Retail is already dead: Why I'm buying $3,000 worth of furniture online

Summary:With my upcoming move to Florida imminent, I sought out online merchants rather than brick and mortar for my new bedroom set.

If you've been following my writing on this blog over the last six months, you're probably aware that I am about to embark on a journey -- I'm packing up shop and heading to South Florida at the end of the month, where I have purchased a new home.

My 40+ years of living in the New York metro area are about to come to an end.

More than 15 years of that has been spent with my wife here in Northern New Jersey. As anyone can tell you about being married for that length of time, you tend to collect a great deal of... stuff.

To make the move to Florida, we've orded an 8'x8'x16' shipping container from PODS which we are going to try to get most of our items in. Everything else needs to be gotten rid of so we can maximize the space in that container, or we'll have to order another one, which could cost upwards of $2500.00.

Besides the inevitable garage sale, we're going to be unloading a lot of items on Craigslist, Freecycle and also going to be donating to goodwill and the Salvation Army.

One major set of items we are getting rid of is our 12 year-old bedroom set, because it doesn't really match the look of our new home, and if transporting it to Florida ends up requiring an additional pod, we might as well buy new furniture, because the cost is about the same.

Which is exactly what we decided to do.

Last weekend we decided to look at a few local furniture stores here in New Jersey to see what sort of things we might like. Both my wife and I decided we wanted something lighter in color, and we wanted a bed that included an integrated storage solution, so we could make the most of our new bedroom space.

After looking in two large stores, and seeing that much of it was overpriced crap made with veneers rather than hardwood, and that shipping any quality hardwood pieces from a local unfinished/nude furniture merchant to Florida was going to be prohibitively expensive or practically impossible, we gave up.

We also considered the possibility that during our drive down to Florida, we could stop in High Point, North Carolina, and visit a bunch of places there and find something that fit our requirements. However, the prospect of facing two days of shopping to buy bedroom and also dining room furniture and having to visit several gigantic IKEA-sized discount furniture superstores completely overwhelmed us.

We may very well stop in High Point to buy some pieces for the dining room, living room and possibly a family room, but right now, getting the new bedroom situation squared away is paramount.

So, I started looking online for bedroom sets. After throwing a bunch of search tearms at Google, such as "hardwood platform storage bed" I got a number of good results, and one particular product caught my eye: a solid Alder Shaker Chest Bed (pictured above) made by a company called Maco Lifestyles.

Maco Lifestyles is based out of Portland, Oregon and has no showrooms on the East Coast at all. Wal-Mart carries a bunch of their products, but are online only. As it turns out, we found even more aggressive prices on this bed and accompanying bedroom pieces at Mercantila, which is an online discount furniture store.

And they don't have any showrooms either.

What's it gonna cost? For a king bed, storage headboard, twin side tables, bed chest and full-sized dresser, all made of solid Alder hardwood, about $2800.00. Including free delivery.

Now, spending almost $3000.00 on furniture sight unseen sounds a bit crazy. Indeed, for a purchase this substantial, I really did want to see the products in person, but Mercantila has a very good reputation and between the photographs I saw on their website and at the manufacturer's site, I'm fairly confident in what I am buying.

Additionally, talking to one of the owners of Maco Lifestyles as well as Mercantila's excellent customer service representative on the phone also helped alleviate some of our concerns.

Now, I realize of course many people might be extremely reluctant to do what we're doing. The challenge of purchasing large durable goods online sight unseen is one of the major criticisms about moving to a mostly Internet-based shopping model and why some types of brick and mortar are likely to stick around.

However, I am still very much convinced that eventually, virtually all major purchases are going to be accomplished online, and that physical retail be moving more towards a limited showroom-type model.

There's really no need for two dozen furniture stores in a residential zone of 100,000 people. You really only need a few large showrooms to get the warm and fuzzies on a final purchase which you could just as easily do on an app on your mobile device. The same goes for automobiles and major appliances.

Given the improvements we have seen with graphics processing and display technology we have seen on the latest generation iPad, it is only a matter of time before online product catalogs from e-stores such as Mercantila's or even Sears or Wal-Mart will be able to have much more detailed 2D and 3D representations of what you are buying, which will go a long way towards closing the "warm and fuzzies" gap of durable good purchases.

But for me, retail is already dead.

Have you purchased large durable goods online, sight unseen? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Browser

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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