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Buying Furniture Online or In-store: Which is Better For You?

side-by-side comparison of a women sitting in bed shopping on her lap top and a woman shopping inside a furniture showroom

Over these last couple of years, we’ve all gotten pretty good at online shopping. People that were vehemently opposed to the whole idea started to come around when it almost seemed like the only choice. But now that both online and in-store shopping is more of an option, which is better for buying furniture? 

At McElheran’s Furniture + Design, we have a three-story showroom to give you the best in-store furniture shopping experience – with lots of options! 

As one of Edmonton’s longest-standing, family-owned furniture stores, we also recognized the need to evolve and offer online services, too. Our website has real-time product updates and prices and gives you the option to create a wish list of your favourite items. Online, you can start to create a space that you're proud of. 

In this article, our in-house designers, known as Design Guides, will compare buying furniture online and in-store and the pros and cons of each. We’ll let you know if there really is a better way to go – whether it’s an obvious answer or more dependent on your needs. (Hint – it’s almost always the latter.) 

After all, you have to think about yourself and what works for you, right? And we’ll be here to keep you informed no matter which way you choose to go. 

point of view of sitting at a table with coffee, a magazine, while looking at a lap top shopping for furniture online

The pros of buying furniture online  

It’s a lot easier to make comparisons

You can open tab, after tab, after tab to compare different products and manufacturers with each other. It’s an efficient way to have all your information and options in one convenient place. 

You can narrow down your search 

There is a lot of information out there to consume, but if you filter your options and curate your searches just so, you can really narrow down your choices to give you a precise result. 

You can find a great deal 

If you put in the time, you’ll find a piece of furniture that you love at a great price. And even if the price doesn’t speak to you at the moment, many online retailers offer flash sales and limited-time offers that you can take advantage of. 

Nobody bothers you

It’s just you and your device on the hunt for that perfect piece of furniture. You have full control of what you’re searching for and where you want to look for it. You won’t have a salesperson following you around pressuring you to make a decision. 

There are no time constraints

You get to shop whenever you want. Can’t sleep in the middle of the night? Look at sofas. Have some spare time at work? Shop for a nightstand.

When you buy furniture online, you can shop whenever is convenient for you.  

It’s just a click away

It’s kind of a cheesy thing to say about online shopping, but it’s so true! So much of what you want and the information you’re looking for is right there for the taking – and it makes things so much easier.  

You aren’t limited to your location 

Especially when you’re just browsing, you can really look wherever the internet takes you. You can get ideas from websites all over the world, but just be wary of the actual location when you decide to buy. (To save you from unexpected shipping costs!) 

You can read reviews

Even though you’re unable to physically look at your potential purchase, you can get a lot of information from online reviews. Previous customers can give you insight into the actual product or the company that you’re ordering from.  

Pants are optional 

This may be the best part about doing anything on the internet, actually. You can go through the entire furniture buying process – start to finish – all from the comfort of your own home without even changing out of your pajamas. 

The cons of buying furniture online

You can’t test anything out

You don’t really have any way of trying out your furniture. You can still read up on dimensions and customer reviews to get a good idea of how the furniture will look and function for you, but it’s not quite the same as getting to touch and feel something. 

You may not get everything you need 

Sheepishly raise your hand if you’ve ever purchased an entire sectional online and forgot to order the second arm (I hope it’s not just me)! Anyway, no one is there to help you make sure you order that item that’s crucial to the structure – or offer a suggestion for a good complementary piece.  

It should be noted, however, that there are some shopping websites that can offer suggestions upon purchasing to ensure you’re ordering everything you need. 

More likely to see unexpected costs 

When the line of communication isn’t as open, you may be left in the dark on some details. Some online retailers may not ship to Canada – or wherever you need it. And if they do, it may cost you an arm and a leg.  

For example, a motion chair in leather or fabric shipped from China to Canada can have a duty rate 20 – 300% of the cost of the product tacked on to your bill! 

Now that ‘great deal’ that you found on furniture will end up costing you way more than you originally expected.   

Things are not always as they seem 

A fabric that looks blue online may actually be green when you receive it. Certain pieces may not “sit” as well and it could be hard to detect the quality of an item, too. Photoshop and filters can be very deceiving, and you may not be able to determine certain specifics (like finishes or stitching) from a photograph.  

There’s less trust

It’s a concern that has been around since the existence of online shopping. Trust.  

It can be a little nerve-racking throwing your credit card number out into the world wide web, especially if you’re making a hefty purchase, like with furniture. Identity theft, fraud, fake online stores just looking for your banking information - these are all things that you should be aware of when buying anything online.

