Aching work-at-home backs driving demand for ergonomic chairs

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With tens of millions of Americans suddenly working from home, staffers at companies that make and sell office chairs don’t have time to sit down.

“I can’t talk now, sorry,” Ben Henderson, a senior sales executive at Office Chair @ Work, a New Jersey-based online discounter, said. “I’m unbelievably busy.”

In the past two weeks, sales of Herman Miller's Aeron chairs — the gold standard of ergonomic workplace seating — have spiked fivefold at Office Chair @ Work, while demand for Steelcase and other well-known brands has doubled. Online searches for the term “office chair” increased 150% between March 9 and March 20, according to web data provider SEMrush, mirroring the increased traffic in what Steelcase says it’s seen at its online showroom in recent weeks. Office superstore Staples says working from home is “the new normal” for many.

Newly home-bound workers have rushed to outlets like Best Buy for monitors and wireless headsets, but the right chair can be the difference between working comfortably and productively or suffering through Zoom teleconferences in agony with an aching lower back. The right seat becomes even more important as our working days are typically a few hours longer when we toil at home, according to data from virtual private network service provider NordVPN Teams.

A spokeswoman for Design Within Reach, the purveyor of stylish decor that Herman Miller acquired in 2014, said that many Americans “are finding that their homes aren’t properly equipped to handle a sustained work from home routine.”

Both Design Within Reach and Steelcase have recently responded by offering customers 15% off purchases of home office products. That’s enticed shoppers like Matt Crowley, Chief Executive Officer of Boston-based Vesper Technologies, which makes intelligent microphones that are found in Samsung voice-activated TV remotes and other devices.

“I almost never normally work from home,” said Crowley, but he’s there for the foreseeable future now that Massachusetts has ordered all non-essential businesses to close beginning at noon Tuesday. Crowley already bought himself a keyboard, monitor and a wrist pad for his home setup, but one of the casters on the old office chair he was using just broke, sending ball bearings spilling all over his sunroof-turned-office. So he’s in the market for a new model.

“I picked out one chair, but my wife said it was hideous,” he said. “So it’s back to the drawing board.”

For about $550, Crowley could grab the same Aeron chair with fully adjustable arms, tilt limiter and adjustable lumbar support that Bryan Gildenberg, senior vice president of commerce at Omnicom Retail Group, just bought from Office Chair @ Work. (Warning: there’s only a few left.) That’s about half what a similar model costs at Design Within Reach, even with the 15% discount that began this week.

Less expensive models are available at retailers like Staples, Office Depot and of course Amazon.com, where searches for the phrase “office chair” rose 22% over the past four weeks, according to Stackline, an e-commerce data analytics firm.

“I was holding off buying a new one, but I will be primarily working from home for a long time,” Gildenberg said.

Bloomberg News