My family calls me “the queen of online shopping.”
Over the course of five years, I amassed a wealth of furnishings that seemingly came out of the woodwork the day after we closed on our mountain escape. I’m confident I saved a ton of money, but it didn’t come without some risk.
Knowing how to get online deals without sacrificing money, quality or your sanity is critical. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Master the basics
- Understand the “philosophy” behind the site. For example, One Kings Lane has become a mecca for designers. Often they will feature events with items handpicked by a featured designer. These don’t necessarily equate to deals, particularly for the “vintage” items. But, many of their other events do offer real value. Think of the markup on a T-shirt with a little horse. Same concept.
- “Simple returns” applies to small items only. Try returning a table or 50-pound mirror. Always look for free returns, and if something has to be delivered “white glove,” it’s best to consider it a non-return item and take a leap of faith.
- Know your brands. Doing your research before you shop online is always a good idea, but you do need patience. When a brand finally goes up for a sales event, you already know if the quality is there, what constitutes “deal” pricing, and maybe even the specific items you want. For example,Visual Comfort sells beautiful, designer-quality lighting. When a pendant I coveted was included in a Visual Comfort event sale, I snatched up two of them at half price. However, it took about a year before the sale came online.
What you can’t determine when shopping for furnishings online:
- How a piece of furniture feels. Nothing can replace trying out a piece of furniture in person. Not only can you determine if the chair or sofa sits deep enough or provides the right angle of support in back, but you can test durability and quality of the materials used.
- Color and texture. “Straw” to you may be beige, but to the vendor it could be bright yellow. Your loss if it’s final sale. There’s no way to verify a color will work in your home until you actually bring it there. Likewise, what you envision as a soft, drapey linen could turn out to be stiff and flat without a lot of drape. That’s why designers rely on swatches.
- Proportion. Yes, you can pull out the blue tape and mark out the dimensions of a deeply discounted sofa. But until you actually get that piece in your room, you have no true sense of its size relative to everything else in the space. Having the trained eye of a designer or sales associate is invaluable.
- Will it still be there if I want more? Most of the member sites (including Gilt, One Kings Lane, Rue La La and Joss & Main, pictured above) feature sales events that last three days to a week. Often the vendor isn’t listed, just the product. So if you want to get a second set of that flatware three months later, you may be out of luck.