Buying A Sofa Online Seemed Risky, But It Was The Best Thing Ever

published Nov 1, 2017
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(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

My family and I live in a remote area—the nearest town has 200 people—so when it came time to replace our falling-apart sofa, our IRL shopping options were very limited unless we wanted to devote our lives to driving to furniture stores. The closest shops were perfectly respectable but lacked a certain flair. It seemed like ordering a sofa online was our only good option, and I’m thrilled it was, because it ended up working out great. Buying a couch online may sound terribly risky, but I have a few helpful hints—from my own experience—that might help you if you’re considering your own online purchase.

The Sofa Decision

The sofa we eventually purchased in May 2016 was the Eliot Sofa in Como Velvet Jade from Joybird (our runners-up were from Kardiel and West Elm). The Eliot had everything we were looking for: deep seat, excellent green hue, solid wood legs, a style that’s mid-century modern without being over-the-top about it, tight cushions rather than slouchy ones, and an approachable price tag.

I am a firm believer in celebrating the good bits of life, big and small, so about once a month for the last 17 months, I have exclaimed, “I love our sofa!” because I really do. Had we purchased with something from a far away physical store for the sake of seeing it first IRL, I would have sacrificed getting exactly the style I was looking for. My advice: Whatever your budget, try to find something that makes you happy.

Reviewers Are Your New Best Friends

I read millions of reviews during the sofa buying process, and they were almost all helpful. The overall score is a good indicator of quality—the Eliot scored 4.8/5 from 86 reviews—but be sure to read further. Some reviewers considered the generous seat depth a con, but it was definitely a pro for me. When shopping for furniture online, also look for customer images; Joybird and West Elm have them, as do several other retailers. Photos of the pieces in real life spaces without impeccable studio lighting and styling are very revealing, and you should analyze them intensely. If you’re considering ordering online and the manufacturer doesn’t offer customer ratings for review, poke around the ‘net to see what bloggers have to say (and the comments on that blog from readers).

(Image credit: Tess Wilson)

Fabric Samples: They’re Not Just Dollhouse Rugs

Ordering fabric samples is KEY. Many companies offer them for free or a small charge, and you need them. I couldn’t imagine purchasing something as major as a sofa without having seen the fabric in person! In my own experience, I requested swatches from two other companies we were considering, and the Joybird samples were the most generous in both size and quantity. (Tiny samples make it hard for you to truly get a feel for the impact of a color.) The green velvet sample we chose was true-to-life once the sofa arrived, but remember that velvet will have more variation in darkness and lightness than other fabrics, due to the way large swathes of it reflect light. If you can’t easily find an Order Fabric Samples button on your retailer’s website, contact them and ask nicely; there’s a good chance they’ll send you a few.

Measure Thrice, Order Once

We marked off the dimensions of the sofa on our living room floor in a few different locations, until we felt confident that it would work in the space with some flexibility—in other words, we’d be able to move it around and not be stuck with only one rigid option. We also compared the Eliot’s dimensions to those of our current sofas (both the one that recently died and the sofa bed we have for guests). We wanted the back, seat, and arms to be higher than those of the other sofas and the seat to be deeper and longer than the sofa bed’s seat, and all the numbers worked.

I highly recommend comparing the dimensions of any piece that you’re considering buying to a piece you can experience in real life, even if it’s not a perfect comparison. If you’re ordering a sofa and don’t happen to have an extra sofa just laying around, measure a chair: how easy is it to get up from that seat height? How does the back height look against the wall where the couch will be placed? And so on!

Don’t Order Without A Discount

When we were getting close to making a decision, I contacted Joybird to ask if there were any super-secret sales going on (it never hurts to ask!), and they said there weren’t, but that they’d be offering a 20% discount soon. Great! They offer 20% off fairly regularly—Target has similar frequent sales—so hold off on ordering for as long as you can for the best deal. Many companies offer a 15-ish% discount code for signing up for their newsletter and around major holidays, so be sure to do that before ordering (and then unsubscribe to the emails). Unless you need a particular piece TOMORROW, take a little time to work the discount system. Bonus points if you can combine offers!

Read The Return Policy. Reread It. Memorize It.

The sofa ordering process—so much money! such a key piece!—was giving me stomachaches that would make Chidi proud, and what made me finally calm down and feel confident was the return policy. My mantra became:

You have 365 days to return an item unless it’s damaged, soiled, or excessively used. If you request a return within 14 days of delivery, we’ll even pay for shipping back to us.

365 days, 365 days, 365 days, breathe, breathe, breathe! Whenever I worried that the color would be all wrong or the cushions would be stuffed with barbed wire, I reminded myself that I could immediately return the sofa and be out $0 (this was for Joybird specifically —make sure you’re comfortable with the return policy for the companies you are considering). We would be out time and effort, but the money was what was making me stressed. I have time. For every company we were considering ordering from, I pored over the return policy, and if it was draconian, that option was eliminated. Lots of companies have helpful return policies, so don’t settle for a terrible one.

Issues On Arrival? Document & Communicate!

When our sofa was delivered (and helpfully unwrapped and placed in the right spot by the nice deliveryman), there was a scuff on the front of the velvet, i.e., it couldn’t be hidden merely by flipping over the cushion. Now, 17 months later, the scuff is completely invisible, but it seemed very dramatic when I first saw it. The most expensive thing I’ve ever owned is hopelessly marred! Woe is me! I had the deliveryman make a note of it on his delivery record, then I took a couple photos and sent them to Joybird right away. I employed the Compliment Sandwich (compliment, criticism, compliment) and asked if there was anything I could do to fix the scuff. They said that nothing could be done, but that they were happy to offer me a further discount on the sofa price, which seemed totally fair. Document thoroughly, communicate nicely, and a good company should work with you to make things right.

Would I Buy Furniture Online Again? I Would & I Did!

We needed another sleeper sofa (when you live in the middle of nowhere, it’s important that there’s room for your family and friends to sleep), and about a year ago we ordered the Paxon futon from Target. This one was much lower stakes—it was less than $200, it was going in a less-used room—but I still employed most of the techniques listed above. I couldn’t get a fabric sample and there were no issues to document, but the return policy was generous, the dimensions were close to ideal, and I waited to click BUY until I could double-down on the discounts. While I’m not as in-love with that sofa, we’re still super pleased with it and our buying experience. When we’ve saved up and are ready to purchase other pieces for our home, we will definitely be shopping online, without the stomachaches this time.

Interested in our staff’s real reviews on Joybird sofas & beyond? Don’t miss our Apartment Therapy Sofa Squad series, including:

For all 9 stores reviewed so far:

More sofa roundups this way:

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)