20 Online Furniture Buying Tips From An Industry Insider

A tipster from one of the top three online furniture retailers advice for shoppers spills his guts. His top advice for consumers looking to shop for furniture online: don’t.

Time is money. Buy locally, even if it’s more expensive. Trust me, it’s worth it.

But if you just gotta gotta get that oak dresser you saw on the interweb, here’s twenty tips to save you some ulcers…

Some tips you NEED TO USE before purchasing furniture online:

1. CALL THE RETAILER. Speak with a human. Ask some of the following questions.
2. Do you have a brick and mortar storefront? Most legit furniture retailers will deal with the public personally by having a storefront. If the location is near to you, opt to visit them and look around their showroom before placing a purchase online. In most cases the furniture will be more expensive, but you can get a feel for how they take care of their property. This will follow over into the way they take care of their customers and their freight (if shipped from THEIR warehouse)
3. If they have a warehouse, ask for a tour. Take a look at the way they warehouse employees act and handle the packages. What the retailer expects of its employees is what they expect from their manufacturers.
4. f the retailer is located in a different state, do not be afraid to ask off-the-wall questions. Ask them how long they’ve been in business, even if it’s posted on their website.
5. Ask them if they are a member of the Better Business Bureau. If so, inquire about their standings with the organization. Verify this against their actual standings on http://www.bbb.org
6. Ask them what the furniture is made of, and if it can be configured in a number of different ways.
7. Ask them about the shipping procedure and how long it takes for the order to be processed.
8. Ask them about how long it takes for the order to be processed -in the warehouse-
9. Ask them how long it takes for the trucking company to come and pick it up
10. Ask them if you will be notified and WHEN you will be notified and HOW (email, phone)
11. Ask them HOW LONG it takes for the freight to be TRANSPORTED
12. Confirm everything. Hold them to their word, and WRITE DOWN THEIR NAMES. Get their last name if possible.
13. Before you end the phone call, simply ask for the owner’s name. This carries a lot of weight with most furniture retailers, and will in most cases result in preferential and special treatment of your freight before it’s shipped. Also, have them write down your name and phone number. Even if they don’t, they will remember that you asked them to.
14. You are paying their salary. They need to be working for you.

15. Buying furniture online is in most cases like being set up on a blind date who’s most likely going to be very very late. It is very rare that you will receive your furniture on the quoted/estimated arrival date due to the time it takes to process and ship the orders. Processing the order itself and placing the order with a drop shipping manufacturer on average takes up to 5 business days. This includes:

– charging the card,
-verifying the billing address and CVV,
-receiving the funds, (+1 day)
-faxing the manufacturer,
-receiving confirmation from the manufacturer, (+1 day)
-the manufacturer pulling the furniture from the wall and packaging it
-the manufacturer forwarding it to shipping (+1 day)
-the manufacturer shipping it (+1 day)
-the manufacturer providing the retailer with tracking information(+1 day)
-the retailer notifying the customer of it shipping
-the shipper updating their tracking status(+1 day)

Again, this can take up to 5 business days for the item itself to be shipped.

16. Transit time for the average package (180lbs+) via freight carrier is 5-7 business days, excluding pickup, weekends, holidays, and drop off. The average pickup, transit, and drop off procedure is typically as follows:
-trucker arrives and receives BOLs (bills of lading) for the freight he/she will be transporting
-warehouse workers load freight that is strapped to a palette via forklift and fill truck to capacity if possible, in order to lower freight costs regardless of the contents of the package(s)
-trucker counts boxes and signs the retailer copy of the BOL (+1 day)
-trucker arrives at local trucking terminal and transmits freight data to their database for tracking
-5 to 7 business day transit time begins (+7 days max)
-if freight is being transported through the weekend, the truck arrives at a terminal and sits until next business day. (+3 days max)
-when the freight arrives at the closest trucking terminal to the customer, terminal calls and arranges a date for delivery on the next business day (+1 day)

17. Once the freight is to be delivered, there are several stipulations to how it will be handled.
-all “standard delivery” is curbside delivery. unlike ground delivery, this means the freight will be unloaded at the expense of the customer (which was included in the original shipping cost). this means the driver will NOT unload the freight by himself unless he has been paid from the retailer to use a liftgate to lower the freight out of the truck.
-the freight is then left curbside once signed for, and the driver leaves.
-the customer is liable for getting the freight into their home

18. If the freight is damaged in-box, the customer must call the retailer to have it picked up. This is how it goes:
-customer calls retailer stating the freight is damaged inside the box
-retailer notifies manufacturer (+1 day)
-manufacturer notifies trucking company (+1 day)
-trucking company notifies customer that they will be picking the item up between set time and set time (usually 8am through 5pm)
-trucking company has a 60% chance on average to arrive on time (+1 day)
-trucking company picks up freight with help from the customer in loading it onto the truck
-process repeats above from #1. (+21 days)

19. NOTE: 40% of freight delivered using any trucking company arrives damaged in-box. That means 2 out of 5 people will have to reorder their freight a second time (total process taking 42 business days- 2 months). 4 out of 25 will have to order a third time (total process taking 63 business days- 3 months).

20. Most online retailers will try their best to emulate popular shopping sites, such as Amazon.com, by estimating a ship date within 3-5 business days. This is not the case as you can see.

I hope all this information helps your decisions in buying furniture in the future.



Edit Your Comment

  1. Charles Star says:

    4. f the retailer

    This has always been my practice.

