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Thomas Croly spent two years scouring the limited inventory at furniture stores near his home in Maui before taking his search online, where he found a leather sofa at Costco.com that matched the style he was looking for and fit his budget.
“Normally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable ordering a sofa that I haven’t sat on, but Costco’s website had a much larger selection and significantly lower prices than the brick-and-mortar stores that I looked at,” says Croly.
Croly, a CR member and longtime Costco shopper, also liked the company’s return policy. “I’ve returned a handful of products to Costco over the years, and I’ve never had any problems getting a refund,” he says. “That gave me peace of mind.”
(Learn more about preventing furniture tip-overs.)
Deciding whether to shop for furniture online or in-store has always taken some weighing of pros and cons: large selection (that you can’t see in person) vs. concerns about the return process for online shopping; smaller selection vs. more personal attention and easier returns for the in-store experience. And now, in the midst of the pandemic, you can add concerns about virus exposure to the balance, since furniture stores are enclosed spaces filled with high-touch surfaces.
Consumer Reports’ new Furniture Retailers Survey takes an in-depth look at how furniture shoppers navigate some of those pros and cons—and which retailers serve them best. Fielded in April 2020, the survey asked over 38,000 CR members who purchased furniture at an online or brick-and-mortar store within the last two years about their experiences.
The good news is the overwhelming majority of participants reported that their overall shopping experience—for both online and brick-and-mortar stores—left them feeling “highly satisfied.” (Note: Most of the purchases took place before the nationwide social distancing and stay-at-home orders were put into place at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, so participant experiences may not reflect current market conditions.)
Digital members can see our full ratings of furniture retailers.
Best and Worst Furniture Retailers
Of the 17 online furniture retailers scored, Room & Board and Costco.com boasted the highest ratings, with RH (Restoration Hardware) joining them toward the top of the chart. Ashley Furniture HomeStore was the lowest-rated online retailer.
Walk-in furniture shoppers in our survey reported having the best experience at Stickley and Room & Board. Costco and independent retailers also received high marks overall. Among the worst-rated walk-in stores were Walmart and Ashley Furniture HomeStore.
According to the survey, in-store and online furniture shoppers have a lot in common. Both prioritize quality, style, and price over factors such as safety, eco-friendly materials, and whether products are made in the U.S. They also expressed similar opinions when describing their overall furniture shopping experience, which the overwhelming majority said left them feeling “highly satisfied.”
Aun Hussain, a CR member from Sammamish, Wash., purchased a bedroom set and several pieces of office furniture from his local Room & Board store over the last two years. Hussain, who comparison-shopped at RH, Crate & Barrel, and Pottery Barn, says his walk-in experience at Room & Board can’t be beat. “Between styling and product quality, Room & Board was spot on,” says Hussain. “Their prices were a little higher, but you really get what you pay for.”
Shopping for Deals
Speaking of price, walk-in furniture purchases tend to be higher in price than online purchases, our survey found.
“We found walk-in shoppers often buy bigger-ticket items than online shoppers,” says Jane Manweiler, a senior research associate in CR’s survey department. “The median amount survey participants spent on a single furniture item at a walk-in store was $1,455, compared to $459 for a single item purchased online.”
For example, 42 percent of walk-in purchases by CR members included a sofa, sectional, or loveseat, compared with only 14 percent of online purchases. The survey found that in-store shoppers tended to purchase the most expensive items at Arhaus, Bassett Furniture, Ethan Allen, and RH, where the median price for a single piece of furniture was over $3,000. Meanwhile, many budget-conscious shoppers gravitated toward Walmart, Target, Office Depot, or Cost Plus World Market, where the median price was below $300.
Online shoppers may also be a bit more persistent when it comes to finding deals. More online furniture consumers (49 percent) shopped around at multiple retailers than in-store shoppers (36 percent). Online shoppers also reported slightly higher success rates when haggling compared to in-store negotiators—though in-store shoppers were more likely to haggle. (A third of in-store furniture purchasers attempted to negotiate, compared to only 5 percent of online shoppers.)
Delivery is also an important aspect of consumers’ furniture buying experience, but available options differ between in-store and online shoppers. Among purchases that were shipped or delivered, nearly 9 in 10 in-store purchases came by “white-glove” service, which means the furniture is brought inside a customer’s home and assembled by the delivery team. Just 17 percent of online purchases came via white-glove delivery.
“We learned that online buyers weren’t as happy with the quality of their delivery service, which tends to be standard shipping,” Manweiler says, “so it might be worth it to upgrade to white-glove delivery if you have the option.” (Although prices may vary, white-glove delivery may add anywhere from 5 to 20 percent to basic shipping, according to uShip, a professional delivery company.)
Nancy Stillwell, of Madison, Wis., didn’t think twice before getting white-glove delivery when she purchased a sofa, chair, and ottoman from Macys.com in 2018. “I’m not the handiest person when it comes to putting furniture together,” says Stillwell, who also liked Macys.com’s wide selection. “I wanted a lipstick-red sofa, and [Macys.com] was the only place that had one that I could find,” she says.
When Problems Arise
Seven out of 10 furniture buyers reported having no problems with their purchase in CR’s survey. Even online shoppers—who have to take a leap of faith to purchase sight unseen—did not report major surprises when they received their deliveries. Of shoppers who did experience issues, the most commonly reported hitches were that an item arrived damaged or with missing parts; the quality, comfort, or color wasn't what the customer expected (only asked of online purchases); delivery was delayed or rescheduled; or the desired product wasn’t in stock, although each of these issues occurred in less than 1 in 10 purchases.
The survey found walk-in consumers had the most problems at City Furniture, Rooms to Go, and Ashley Furniture HomeStore, compared to those with the least reports of problems at Room & Board and Stickley. Online shoppers reported the most problems when shopping at RH, West Elm, and Ashley Furniture HomeStore and the fewest when buying furniture at Amazon.com, Sam’s Club, and independent retailers. The specific problems shoppers reported varied by retailer. For example, respondents felt the products at RH are too expensive—while Ashley Furniture HomeStore drew complaints of damaged items and missing parts, that the quality, comfort, or color wasn't as expected, and delivery delays.
Of course, some retailers are better than others at addressing customer issues. When Hussain ordered a $2,500 standing desk from Room & Board in July, the desk’s solid oak top arrived cracked, but he says the company’s exchange process was seamless. “Their customer service was very easy to work with,” he says.
Preventing Furniture Tip-Overs
Since 2000, more than 200 people—mostly children ages 6 and younger—have been killed when dressers or other furniture that stores clothes have tipped over, a Consumer Reports investigation found. While CR believes furniture should be more stable in the first place and is pushing for legislation that would create strong, mandatory federal standards, anchoring your furniture as soon as you get it is essential to protect everyone in your home. Right now, however, it is not widely done. Among CR’s survey participants who purchased furniture that can be anchored to prevent tip-over (dressers, bookcases, TV stands), low percentages said they've anchored them in their homes—just 15 percent overall, and 37 percent among those with young children in the household—even though many reported that their furniture came with information or hardware regarding anchoring. To make the process as easy as possible, CR has created a step-by-step anchoring guide for consumers.