Our No-Regrets, Fear-Free Guide to Buying Furniture Online

Our No-Regrets, Fear-Free Guide to Buying Furniture Online

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Nancy Mitchell
Feb 20, 2015

If you're as discerning about design as we're guessing you are — you do read Apartment Therapy, after all — then you've probably at least toyed with the idea of buying furniture online. Especially if you live in a smaller town, shopping for furniture online will present you with all kinds of options that just aren't available locally. But with this comes a lot of risk. The internet has made shopping online for smaller items like clothes and books almost completely painless, but returning a sofa? Now that's a different animal. Here are seven things to do before you buy for a regret-free purchase.

1. Check the return policy.
Before you buy, make sure to read the fine print so you know exactly what you're getting into. Some retailers will allow you to return large items as long as you pay for the return shipping; others charge a restocking fee. Some items, like upholstered pieces in non-standard colors, may not be returnable at all.

2. Calculate delivery fees.
Most online shops charge a delivery fee, either in addition to or in place of normal shipping fees, for oversized items. While you're shopping, check delivery fees, and factor this into the cost of your furniture.

3. Ask for swatches.
Colors (and textures) can look really different on a computer than they do in person, so it's always a good idea to ask for swatches when you're considering a big purchase. This way you can touch the fabrics and see exactly what color they are. Some shops even offer swatches of wood or metal finishes.

4. Check out how the piece looks in other people's homes.
Some retailers, like West Elm and Anthropologie, allow users to upload pictures of a piece in their home, so potential buyers can see how it looks in a real-world situation. You can also do a Pinterest, Google Images, or Flickr search for the name of the piece to see photos of it in other people's homes.

5. Mock it up.
A 75-inch long sofa may sound perfect — until you get it in your space and realize that 75 inches is way too big (or way too small). And by then it's too late. To get a true idea of how a piece will feel in your space, create a mock-up. You can tape out the dimensions of your furniture on the floor, or cut out a piece of paper in the appropriate size and try it out in multiple spots. Don't neglect vertical dimensions, too — you can approximate these by taping the outline of the furniture on the wall, or even, if you're feeling particularly ambitions, making use of some cardboard boxes in the appropriate size.

6. Pay a visit.
Of course this may not be a possibility for everyone, but if you have the opportunity to see the furniture you're looking at in a store, take it. It may save you a lot of regret later. Years ago I was convinced that a particular sofa from CB2 was the perfect one for me. Just as a precaution, I decided to pop in and visit my sofa at the CB2 store in New York when I was there on business. As soon as I saw the sofa in person I knew it just wasn't right — and felt immensely relieved that I had bothered to take the extra step.

If you're not positioned to visit a showroom, but happen to have a very helpful friend or relative who lives in a city where one is located, you could (very nicely) ask them to pop by the store, take a few pictures, maybe try out the furniture and tell you how comfortable it is. Write them a nice thank you note later.

7. Measure, measure, measure.
So you've made a cardboard mockup of your sofa and you're certain it's the perfect size for your living room. But are you certain it will fit up the stairs? If you live on the first floor and your door is four feet wide this probably won't be an issue, but if you're living anywhere else, don't forget to measure any bottlenecks (hallways, doorways, stairs) that could be a problem for your new furniture. You don't want to wind up like this.

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