Buying furniture online need not be a scary proposition. Armed with a few tips for a successful search, anyone can make an informed, comfortable decision when it comes to finding outdoor furniture. In most cases, local stores will not offer the same selection, pricing or quality that a quality outdoor furniture online retailer will, making an online purchase a smart decision. Here are ten things you should keep in mind when shopping for outdoor furniture online.
1. Look for the Warranty Statements
Any Outdoor furniture retailer or discounter worth considering will have a clear, well written and definitive statement of warranty OR clearly state there is no warranty on their products. It is recommended, however, that you strongly consider patronizing online sellers that will back their products with a warranty on manufacturing defects for a certain period of time. These statements should be easy for you to find, and make sense without having a law degree. Many online outdoor furniture websites will warranty the furniture they sell for a certain period of days after the furniture is received. Others worth considering highly will warranty their furniture for 5 years, 10 years, or longer.
2. Read Guarantee Policies and Return Policies
When considering an online purchase for smaller, less expensive items, these policies are still important, but not nearly as important as when you’re spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on outdoor furniture. An online furniture shop worth its weight in gold will clearly state its guarantee and return policies, and those policies will more favor the customer, and not the shop’s interests. What happens if you receive shipment and are not comfortable in your furniture or it is clearly not what you had expected? Look for a money back guarantee to help with peace of mind. Most good outdoor furniture websites will guarantee your satisfaction within the first few weeks or longer.
If you DO need to return the furniture, be sure you understand the return policies BEFORE you buy. The standard practice for online outdoor furniture companies is to require the purchaser to pay return postage and a restocking fee of anywhere from 10% to 20%. So be prepared, just in case. However, some retailers will pick-up the tab for return shipping and charge no fee. Of course, if you do your homework on a site you’re interested in (keep reading), you should be a satisfied and happy customer!
3. Take Note of Shipping Policies and Charges
Shipping outdoor furniture can be expensive. Shippers are now charging businesses by box volume and not by actual weight. Some companies will offer very low prices to snag you early on, only to surprise you with higher than expected shipping charges. Stay away from these outfits. The best online retailers will be up front with their shipping charges or even offer free shipping (while still offering good and fair pricing.)
Most outdoor furniture sellers will offer one standard shipping service through a major national carrier. Don’t fret if you find this to be the case with your chosen retailer. Most customers will receive their shipment within 10-14 business days depending on the online seller, although sooner is becoming more common. If one shipping method is offered and you need your furniture sooner, don’t hesitate to email or call the online store (they’ll have their contact information clearly posted if they’re reputable (see below)) and ask for a quote on faster delivery. Be warned, though. Expedited shipping service can be very expensive.
4. Look for Quality Pictures and Thorough, Descriptive and Grammatically Correct Descriptions.
When you read the product descriptions and look at the pictures, do you get the impression that the online business understands what they’re selling? Is it clear that the business has taken time to present it’s products in the best way possible to its potential customers? You as the customer should have a clear idea of what the outdoor furniture product is, how it looks, and how it may look in your home setting. A business that makes it difficult for you to view and understand the products may not be worth your time. This could be an indication of potential future customer service snags.
5. Read Customer Testimonials
Probably the best way to gage your potential future relationship with an outdoor furniture business, customer testimonials are your window into business practices and product quality. Look for happy customers satisfied with their outdoor furniture purchases. Even more, however, look for those testimonials that may mention a hitch or snag in the purchase process and how that customer is now satisfied with their purchase – perhaps even to the point of recommending that business to their friends and family. This kind of testimonial should carry almost more weight than a whole string of gushing customer comments.
6. Be Sure the Outdoor Furniture Website is Easy to Contact With Questions.
Does the “contact us” link display more than a box for you to enter your email address and question? It should. Look for a physical address and a phone number (preferably a toll free number) when browsing the outdoor furniture website. This information should be easy to find and up to date. You’ll want to spend your money at a business that is unafraid to list its physical address and a customer service phone number. When making a purchase of this size, dealing with an anonymous online seller is tantamount to gambling. Don’t do it.
7. Watch for the “Padlock” When Checking Out.
Outdoor furniture websites worth your time have invested in a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate and will use credit card processing by reputable, reliable companies (Paypal, Google and http://Authorize.net for example). When entering the checkout process from the shopping cart, look at the beginning of the site address. If it begins with “https://” and you see a padlock in either the address bar or another portion of the browser, your information is being encrypted as it is sent, and is secure. If you don’t see this happen, think twice about sending your information.
8. Look for a Site Pleasing to the Eye.
If a site is put together well, it is worth your browsing time. In all actuality, if it looks good to you, you’ll stick around even if you don’t remember this rule! A business that wants your business will make it easy for you to find what you want and set you at ease with the shopping experience. Outdoor furniture websites come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the “mom and pop” small, simple website to the slick, ultra refined furniture clearinghouse. Shop where you are comfortable!
9. Expect Your Email/Phone Questions Answered Quickly and Courteously.
How much does it appear an online retailer wants your business? If they do, they will respond to your questions and requests in a timely fashion. Emails sent to an online outdoor furniture website should be responded to the same business day with either an answer or an acknowledgment that your email has been received and will be replied to shortly. Further, phone calls should be answered promptly or, if a message is left, the voice message is responded to in a timely fashion. You as the customer should always feel that you are the most important person to a retailer, be they around the corner or half way around the world online. The online business that treats its customers well is the business you want to highly consider.
10. Check a Website’s Track Record and Longevity in Business
Although a newer business doesn’t necessarily mean it is less reliable or less trustworthy, finding an online outdoor furniture retailer that has a longer track record can give you more peace of mind when spending large amounts of money on furniture.
There are a few ways you can determine the length of a website’s time in business. Many sites will have a copyright statement in the footer. This is a good place to begin. Another hint to a website’s vintage is to look at the number of customer testimonials or customer comments. Sometimes comments will be date stamped, giving a clue to how long ago purchases were made. You can also look at the “About Us” area of the website for hints to how long a website has been in business. You may find that the website you’re browsing is fairly new, but the company behind it has been around for years and years.
Keeping these things in mind when shopping for outdoor furniture should result in a very satisfying experience for you. Shopping online today has become as ubiquitous as running out to the mall to shop. Armed with the right knowledge and the right questions, you will be happy with the outcome.