Shopping for home furnishings on the Web can be daunting for a novice. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Finding inspiration: The single best source is Houzz.com, which was started by a couple who wanted to transform their 1950s home and got tired of clipping photos from magazines. The Web site now has more than 1.5 million photographs, which can be easily searched. The iPad app is also terrific. A new feature, the Houzz Real Cost Finder, provides product and remodeling costs according to Zip code.
Getting the best price: Once you find a product you like, stick the name or item number into Google and also Google Shopping, because the results are sometimes different. You generally can quickly find merchants who sell the product and compare prices. Many stores have flash sales with additional discounts, especially around holidays, so it might be worth waiting for those sales events.
Shipping: Most Internet merchants will offer free shipping, though you may have to reach a certain total, such as $100. (Google Shopping has a search feature that displays sites only with free shipping.) We almost never paid for shipping, which we accomplished by juggling the purchases across different sites to reach the right threshold.
Return policies: Carefully read the fine print before you place the order. We tried to avoid merchants that had a restocking fee (such as 20 to 30 percent of the value). We also avoided merchants which, after providing free shipping, would deduct the shipping charge from your refund.
Check reputations: Before buying from an online merchant, Google it to find out if there have been customer reviews or complaints. Check the Better Business Bureau rating in the state in which the merchant is located. Good Web merchants will cite their BBB membership. When we had a dispute with one such merchant, we filed a complaint with the BBB and quickly reached an amicable settlement.
Ordering from overseas: It is best to stick with a U.S. merchant, but sometimes that one item you want can be located only in Europe or elsewhere. Confirm that it will be well-packed and accept the fact that you may have little recourse if it’s not what you expected.