How to Face Your Fears and Buy Furniture Online
Whether you’re updating your home or furnishing a newly-purchased house, buying furniture online can feel like taking a leap of faith. Here are some tips to help make your experience a success.
Guest post by Laura Love Bardell
Whether you’re updating an existing room or furnishing a newly-purchased house, apartment or condo, buying furniture online can feel like taking a leap of faith. How can you trust that such a big purchase will be comfortable and fit well in your space? For those who are ready to take the plunge, here are some tips to help make your experience a success.
Online shopping for furniture has its perks. Internet retailers provide us a nearly endless array of furniture options. Looking for a slipcovered couch? What about a mid-century modern coffee table or a reclaimed-wood headboard? Chances are, you’ll be able to find exactly what you’re looking for online. Compare multiple choices from different retailers side-by-side by keeping a few tabs open in your browser window. If a retailer offers a custom upholstery program, you can have a lot of fun experimenting with different combinations of fabrics, leg styles and furniture finishes. What’s more, you can browse from the comfort of your home without having to spend valuable time stuck in traffic or fighting crowds. You don’t even need to plan for a babysitter.
Buying furniture online also gives you the opportunity to find more competitive pricing, which is especially important if you live in a small town or an area without a lot of local furniture stores. Additionally, many online retailers incentivize an online purchase by offering free or flat-fee shipping for larger furniture orders.
The Potential Pitfalls
For all the advantages that online furniture shopping provides, you may run into some potential pitfalls that could make the process a little more daunting. With a seemingly endless number of choices, it can be overwhelming to begin the search. And once you find some pieces you think you might like, you may fear that the real-life version won’t match what you saw online. What if that navy sofa looked compact in the pictures, but now it takes over your living room? Perhaps the biggest consideration is the fact that you can’t sit on a sofa or chair that you’re buying online, so you can test its comfort. However, with a little bit of effort and care, you can face your fears and buy furniture online.
Step 1: Narrow Down the Choices
You can look everywhere for furniture inspiration — Pinterest, friends’ homes, decor magazines and furniture store websites. Once you know the basic style you’re looking for, it’s time to narrow down the choices.
- • Choose the feature that is most important to you. Many online retailers allow you to filter items by style, color, material, size and even by specialty features, such as family-friendly fabrics or pieces made in America. Identify your priorities and hone in on what will work best in your home.
- • Explore interactive options. Some sites provide interactive tools that allow you to rotate images of the sofa, table or chair a full 360-degrees, allowing for full visibility — just as if you were walking around it inside a store.
- • Order swatches. Shopping for upholstered furniture? Don’t be shy about ordering fabric swatches to make sure it’s exactly what you want. View the swatch in different lighting conditions throughout the day, and run it through your fingers to see what it feels like against your skin. You can even take the experiment a step further: Spill food or liquid on it and then clean it according to the manufacturer’s instructions to see how it holds up to everyday use.
Step 2: Check the Fit
Avoid buyer’s remorse by ensuring the dimensions of the piece will work in the room. Use painter’s tape to mark an outline of the furniture, using the measurements listed on the website. For a 3-D feel, consider using cardboard boxes to mimic the shape of the item. Some retailers even offer an interactive app that will help you visualize how furniture will look in your space.
The right fit is more than just about how it will sit in the room. It’s also about how your body will fit on the furniture. For sofas, understanding the unique characteristics of cushions, seat depth variations and frame construction will help you choose one that’s comfortable. Do you want to sink into the cushions, or do you prefer firmer support? Is the couch going in a formal sitting room, or a den for watching TV? Here are some tips for making your choice:
- • Consider a deeper seat with lots of throw pillows for sofas where you plan to do a lot of napping or lounging.
- • Down-filled cushions provide sink-in softness, while high-performance foam offers a sturdier feel.
- • The height of the seat is also an important consideration. Use the dimensions of your existing sofa as a starting point to decide what is most comfortable for you.
Step 3: Read the Reviews
To feel confident about ordering a quality piece of furniture, be sure to read online reviews. Take the time to read the negative reviews as well as the positive ones. It’s important to understand why someone may have left a negative review —it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with the product. (Perhaps some reviewers had unrealistic expectations about choosing a white sofa with three shedding, mess-prone dogs, or their measurements were off, and their new dining table didn’t fit in their dining room.) The key is to pay extra attention to the qualities that matter the most to you. However, if the product has multiple negative reviews, consider going in another direction.
Here’s a bonus tip: Look for reviews that include user-generated pictures of the item you’re considering. Companies spend a lot of time and money on product photography, so if you can see photos taken by the average user, you’ll be able to get a deeper understanding of what the item looks like outside the photo studio.
Step 4: Look at the Fine Print
Be sure you understand the retailer’s return and delivery policies. Some custom pieces might be a final sale, or there might be a limited window of time during which you can return an item. Some companies also charge a restocking fee or charge more to deliver an item inside the home or up a flight of stairs.
You will have better luck shopping at stores with a clear and easy way for you to contact a real human at any time, either through live chat, a phone call, or by visiting a brick and mortar location. If the store doesn’t have any physical locations, make sure it’s easy to find the company’s customer service phone number. Consider giving that number a call before you buy to experience their customer service.
Step 5: Anticipate Potential Delivery Problems
It’s easy to forget that a new couch, table or chair has to fit through the door and into the room. First-floor rooms with wide halls and doorways are not usually a problem, but if you want a sofa for a media room in your fully finished basement or upstairs loft, be sure to measure tight corners or narrow hallways to avoid delivery snafus.
With just a little bit of homework, planning and prep, your online furniture purchase has a much better chance of making you a satisfied customer.
Laura Love Bardell writes for Crate and Barrel, where she creates inspirational, design-savvy content. In her spare time, she enjoys triathlon training and spending time with her pets and family.