  2. Dustbunny says:

    I’ve bought quite a lot of furniture online and didn’t do any of this stuff — and I’ve never had a bad experience. Buying from a local retailer is fine if you live in a major city with loads of stores, but here in Portland the selection is rather limited. We have a West Elm store, but they don’t carry most the furniture that their web site has. Everything I’ve bought online from them was delivered on time, and the delivery guys carried it up to my condo. Maybe the trick is to stick with a well-known retailer when you buy furniture online. I’ve also had good experiences with Pottery Barn and CB2.

  3. @Charles Star: On the furniture that you purchased from the very same retailer? Wouldnt that be ironic. f the retailer on the newly purchased furniture.

    Okay, that was horrible. I’m having a slow day at work.

  4. brooklynbs says:

    I bought online from Gothic Cabinet Craft, a company with retail locations in New York and New Jersey. I went to their closest storefront and checked out the stuff, then bought online at a discount (they were having a big online sale). I measured everything also to make sure it would fit up the stairs, through the door and in my actual apartment. I had a great experience with them.

    All of the furniture was what I expected it to be quality-wise; the delivery was on time; and, the delivery guys were pleasant and careful, navigating a tricky staircase without complaint and taking the packaging material with them when they left.

    The company also scored an A+ for customer communication, sending an email a few days before shipment to confirm a delivery time (and they hit the four-hour window).

  5. Chairman-Meow says:

    I find it interesting that in #2, they deal with your pubic if they have a brick-n-morter storefront.


  6. djej says:


    Ummm….if you think Portland has a limited selection of furniture stores, you are mistaken. In fact, Portland is home to some of the most popular designer furniture stores in the U.S. Check out the NW 23rd area if you’re not convinced.

  7. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I’d be reluctant to buy furniture online. Mainly because of delivery issues. Like if the furniture arrives damaged or broken. Then you have to go through the process of getting an RMA and then shipping it back. That’s just more time and money wasted. I’d rather go to the store, see the furniture in person, then take it home in a U-Haul or a borrowed pick-up truck.

  8. twigg says:

    We bought two pieces of furniture from Overstock.com and were completely thrilled – a rare experience – with how quickly the furniture arrived (a few days earlier than they said) and with the shipping: $2.95 per order. Yes, we paid less than $3.00 for shipping on our chaise lounge and ottoman/bench.

    There was some assembly required, but it wasn’t hard work. And we are really happy with the chaise, and satisfied with the ottoman/bench.

    What actually sealed the deal for Overstock was the live chat feature with an operator on their website (I don’t know if they still have that feature). We didn’t understand the shipping price, we thought we were missing something. But the person on the other end clarified, and (of course) helped finalize our order.

  9. marike says:

    I’ve purchased furniture from Overstock.com and 3 of the 4 were fabulous items at great prices. The one piece that didn’t work out had multiple issues with dings and they sent me multiple replacement legs for until I finally just sent it back for a refund. The item I ended up sending back was the only item that didn’t have any sort of feedback from other customers.

    I have no problems with ordering furniture from Overstock.com as long as it’s got feedback because that’s super helpful when determining how functional it is, its quality etc.

  10. Stepehn Colbert says:

    I got a tip for ya, if you gotta be in-store when you buy furniture, bring a pencil, and mark your initials on an unnoticeable part of each set, and specifically request that you not be given the floor model. When they deliver it, inspect for your initials, and AFTER they’ve unloaded EVERY PIECE, if you’ve found your initials, refuse to sign for it, and have them pack it back up. Look at it this way, you didnt get the furniture, but the furniture store didnt get the money, AND had to pay the movers for all the time it took to unload and reload all the furniture.

  11. Dustbunny says:


    I guess it depends on what your taste in furniture is — I like really modern styles, and besides Dania and Hip, there’s Design Within Reach, which is hugely overpriced. Plus a bunch more expensive stores in the Pearl. I just think you can get better bargains online.

  12. cypherpunk says:

    I bought a dining room set from AmishDiningRoom.com. It was everything we expected and about $2k less than our local furniture specialist would have charged us for a similar custom table and chair set.

  13. voodoodle says:

    :::support local craftsmen:::

    find furniture designers in your area and get them to make your furniture. if you can’t find any, call some architects, they might help.

    f overstock

  14. dsb says:

    (total process taking 63 business days- 3 months)

    63 days is barely over two months.
    Just a picky detail.

    Great article; glad to see what really goes on behind the scenes. I didn’t know the number of damaged deliveries was so high.

    I’d guess most local furniture (of equivalent quality) would be cheaper, anyway, once you figure in the freight charges — especially if you watch the sales.

  15. @voodoodle: I have found many furniture builders through craigslist.

  16. SexCpotatoes says:

    I don’t buy furniture, I inherit it. Seriously, you can get decent furniture off of family and sometimes friends. The older it is, the better, as it’s more than likely very sturdy construction. Who cares if it matches? The only people who are concerned with that design b.s. are hoity-toity rich snobs. Furniture covers will work excellently if you MUST have matching colors or themes. Furniture costs WAY too much. I’ve got a wonderful maple dinette that was the wedding gift to my parents, from my dear departed grandmother, that would cost well over $2000 new, today, free. I did buy a new bed recently though, those you don’t usually want used.

  17. jknode says:

    I can’t say enough good things about buying a couch and two rugs online from Crate and Barrel. They overnighted fabric samples and were really flexible about delivery times. I actually have a name and direct number for the woman dealing with my order. Even the outsourced delivery guys were nice.