1) We don’t get paid until you buy. That’s why we’re so pushy.
As a former furniture store owner, Stephen Antisdel says he’s familiar with marketing tactics salespeople often use to boost sales. But that didn’t prepare him for a visit to a major department store near his home in Buchanan, Mich., where he says he was on the furniture floor for about 30 seconds before a saleswoman approached him. Stephen, 59, explained that he and his wife Shelli wanted to replace their 15-year-old sofa and that he was fine searching the store by himself. But the saleswoman hovered over him for another fifteen minutes, suggesting that he make a purchase quickly before the store’s sale ended, before he gave up and left. He hasn’t been back to that department since. “It was painful,” says Antisdel, who is now an adjunct professor of business at Indiana Tech’s College of Professional Studies.
Most furniture stores pay salespeople a salary and commission, with heavy volume retailers giving 4% to 8% and some upscale retailers offering 10% or more, says Nicole Larrauri, managing partner at the Retail Marketing Group, a marketing and consulting firm that works with furniture stores. But, raking in commissions is harder since furniture store sales are still down. In December, they totaled $7.6 billion in sales, down 15% from December 2007, according to the Commerce Department. And some stores require salespeople to sell a minimum dollar amount of furniture before they qualify for any commission, says Larrauri. With fewer couches and four-poster beds moving and a high bar for commissions, the result is often aggressive sales pitches–like claiming a living room set is almost sold out or that a weekend sale won’t occur again. Usually it’s not true; furniture stores often repeat sales and incentives, especially during national holidays. Industry reps contend that salespeople are simply trying to figure out what the customer is looking for. “If you have a salesperson trying to discover those objectives, they’re probably going to ask a bunch of questions and some people will interpret that as being pushy,” Steve DeHaan, executive vice president at the National Home Furnishings Association
2) No matter what I say, your furniture might not arrive anytime soon.
Three months before Dana Marlowe, 34, gave birth to her now two-year-old son, she ordered a customized rocking chair from an independent retailer in her hometown of Silver Spring, Md. She was looking forward to rocking her newborn son in it and was assured the chair would arrive one month before her due date. But that day came and went, with no sign of the rocker. “Every time I called, they said they were working on it but there was no exact delivery date,” says Marlowe, president of Accessibility Partners, an IT consulting firm for people with disabilities. When the chair finally arrived, her son was already two months old.
Once a purchase is made, there’s little guarantee the furniture will arrive in the time frame that the store claims, says Jeff Green, an independent retail consultant. Even major retailers, like Crate & Barrel and Macy’s, sometimes deliver weeks after the date they promise. A Macy’s spokesman says late deliveries are rare but occur if the store learns the furniture is damaged or if the furniture manufacturer doesn’t ship the right order to the store’s distribution center. He adds that in few cases in the past couple of years, furniture manufacturers weren’t able to fill an order because of financial problems they were experiencing. Crate & Barrel didn’t respond to requests for comment. Before purchasing an item, confirm that the order can be canceled in case of delay. For furniture that a consumer purchases on the phone or online (or via the mail), there’s the Federal Trade Commission’s mail order rule, which states a company must ship an order within 30 days unless it states a different time period. Otherwise, the retailer must notify customers of the delay and give them the chance to cancel instead of continuing to wait.
3) We’re not responsible for any damage to the furniture—and that crack in the wall the couch made? Not our problem either.
Shortly after Jessica Commins and her husband Andrew bought their new home in Raleigh, N.C., Jessica, 32, visited a local independent furniture shop where she purchased a queen-sized mattress and box spring. The shop delivered them the same day for free–but the process was anything but smooth. By the time the box spring made it into the guest room, where it would accommodate Andrew’s parents when they visited, there was a small, two-inch tear on its fabric. But the real damage, she says, occurred elsewhere. As the deliveryman tried to navigate the narrow hallway into the house, she says she watched in horror as he jammed the box spring into the wall, removing part of the stucco from the ceiling and exposing the metal support beam (and making that tear).
Around 20% of consumer complaints filed against furniture stores, or roughly 7,500 from 2007 to 2009, involved broken or damaged furniture, according to the Better Business Bureau. Consumers should inspect the furniture closely before it’s moved into their home. If it’s damaged, don’t sign for it or accept it – instead tell the company to take it back. DeHaan says that stores typically inspect furniture before it’s loaded on a truck for delivery to a customer’s home, but in some cases it’s possible they might not notice the damage or that it could have occurred during the delivery process. Consumers who accept damaged furniture will have a harder time making the case for a refund. Also, if it’s clear that the furniture can’t fit through the hallway or up the stairs without banging up against the wall, think twice about allowing the deliverymen to try anyway; if damage is caused, they could claim you were aware of the issues and told them to proceed anyway. To avoid problems, measure the doorway, hallway corners and staircase heights to confirm the furniture can fit into the house before you buy, says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, a trade association of more than 225 furniture manufacturers and importers.
4) There’s a lot you don’t know about our quality.
Not all furniture is created equal. When comparing wooden furniture, pieces made with solid wood typically tend to weather the elements – like a science project gone wrong at a kitchen table – better. And repairing scratches or water marks is usually easier than with veneer wood. Furniture made with the latter is usually more affordable because manufacturers use thin surface material over composite wood or fiberboard. But it could be more susceptible to chipping, which isn’t easy to fix. Hirschhaut says that with careful use, including wiping down with a damp cloth on a regular basis, a veneer finish should last for 15 years.
Separately, consumers should conduct some quality tests of their own at the store before making a purchase including checking bed and chair frames to confirm that the joints are solid, she says. If it wobbles, that’s a sign of a breakdown to come. And look for seams, on couches for example, that are in a straight line, consistent and not fraying. For upholstered furniture, look for a gold label from the Upholstered Furniture Action Council, which signals that the materials used to make the product are less susceptible to catching fire.
5) You should never pay the full sticker price.
Getting a good price at a furniture store doesn’t just mean shopping during a sale. Most furniture retailers mark up their prices by about 80% (and in some cases more) to maximize profits. When stores run a promotion, they “mark the price back down to give the illusion that there’s a big sale,” says Antisdel. But they’re still profiting.In general, retailers typically make a gross margin, the difference between the sale and operational expenses, between 38% and 46%, says DeHaan.
That’s why consumers should try to negotiate even beyond the discounted price, says Green. But don’t expect a salesperson to agree to a lower price right away – the biggest discounts can take hours to negotiate. Often, consumers who pay with cash have more bargaining room, and the biggest discounts that follow from haggling usually occur at independent mom-and-pop shops where the person on the sales floor is usually an owner who doesn’t have to ask for permission to discount. If negotiations fail – a possibility since not all retailers allow for negotiating, says DeHaan — hold onto the barcode number or product name. In some cases, you might be able to search online for other retailers who sell the same piece at a lower price.