By Camyl Besinga
With traffic becoming more and more of an obstruction to our furniture-shopping plans, buying online has become a viable option to many homeowners, renters, and design enthusiasts. Here, some tips to help you maximize your online shopping experience.
1. Zero in on a store that matches your style.
Focus on a keyword for the look you want to use in your home: Industrial? French cottage? Scandinavian? Minimalist? Having a look will help you narrow down your search to online home stores that carry items in your preferred style. A quick look at their product selections or social media feed will give you an idea if it is a store worth scanning.
2. Always check if it is a reputable selling site.
Scan all the sections of an online store’s website. If they’re serious about selling, they should have more than enough web content to appeal to potential customers like you. Read their About section to get to know them and their objectives. Search them on Google and see if they have mentions in other websites, like media write-ups or articles about them and their services. Most importantly, check for independent customer reviews about them. One or two bad apples are worth glossing over, but if you find a lot of thumbs-down reviews, you’ll be thankful you didn’t take a chance and missed your own bad experience—which costs money!
3. Make sure they are easily reachable.
Whether through email, landline, or mobile, check their websites for complete contact details. Test how quickly they respond by making initial inquiries. It would be infinitely better if they provide access to instant messaging apps like Viber, Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp. This way, you can connect with them as often as you like without racking up SMS, call, or even data charges (especially if you have these apps on your Unli plans), and enables you to exchange media files with them.
Once you’ve established contact with the store, feel free to get chummy with them. Ask if they can email you a detailed quotation outlining all the information you need, which should include complete dimensions, material and construction, fabric and color options, assembly and shipping fees, payment terms, and return and exchange policies.
Before making a final order, ask them if they can send over fabric or paint swatches to you. It should be easy for them to send these to you via courier; if not, close-up photos on Viber may suffice. If they offer a customization service and you have your own pegs, message them photos or videos of your preference to clearly communicate what you want. This will make it easier for them to create a design that comes closest to your dream furniture piece.
4. Visit their brick-and-mortar store, if any.
It’s important to get an up-close-and-personal feel of your preferred items as much as possible. If an online boutique has an actual showroom, do visit it so you can see, feel, and test out the items that caught your eye on their website. Oftentimes, you may also see other pieces that didn’t look so appealing on their site, but are now worth considering in actuality.
Chairs, tables, beds, and sofas are also best seen and felt up close, because your comfort in using them is tantamount to a successful purchase. Sit on them and see if the height is just right for you. Feel the fabric or upholstery they used—is it too rough? Too slippery? Check the legs—are they sturdy? Will they hold up your weight? Are the colors too pale or drab, too bright or messy? These are questions that are best answered “IRL”, as they say.
5. Peruse their photos under a microscope.
Of course, I mean that figuratively! If you can’t visit an actual store or showroom, get as up-close-and-personal with the photos on their site. Ask them for other available photos they may have of the item, or if they have a complete catalogue of their collections, request that this be emailed to you. Study as many photo angles of the furniture pieces you like, and zoom in to check texture and quality. You may even save these images on your device, and with a photo-editing app, place it on an actual photo of your space. This enables you to envision how the piece will look once it arrives at your home.
6. Read descriptions closely.
Trust websites that take great care in describing at length the items they are selling. These descriptions should reveal the materials and construction methods used to make the piece, and ultimately give you an idea of its quality and durability.
7. Think in terms of size and scale.
Get all the dimensions and do a mock-up of the item in your home. A “mock-up” is a model of the piece of furniture which you can make yourself using materials at home. I’ve done mock-ups in my own home as well as my client’s made out of masking tape, string, cardboard boxes, and Styrofoam. This way, you can effectively imagine how big, small, high, or low it will look against other pieces in your space.
8. Inquire about an online boutique’s policies on assembly, delivery, and returns and exchanges.
Some stores assign additional fees for assembly and installation, as well as varying costs to shipping, depending on your location. Others may also not have return policies in place—although the Department of Trade and Industry requires that businesses provide this privilege to all consumers. So it’s best to ask ahead and not be surprised.
9. Double-check the security of their online payment facilities.
When you purchase online, check that the online payment system they use has security features in place, so that you avoid incidences of fraud. Normally, secure online payment systems will show the icon of a locked padlock next to the redirected URL address. They should also have double-checking procedures, such as sending of one-time passwords to your mobile phones. As not all local online boutiques employ online payment systems, many still allow you to use to go the more traditional routes like bank deposits or mobile bank transfers. If you feel safer paying in cash this way, inform your contact and they will willingly provide bank details to you.
How about Instagram sellers and Facebook-Selling Sites?
Instagram sellers often work like actual online furniture boutiques, but if the items being sold are pre-loved, like many Facebook-selling groups and communities, it pays to a take a certain amount of risk into account. Always ask about existing conditions of the pieces you’re eyeing, accompanied with photos (including closeups) that give you an idea of the extent of the damage, if any. Some sellers will also deliver for a fee, while others will only allow pickups from their locations, so be prepared to spend on a pickup or trucking service. And as much as possible, read up on rules posted by Facebook group administrators, to minimize the risk of your getting booted out. They can be very strict with their rules, which serve to protect the interests of both amateur buyers and sellers.
About The Author
Camyl Besinga is an interior stylist and design consultant by profession. Follow her interior design exploits on www.instagram.com/gal_at_home. If you have any questions regarding home and interiors, feel free to DM her on Instagram or email her at camille [dot] besinga [at] gmail [dot]com, and she may answer your queries in her weekly column here in Manila Bulletin Home and Garden.