How to Shop for Furniture?

The furniture I bought during the New Year’s holiday finally arrived. By the time they arrived, I almost forgot what they looked like. I’m so used to comparing products online. Buying furniture proved to be an entirely different experience.

Although many stores sell furniture, there is actually very little information online. Many furniture stores don’t put their inventory on their website. Those that do omit meaningful information. They give the furniture a nice-sounding name: a “Madison Park” collection or a “San Marco” dining table. Who makes it? They don’t tell you the name of the manufacturer. What’s it made of? “Select hardwood and veneer.”

When I buy shoes from Zappos or Endless, I see them in six different angles. When they show furniture that costs many times more, I only get to see one picture. How tall are the drawers? They don’t tell you.

So much for looking for furniture online. Off I went to the stores. It’s not any less confusing at the stores than shopping online. What am I supposed to look at? Just the style and the dimension, like women’s clothing? Or the quality of the material and workmanship too? How do I tell good quality from bad? I have no idea.

No worries, stores have design consultants, aka salespeople. They are like full-service brokers. The service is “free” as long as you buy from them. Their readiness to help gives me the impression that there’s got to be at least 100% markup in the prices.

Ah, prices. Unless I go to stores of the same chain, no two stores sell the same pieces. Strict apples-to-apples price comparison is out of the question. Is this piece at store A more expensive than that piece at store B because it’s better quality, or is it just more expensive for no reason? How much is quality worth? I have no idea.

Like jewelry in mall department stores, furniture is always on sale. 30% off is an everyday event. Sale ends on Sunday, but don’t worry, there will be another one on Monday. And the strangest thing is, with that kind of markup, furniture stores go out of business all the time.

Although I didn’t know what I was doing, I had to make a decision. I spent a non-trivial amount of money based on limited judgment. Some investors must feel the same way when they face thousands of investment choices at different price points.

I still have to buy furniture for a couple more rooms. Do you have any tips about furniture shopping? Or are you just as confused as I was?

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Comments

  1. says

    Best advice is to go to Costco/Sam’sClub and check overstock. I would recommend costco/sam’s club for furniture set pieces and I would recommend overstock for smaller items like bar stools, etc. You’ll save significant dollar and you CANNOT beat costco’s warranty.

  2. says

    I’ve bought furniture from “fancy furniture store” and Walmart, and oddly enough, the Walmart furniture is the stuff that’s holding up better. There doesn’t seem to be a link between price and quality in this furniture buyer’s opinion.

  3. says

    Best furniture we’ve purchased has been “nude” or custom made.

    Most recent experience like yours was for a new mattress. Price comparison shopping is non existent and everything is “on sale”. So confusing.

  4. Jay says

    I completely agree with everything in the article. I am also an obsessive comparison online shopper and that is simply impossible with furniture. How does the industry manage to do this?

  5. Kevin says

    I always thought the furniture stores’ claims that they saved money by buying in bulk was BS until recently. First, I was shopping for a dining room set and found one at Kanes (local chain) for about $650, and then shopping online I found the exact same set (with the actual mfr and real product name) but for a bit over $1000 (and that was the lowest price I found for it online). Then more recently I was looking at Chintaly glass coffee tables and found the same thing. Browse for “chintaly swivel glass square” and you’ll find it cheepest for $550, but go to kanesfurniture.com and search for “xanadu table” and you’ll find it listed for $299. I don’t mean to pimp the table mfr or the store, just to give an example that the web sites aint always cheapest like people usually figure.

    BTW – I’ve also had good luck with csnstores.com. They own many other domains to cover every type of furniture you’d want. I ended up getting a DR set from them and they had good prices and shipped out a replacement box quickly when the part of the first shipment arrived damaged by the carrier.

  6. says

    My wife and I had our eyes on some furniture (table and chairs set) but it was too high for our liking so we waited it out. Before we knew it, Leon’s had a pamphlet sent out in the mail, and the set we were looking at was reduced by half!
    We ended up getting the set, which was orginally $2,300 b/t for $1399!

    We found it hard looking online for furniture. Its kind of like clothes. It’s almost as if you need a tangible feel to what it is your thinking about buying to really know if its what you want.

    Nice post.

  7. RabbMD says

    There are three main websites that major online furniture companies host. ths.gardenweb.com is a website with major info on furniture buying. Finding what you want to buy can be difficult, but if you have a large amount to purchase a trip to North Carolina can be worth it to find out what you like and do not like. Once you find a speciific brand and line you like, then get quotes from Furniture land South, Broyles (both in North Carolina) and Lexington Furniture in Kentucky. I then played them off one another, and waited till Furniture land South had a tax free discount event. I paid shipping (flat rate). This is the way I made a >50% off retail purchase. Furniture Land South is HUGE and I actually found the reps there to be very good at showing me styles that I liked (well mainly my wife) that were similar to pictures I brought them. I ended up buying from them because they mached all the lowest prices from the other two companies.

  8. Sotol says

    I’ve always bought most furniture from used furniture stores. If you can find a good upholsterer/reconditioner, you can also by the best fabric on ebay and use that for recovering.

  9. Michael Andrews says

    Your best bet is to speak with someone familiar with the pieces they are selling. Most stores have poorly trained sales people and overpriced furniture. I recently started buying my furniture over the phone after viewing it online. Furnitureordering.com seems to have just about every line at a fraction of the price you pay in a store. They shipped my pieces directly to my home in less than a week (i live in whitefish, Montana!) They do a 105% price match guarantee so i know im getting a deal.

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