According to Ken Research, the Australian furniture market will be worth AUD 14 billion by 2022. And thanks to both the pandemic and industry trends, more and more consumers are buying furniture online.
For many, though, purchasing large bulky items, such as tables, chairs, and beds online is a new experience. There’s a big difference between ordering a book from an online store and purchasing a whole bookshelf. The former is small and manageable, while the latter is big and heavy.
Are you new to buying furniture online? If so, check out our 21 buying tips in this comprehensive guide.
1. Consider The Quality Of The Photography
Quality online stores understand the importance of quality photography. They understand that pictures give customers an accurate sense of what the product will look like when it arrives at their home (and how it relates to the rest of the environment).
Great sites, therefore, include pictures of the furniture from multiple angles, giving you a sense of the proportions and dimensions. They also carefully consider backgrounds, showing you how good the furniture would look if added to the right interior.
2. Ensure You Know The Measurements When Buying Furniture Online
Quality stores also supply exact measurements, ensuring that you can install furniture where you intend once it arrives.
Don’t assume that the furniture will automatically fit just because the measurements appear to indicate it will. Often vendors will list lengths and widths that don’t take the furniture’s embellishments instance. For instance, a sofa might have a small footprint on the floor, but once you include the arms and back, it could be much bigger.
If you’re unsure whether a piece of furniture will fit, call the vendor or the company that manufacturers it and ask for more information. They will usually be able to tell you whether their product will fit in the space you identify using the information you provide, plus warn you of potential issues you might encounter.
3. Check-Out Store Reviews
Thanks to the internet, finding verified customer reviews of furniture stores and furniture is easy. Just type the name of the vendor into Google search followed by the word “review.” The search engine will then automatically provide its own review page in results or those of third-party review sites.
Reviews reveal all sorts of interesting information about the furniture vendor’s quality, besides a quick overall star-rating. Detailed customer descriptions talk about important aspects of the service, such as how long the vendor takes to deliver, the quality of products when they arrive, and whether the seller honours its guarantees.
4. Ask Whether The Returns Policy Suits You
Let’s say the worst happens, and you order furniture that doesn’t compliment your interiors. In that case, it’s nice to have a full return and refund policy you can fall back on if you make a mistake (or the product doesn’t live up to your expectations).
Honest, reliable and confident companies are upfront with their returns policies. They may even advertise buying their furniture as “risk-free” by offering a time-limited money-back guarantee.
The majority of stores offer a 30-day return policy as standard, allowing you to get an exchange or full refund. Some will extend this to sixty days – particularly mattress vendors keen to reassure customers of their products’ comfort.
Beware of “restocking” fees or any other additional charges when making a purchase. Most vendors will only charge you for the return postage.
If you’re still concerned, check out reviews to find out more about other customers’ experiences.
5. Consider The Shipping Costs
Some companies include shipping fees in the price. Others charge it separately, but ultimately, customers always wind up footing the bill. The question is, how?
The simplest setup is when the vendor ships good for free and rolls the courier fee into the price. This way, you can easily compare the total price of the item across stores.
Sometimes, though, the vendor will quote the shipping price separately. In this case, you’ll need to be more vigilant. The furniture’s sticker price might be lower, but the net cost could be much greater when you include hefty shipping fees.
Please note that even if a vendor says “free shipping,” there may still be caveats. For instance, to access free shipping, you might need to spend more than AUD 100 or 200. If your transaction is less than the threshold, you may have to pay a separate fee.
6. Look For Stores Offering Pick-Up
Depending on the type of furniture you wish you purchase, you might want to opt for stores offering store pick-up. For instance, if you are ordering a delicate piece of furniture and you want it to arrive undamaged, you might opt to collect it from a depot or outlet, instead of leaving the “last-mile” to couriers.
Store pickup is a perfect option for anyone who owns a large truck or van. You can often save on delivery costs considerably by collecting the items yourself. Some online vendors will even offer discounts.
