When the country shut down during the first wave of COVID-19, people learned to shop differently. Instead of perusing grocery aisles at the supermarket, they ordered provisions online for delivery to their front door. In fact, people started ordering just about everything through the web, and many discovered they could even furnish their home at the click of a mouse.
“Buying furniture online can make the process easier,” because you can often find inspiration and product options quicker than in person, notes Madison Adam, interior design services manager at Article, an e-commerce retailer for distinctive modern furniture and decor. Direct-to-consumer brands can also offer better pricing on high-quality products because they work directly with manufacturers, cutting out the middleman and the cost of overhead for brick-and-mortar locations, she says.
Despite the benefits of shopping online, some people still find the idea of purchasing furniture without seeing items in person unnerving. What if you don’t like your new love seat or table once it’s in your home? And how can you know you’re getting a well-made piece when you’ve only viewed it on your computer screen? We asked three industry insiders to share their best tips for buying furniture online to make the process enjoyable and hassle free.
1. Find a reputable online furniture retailer.
High-quality furniture is an investment, and you want to buy from retailers that will stand by their products and be with you long term, says Stephanie Kennedy, national retail market manager for customer care at Room & Board, which has furniture showrooms nationwide — including in Dallas — as well as a robust online presence.
Before you start shopping, peruse a retailer’s website to learn about a company’s philosophy of customer care, what type of support they offer and the return policy (more on that in a bit). “We’re going to be there as a resource as you live with your furniture,” Kennedy says, adding that Room & Board designers and customer service representatives are available to answer questions months or even years after an item was purchased.
2. Pay attention to furniture materials when shopping online.
When it’s time to start shopping, look for quality construction and materials that suit to your lifestyle, advises Roz Murphy, owner of Roz Murphy Design in Dallas. For upholstered items, spring down filling or a mixture of foam and fiber makes for super soft cushions, while foam core is much firmer. And if you have children or pets, consider durable performance fabrics over linen or cotton upholstery. Furniture made of solid wood, like maple or walnut, will also last longer and wear better over time than MDF or particle board. When it comes to construction for sofas and armchairs, “if it’s eight-way hand-tied, you can trust the frame will be made well,” says Murphy, adding that furniture from U.S. manufacturers is much higher quality than many items made overseas.
3. Get design advice.
Retailers like Room & Board, West Elm and Article offer free design services to help customers choose the perfect pieces for their layout and lifestyle. Many also offer AR (augmented reality) tools online that let you see how furniture will look in a virtual 3D environment. This feature can be especially helpful to ensure a piece is the right scale for your space, points out Kennedy. She also recommends ordering swatches to see how a particular color or material will work with other furniture and lighting in your home.
Adam suggests creating a mood board on Pinterest or Instagram to envision how a space might look with different furnishings.
4. Read the return policy carefully.
You don’t want to be stuck with an item that arrives damaged or simply doesn’t meet your expectations, so be sure to read a company’s return policy carefully before placing an order. Room & Board has an especially customer-friendly return policy, notes Kennedy, including a pre-paid return label for items shipped via UPS and free pickup of larger pieces delivered to the customer’s home, with no return shipping fees. Shoppers also can return any product to their local showroom or get assistance from customer care at retail locations or online to exchange a purchase. There’s also no fee for canceling Room & Board items — even custom pieces. Make sure you can live with whatever return policy the company you order from uses.
Buying furniture online makes it easy to compare products and prices, without having to drive to different showrooms, notes Adam. The advantages are clear — and when in doubt, ask questions.
“Leverage the expertise you can find in chat, email and on the phone” with online retailers, advises Kennedy. A reputable company should offer assistance whether you need design advice, have questions about caring for your furniture, or want to return or exchange an item. “However you want to reach out to us,” she says, “you’re going to get somebody who is capable and who wants to help.”
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