes, decorative pillows and throws contribute to the personality of a home — its ambience, drama and aesthetics. They also are fashion items that reflect the homeowner’s sense of style.

For his master’s thesis in textiles at the North Carolina State University, graduate student Rhong Zhang wanted to learn more about consumer behavior in the $25 billion U.S. home decorative textiles industry. Since women account for close to 80% of all household goods purchased, and are the predominant purchasers of fashion items, he chose to focus his study on female consumers. In addition, he selected his sample to distinguish any differences in the buying habits of the three main generations (in population size) in the U.S., i.e., millennials, Gen X and baby boomers.

Using an online survey, Zhang queried respondents as to their buying behavior when purchasing decorative home textiles (curtains, drapes, decorative pillows, throws, table cloths and table runners). He also sought to determine how certain personality traits — namely, price consciousness and fashion consciousness — affected their choices. A set of demographic questions was included to gather information on generational affiliation and other characteristics.

Among the findings, several should be of particular interest to interior designers. Not surprisingly, most respondents conducted online searches to gather information about the products they intended to purchase. Of note, however, is that a substantial majority of respondents said their preferred information source was online reviews — ahead of both in-store displays and company websites.

Pinterest came in fourth, ahead of both Instagram and Facebook. Millennials were most likely to trust online reviews over company websites, while baby boomers gave precedence to vendor information over consumer reviews.

In choosing decorative textiles, consumers placed a higher value on their aesthetic qualities (color, pattern, style) than on their utilitarian qualities (durability, comfort, ease of cleaning, price). Respondents who were deemed more fashion-conscious paid little attention to price. Baby boomers paid more attention to brand, while both millennials and Gen Xers wanted quality aesthetics but at an affordable price.

Because of the high aesthetic and sensory value involved in purchasing decorative textiles, consumers were more than two times as likely to shop for these items in a physical store than online. Observes Zhong, “Consumers like to search online for decorative home textiles due to the convenience and variety of products. However, the final purchase will usually be processed offline.”

For interior designers seeking to attract homeowners as clients, the study provides some noteworthy takeaways. When renovating or remodeling, consumers are more likely to be preoccupied with aesthetics than price. Nonetheless, some are more price-conscious than others.

With most consumers conducting their own research first before making a commitment to buy or hire a professional, having a portfolio of quality images on Pinterest and Instagram is a must. Consumers expect to see a visually interesting, clear, easy-to-navigate and informative website, but, especially among younger homeowners, they will pay more attention to what others are saying about you on social media channels than what you say about yourself.

You need to cultivate online referrals or testimonials and monitor your online reputation vigilantly. Expect clients to want to be involved in the purchasing process where aesthetics are concerned and be patient; they are sifting through a lot information they probably are not very familiar with.

Lastly, try to determine early on whether the client is more fashion-conscious or price-conscious. This will make the proposal and budgeting process less stressful for you both.