7. Choose The Right Delivery Method For You
Few people consider the optimal shipping option when buying books online. But when it comes to larger, less manageable items, choosing the right delivery method is critical.
There are three popular deliver methods to consider:
- Front door delivery: Front door delivery is the least elaborate delivery method. A delivery driver hauls the furniture out of the van and leaves it by your door, before driving off (just as with any other regular delivery).
- Inside-delivery: This type of delivery service is a step up. It is where the delivery driver brings the furniture inside your house and places it in a location of your choosing. It costs more than traditional front-door delivery but reduces the risk you might injure yourself.
- White glove delivery: So-called “white glove” delivery offers the full works, including bringing your new furniture inside and setting it up correctly.
Which you choose depends largely on your health and fitness. If you’re strong enough to lift furniture yourself and want to save money, front door delivery might be the best option. On the other hand, if you have a bad back, you might want to opt for white glove delivery.
8. Read The Description In Full
The description under the product might seem like marketing spiel (and it is). But it would be best if you still read it. It will often provide essential information about the product and whether it is right for your circumstances.
For instance, reading the descriptions in detail tells you about the type of material the product contains, and whether it is sustainable. It also educates you about alternative product uses, features you might miss, and the dimensions.
9. When Buying Furniture Online, Only Use Sites With Secure Connections
Most of the time, you don’t think twice about entering your bank and credit card details into online shopping forms. After all, it’s usually safe. However, not all e-commerce stores are secure, meaning that hackers could potentially intercept your personal data as it travels from your computer to the store’s web host and back again.
Here’s some advice: whenever you visit an e-commerce website, always check for the padlock symbol to the left of your URL bar. If it’s bolted, the site is safe. If it’s not, the site isn’t secure, and you shouldn’t use it, even for browsing.
10. Use Stores With Brick-And-Mortar Locations
Online stores with brick-and-mortar locations offer several advantages for savvy shoppers.
First, you’re able to physically inspect goods and see how they feel before ordering them online and see real-life colours, instead of viewing them through a screen.
Second, you’re able to eliminate shipping costs while benefiting from online prices. In some cases, the in-store sticker price will be higher than the online price, so you can save money using click and collect.
11. Look For Stores That Match Your Personal Style
Not all online furniture stores are the same. While some generic vendors out there, the vast majority specialise in particular styles of product they hope will appeal to their customers the most.
The range of styles includes:
- Green and sustainable
- Antique and traditional
If you’re struggling to find a furniture store that speaks to your personal tastes, try typing your preferred style into Google alongside the name of the item of furniture you’re looking for. For instance, “modern bookcases” or “sustainable bean bags.”
This way, you can refine your search and view vendors who sell the types of products you love.
12. Buy From Stores That Specialise In A Niche
Savvy shoppers will also usually buy from vendors that specialise in a particular niche.
You could buy bean bag chairs from a generic retailer. Or you could go to a specialist such as Bean Bags R Us that stocks a wider selection of relevant products, giving you more choice.
Stores that specialise in a particular niche are usually able to provide you with better advice on what to buy too. Because they work only with certain furniture types, you’re much more likely to get relevant information from them rather than stores that sell a little of everything.
13. Read Reviews On The Furniture Manufacturer And Vendor
While some furniture companies sell directly to customers, it’s rare. Usually, the vendor (the e-commerce store itself) and the manufacturer are different enterprises.
Because of this, you need to do your homework before buying. Start with the manufacturer. Look for reviews of their products to see whether they offer the kind of quality you need. Specifically, read reviewers discussing the quality of the products themselves (such as the finish or longevity).
Next, move onto the vendor – the actual company that will source and ship the furniture items to you. Please look at how the public views them, paying particular attention to things like whether items are in stock, shipping times, and the ease of returns.
Separating the two allows you to distinguish between the furniture itself, and the company supplying it. Ideally, you want both to be great.