There’s a greater potential for damages

It’s pretty anticlimactic when that package you’ve been waiting weeks -maybe months- for finally arrives and it’s damaged. Now you either have to find a local repair service to fix it or you end up sending it back. 

You usually have to assemble furniture yourself 

It’s an old joke that furniture assembly is a great way to test your relationship. It’s because putting furniture together is probably one of the most frustrating things known to man! And if you’re ordering online, it’s likely to come in a neatly deliverable package, leaving you to assemble the furniture on your own.  

Returning an item can be a hassle 

Some online furniture stores have amazing customer service when it comes to getting your money back on an unwanted or damaged item. However, they won’t always accept returns.  

And if they do, they can be quite picky about the ‘condition required.’ Some online retailers will only accept something if it’s shipped back in its original packaging. 

We had a customer at McElheran’s that bought his bed frame through an online retailer. After unboxing it and setting it up, he realized it wasn’t the bed that he wanted. After going through the grueling process of putting in the claim, taking his bed apart, and trying to get it back in the original box, it ended up being quite a time-consuming process.  

And can you imagine how much longer things would have taken if he ordered another bed from the same online store?  

This customer ended up adding an extra step to his purchase (actually, an extra two if you count the return!) He could have saved a lot of time and energy had he initially bought his bed frame in-store. 

inside of a furniture showroom with area rugs, sofas, chairs, coffee tables, and accessories

The pros of buying furniture in-store 

You can experience the product 

You can actually touch and see the products that you’re interested in. Sit on that sofa, lay on that bed, recline in that recliner. The old adage of “try before you buy” definitely applies to furniture. If comfort is a high priority for you, it’s better to get a feel for furniture before you make your purchase. 

Get help from someone with your interests in mind 

An employee at a furniture store can chat with you about your wants and needs and find pieces that work for you. Even if you’re not looking for another person’s opinion, sometimes talking it over with someone and thinking out loud is a great way to find your style and inspiration.  

There’s instant gratification (sometimes) 

This one’s a little tricky because if you’re ordering custom furniture from a brick-and-mortar, you will end up waiting just like you would with an online order. But! If you find that perfect piece on the floor, you might be able to take it home immediately. 

Support local businesses 

There are definitely ways to support a local business online, but when you visit a store in person and make a purchase, you know exactly where your money is going. It’s going to the people that made your experience worthwhile, as opposed to a third-party online shopping forum that takes a portion of the profits. 

You’ll likely have an assembly option 

You’re getting that “white glove” service when you buy in-store. And, more often than not, delivery and furniture assembly are an option so you can start enjoying your furniture as soon as it comes off the delivery truck.  

You can find more inspiration 

Maybe you’ve found that item of your dreams, but you’re just not quite sure how to incorporate it with the rest of your space. Looking around a showroom can give you plenty of ideas for how to stage and space plan with your new furniture.  

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The cons of buying furniture in-store

You may get unsolicited help

You know what, sometimes you don’t want help. And that’s okay! When you walk into a furniture store, you’re almost guaranteed to have someone try and help you (otherwise, they’re not really doing their job).  

Anyway, if it bothers you, you can always say that you’re just looking and don’t need any help.  

You’re at the mercy of a store’s hours 

How are you supposed to purchase furniture when you work during the exact same time the store is open?!  

Unfortunately, if you want to buy in-store, you don’t really have the freedom to casually look at furniture whenever you’d like. 

It can feel like an errand 

Okay so, furniture shopping should be fun. And maybe an outing is exactly what you need! 

But sometimes, getting dressed, figuring out how to get somewhere, fitting it into your schedule - all of a sudden, this experience becomes more of a production than you’d like. 

It’s difficult to make comparisons

The furniture store that you’re at will be able to answer all sorts of questions about price and the products they carry, but what about all the other furniture available? How will you really know if you’re getting the best deal?  

If you’re sticking with in-store purchases, you may have to hit the pavement and go from store to store to compare products, which is pretty time-consuming. 

Buying furniture in-store and online could be the solution

Why wouldn’t you want the best of both worlds?! In fact, we would recommend doing a mix of online and in-store shopping. 

For starters, it’s a great way to stretch your budget. You can find deals online on items that aren’t used as often or don’t carry an element of comfort, like accessories or guest bedroom nightstands. Spending less on those items will open up your budget for main pieces, like sofas and chairs, that may require that in-store shopping experience. 

You can also do a lot of your shopping online before hitting up a store. Scroll through Pinterest, Google “The Most Popular Sofa Styles of 2022” (or just click the link), follow design influencers on Instagram, and browse our products to get a feel for your style. 

And once you’ve narrowed down your choices, schedule a visit to McElheran’s Furniture + Design. Coming into the showroom and taking a look at your favourite pieces is the best way to feel confident in your next furniture purchase.