Online shopping is on the rise. Most retail stores now offer an online option, and we’ve seen the rise of online buying and selling platforms, such as eBay. Buying online comes with its own benefits and risks. My experience so far has been largely positive, with a couple of disappointing exceptions which are detailed at the end of this article. The benefit to the seller is obvious: they reach a broader target audience. But is it beneficial to the consumer and, if we use it, how do we minimize the risks?
First, the benefits:
- Ordering online can be more efficient. Consider searching with your keypad versus visiting all the same outlets in person.
- If you dislike shopping, browsing from the comfort of your home may be very appealing.
- The internet allows us to shop anywhere in the world, from any source which delivers, providing a variety and sometimes better pricing than what’s available locally.
- Larger chain stores often offer more choices online than in your local store.
The tricky part is that you don’t get to touch, smell and feel the real item before ordering online. There are ways to reduce the risk of not receiving what you think you’ve ordered.
- If the item is one that demands comfort, such as a sofa or reading chair, all you have to rely on are the comments accompanying the piece. If a local store carries the piece or even something else by the same company, visiting their showroom to take a seat may help. Decorators and salespeople in local stores can be a great source of information on the various lines they have experienced. Online testimonials and searching Pinterest and Instagram may also shed more light.
- Colours and patterns viewed online can be drastically altered from the real thing. An item photographed for online catalogues under studio lights with colour filters may look quite different when it arrives in terms of colour, texture and even quality. Requesting a fabric swatch, wood sample, or small piece of a rug when possible will delay your shipment a bit but is well worth it. If you request a fabric swatch, beyond seeing the colour and feeling the texture, testing it a bit for wrinkling, wash-ability and pulling is a good idea.
- Determining size can be tricky online or, conversely, knowing if a given size is right for your space. Asking for sizing details and taping off the dimensions of a piece of furniture or rug on the floor is very helpful.
And sometimes you just don’t know until you see something in your space if it’s what you want.
All this leads to the MUST DO for online ordering: do your research to make sure you understand the delivery and return policy.
Where is it coming from and how long will it take? Beware of backorder dates which often get extended more than once. How much does delivery cost? Do you have to be home to receive it? Items you have to sign for in person can lead to frustration if you are typically not at home during the day. Will they bring it into your desired room or drop it at your doorstep? Picture that on a rainy day. Assembly is typically your responsibility, so you may need to hire someone to do it. Can you predetermine the delivery day and time? What if it arrives damaged? Will they take it back, and at what cost to you, to return it? Is there a restocking fee? Does the original packaging have to be saved?
Earlier this year I placed a large online lighting order with Home Depot to complete several units in a condo corporation. The lights came in batch deliveries, one style was on backorder, and I was not notified, the delivery address got botched resulting in several deliveries being repeatedly returned to Ontario, and no tracking system of what had actually been delivered was available. It took months to sort this out, and because it was an online order with some of the fixtures available only online, I was forced to deal with call centre employees in another province who seemed to have no knowledge of the product or the delivery system. In this same large order, one fixture arrived damaged. I was luckily able to return it to a local store, however could not reorder it at the store because it is sold only online. It seems that retailers still have a few kinks to work out with their online ordering systems.
A few years ago clients were searching for a desk, and we found one on Wayfair. Free shipping, gorgeous looking piece, great price; what could go wrong? After the long wait for delivery, the desk arrived broken. Wayfair’s solution was we keep it, and they would send another. It also arrived broken after another wait, and Wayfair wanted to again send another. We stopped it at this point, a full credit was received, and I believe the desks were given to people who could fix them and use them. The lessons learned? Make sure there is a way to get back what you invested if not satisfied, and remember you can’t judge quality from a picture and description.