14. Read About The Brand’s Values
Most modern e-commerce furniture vendors differentiate themselves from their competitors using their about pages. Here, they talk about their history, brand values and mission.
However, for customers buying furniture online, about pages are helpful for another reason: they provide a contact point.
Thanks to platforms like Shopify and Magento, practically anyone can set up an online store, meaning that a high service level isn’t automatic. Vendors can literally operate from their bedrooms these days, and some don’t provide any points of contact at all.
Your best defence against this is to browse the about page and check that the company lists a real telephone number and business addresses. This way, you can get in touch with them if something goes wrong with your order.
15. Know Your Rights
Vendors supplying low-quality or inferior products are rare nowadays, thanks to online reviews and pressure from search engines. However, it can still happen. And in those cases, it pays to know your rights.
In Australia, Australian Consumer Law sets out the automatic guarantees that come with many purchases you make online, including furniture. According to the rules, sellers have a duty to repair, replace or refund any defective items you buy. They must also provide compensation if you suffer damage or loss because of any item they sell you.
Automatic warranties apply to many furniture products too, even if the seller doesn’t offer them explicitly.
16. Pay Using A Safe Method
Buying furniture can involve transferring a significant sum of money. So if something goes wrong, you could be out of pocket.
In general, you should pay for goods using a credit card. You have more protection should something go wrong.
Paying via PayPal is also a good option because you have the option to create disputes with vendors to get your money back. Cheque, debit cards and direct bank transfers are riskier.
17. If A Deal Seems Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is
Hackers frequently set up fake websites to entice customers and capture sensitive payment details. One way they do this is by creating deals that appear to be too good to be true. Usually, you can’t pick up a quality three-piece suite for AUD 100, but there are sites out there claiming you can.
Like Google, search engines are getting good at clamping down on malicious sites, removing them from search results and delisting them. But they may still be accessible via alternative search engines or links on third-party sites.
If in doubt, always check that the site is officially listed on Google, check the padlock symbol in your browser’s URL bar, and use a safe payment method. Never submit personal information to a site you accessed via a referring link without checking that it is legitimate on search engines first.
18. Avoid Shopping For Furniture On Public WiFi
Public WiFi is ubiquitous nowadays. It’s in coffee shops, gyms and even train stations. But while it’s great for shopping on the go, it can be a security nightmare.
The reason for this comes down to the technology itself. Most public WiFi data is unencrypted, meaning that other people on the network can intercept your data easily, including your credit card information. Browse for products on these networks is usually safe, but don’t enter any passwords or sensitive financial information. Wait until you get home.
19. Double-Check The Colours
Colour is a critical aspect of furniture selection, but it can be difficult to make the correct selection on a screen. Most modern smartphone and PC displays can’t accurately reproduce colours. Instead, they only cover a small subset of the official Adobe colour space, meaning that products you’re ogling online could look very different in person.
When shopping for furniture, be aware of this phenomenon. While the images on your screen might look complementary to your interiors, they may not be in reality.
To give you an example, screens have an annoying habit of making blacks look lighter than they are (because it isn’t possible to isolate the backlight on most technologies). So what looks like a grey finish on a display can often be jet black in real life.
20. Check Out Prices On Multiple Stores
Whenever you’re buying furniture online, be sure to compare multiple vendors to see if there are cheaper deals available elsewhere. Prices can vary considerably from one online store to another for many reasons, including favourable relationships with OEMs, more efficient operations, and warehouse location.
21. Shop In The Sales
Lastly, consider doing your furniture shopping in the sales, not during peak season. Many stores will lower their prices a couple of times a year to coincide with the holidays, encouraging additional spending when people are off work. Others will launch sales during the quietest parts of the year, such as January and February after the Christmas break.
Bonus Tip: Use Coupon Codes
Finally, you can save even more money using coupon codes. Many manufacturers and vendors offer special discounts for magazine and website readers. Some of these can be worth as much as 20 per cent off the original price.