The last year has shown many of us that if we want new stuff we have to buy it online. With all but non-essential shops shut it has become the only way to get hold of anything whether it’s kitchen supplies, new shoes or even sofas.
Now many of us were already shopping online and feeling fairly comfortable with that and many shops know that and maintain that by buying direct from them online you cut out the middleman (added costs for shop rental and staff salaries) and so it becomes cheaper. But what if you are looking to invest a significant amount of money on a new sofa or a bed, or even a mattress?
It’s true that there is no substitute for sitting, lying, touching and feeling. Not to mention seeing colours and sizes in real life. But that hasn’t been possible for many months and it’s not certain that it will be possible again in the same way as it used to be. The British High Street has been decimated by months of closure and every week I get emails from companies want to sell me sofas and mattresses in boxes.
So if you want to, or have to, buy online what are the best tips for getting it right? And while some of these might sound obvious, many of us (including me) have fallen at the first hurdle so I make no apologies for including the basics
1 Check your measurements. I can’t tell you how many times I have bought tiny vases or mini candlesticks. Even when I read the measurements I can sometimes fail to understand what they actually mean in the space I am planning to put them in. So check all the measurements: height, width and depth. And check them in relation to the shelf, corner, room they are for.
2 If you are buying a sofa then check to see if the arms and legs will come off when it is delivered. If it needs to go upstairs check the turning points on stairs – measure the narrowest point and if it needs to be flipped over a bannister then measure the distance between that and the ceiling. Don’t forget to allow for radiators and door frames. Even the door itself takes up a precious few centimetres when it’s open and that can be make or break. If so can you remove the door? Or even the architrave? Some companies, who make to order, will customise a sofa for you and make it slightly shorter or shallower.
3 When you have established the measurements, it’s worth marking them out on the floor in masking tape. This gives you a real 3D sense of the space it will take up. You need to remember the thoroughfares – allow at least 90cm between a sofa and coffee table if that is the passage to the window. A dining chair needs 1m to be pushed back and allow someone to stand up (and if they are sitting down this might still be tight for someone to walk behind). Don’t forget the height though – a bed takes up a lot of floor space but it’s low so it won’t dominate the space. As long as you can walk past the end comfortably you can probably get away with a large low bed. Adding a tall footboard will dominate the room so if space is tight find a design without one. And it’s fine if you have room for a king size mattress but don’t forget the frame it sits on will be several centimetres wider and longer than that.
4 So far so obvious. But what if you haven’t bought from a company before? How do you know if it’s any good? Read the reviews – and yes you might well end up with 50 per cent saying it was the best thing they’ve ever seen while the others hate it with a fiery passion (more likely a 52/48 split!) but you can decide which complaints seem valid to you and which you want to ignore. I have had bad book reviews on Amazon for the cover being damaged on arrival which is not something I can do anything about and nor is it, I feel, relevant to the contents.
5 Take a good look at the site itself. Is it well designed? Is the photography good? A company which has invested in good imagery is more likely to be selling higher quality furniture. If it’s a new site, which perhaps doesn’t have much money for fancy graphics and videos, check the “about” page. Do they have a mission statement, who are they? Get a feel for them that way. If it’s a small business with basic photography then pay special attention to their “about” page and the product specifications.
6 Drill into the details. Are there lots of pictures – even functional non fancy ones. Can you see the piece from all angles? Up close? You need to be able to see the material in detail. Another tip is to always look at the palest version as you will the detail better than on the dark one. I have almost bought cheap Persian rugs thinking I am getting a bargain and on closer inspection realised the pattern is printed not woven. Not a problem in itself but make sure you know what you are getting. A zoomed in shot will also show you the pile on a rug – flat weave for under tables is better, shag pile good for beside the bed.
7 Read the product specifications. It’s not just about measurements, what is it made from? Where was it made? Is the wood FSC? Is it plastic or wood or metal? Don’t rely on what it looks like – check. If it’s laminate you need to know that – don’t be caught out. Because once again – if it seems too good to be true it probably is.
8 Call in all the samples you can. You need to paint the tester pots, feel the velvet, touch the fabric. I had my heart set on a design for my office blind and when the sample turned up I hated it. If I had done my usual trick of rushing in headlong that would have been a very expensive mistake. Even if you have to spend a few pounds checking samples that’s a fraction of the cost of getting it wrong.
9 Now you’ve measured up, read the reviews, looked at the samples, made a decision. Check the delivery terms. Is it kerbside? This literally means they will bring it to the front gate (sometimes – not always – the front door) and leave it there. And I write as someone whose back is aching from carrying half a ton of tiles from the pavement to the front door, through the house and into the garden yesterday. Can you get it inside? Will you have to build it? Will they take the boxes upstairs if need be? A white glove service means they will bring it in, assemble it and often take the packaging away. And it’s always worth asking if they will also remove the old sofa/bed/washing machine. Sometimes they will do it for a small extra fee. Otherwise you’ve got to work out how to do that yourself. Your local council might take it for a fee and some local charities will too.
10 Finally before you place that order check the returns policy. Because if you’ve come unstuck on steps 1-9 there is always step 10.
And if you’re free at 6pm on Wednesday for 45 minutes, I will be taking part in (with Andi Peters) a live-streamed Easter Event with Andi Peters where we will be discussing home styling tips, Easter table laying and hot cross bun hacks. There’s also the chance to win one of 10 signed copies of my book with a matching pencil! I know! It’s completely free but you will need to register. Here are the details.