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

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.

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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.

Topic: Browser

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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44 comments
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  • Amish all the way

    I agree with your premise. For most merchandise, it is more effective to buy online. Even for products that I need to test drive or fit, I will invariably resort to buying online.

    However, you found my one exception. There is, quite frankly, no better furniture than Amish artisan furniture. I find the quality and craftsmanship to be second to none. Equally true, the delicate touches and flourishes are unmatched in mass-produced furniture. And, the Amish are not well known for having rich online shopping experiences.
    Your Non Advocate
    • While I agree with that in principle

      We looked at Amish stuff from Ashevile, NC and a few other places using online catalogs. I have no doubt about the quality, but aesthetically it wasn't to our taste. At the end of the day solid Alder wood is Alder wood, and I was more interested in a functional design rather than delicate touches and flourishes.
      jperlow
    • I agree.

      We go to Lancaster, Pa a lot when going after larger purchases like Entertainment centers, brdroom sets, even dining room furniture is worth the drive (a little over an hour) for the reasons you gave.

      Living room furniture, ect my wife prefers in person, as she's never happy with half the stuff she buys online. I think a good many people still need to see and touch products like furniture, to get a real sense of size and finish that you really can't get viewing a picture.
      William Farrel
  • Yikes!

    Furniture shopping online is a no go for me. Furniture pieces, especially wooden pieces vary even if they're the same model. Even identical IKEA models can vary from piece to piece.

    Furniture is just one of those things that I myself, couldn't buy online because of the inconsistency. Maybe you could've written this article AFTER receiving the pieces. It would make more sense because you're basing your article around the idea that Mercantila is "known for quality" and a 500x300 image. I hope it works out for your sake, however.

    I think online shopping, until there's a way to improve visuals, is still iffy.
    JL05XI
  • Or Antiques

    Or, you could hit up some local antique shops once you get to Florida. I'm not sure how many of them there are or how good the selection. I don't know if I'd classify southern Florida as a place that's known for its antiques.

    Be sure to follow-up after you move and get the furniture. Is it the quality you expected? Any problems?
    dvanderwerken
    • We may very well do that

      To fill in decorative pieces and such. I'll let you know how the bedroom turned out.
      jperlow
  • welcome!

    Welcome to Florida, the 5th most economically distressed state in the country. Make sure you have a job that isn't fast food before you get here.
    Nate_K
    • I travel and write for a living.

      So I don't need to work locally.
      jperlow
      • I thought you were going to say ..

        I travel and write for a living so I don't need to work! (just one little word changes the whole meaning, eh? Grin.)
        kenosha77a
      • Neither does the person who will take your job...

        And they will use the same excuse. And would get the following statement equally applied to them as well:

        Forgive me, but your arrogance and myopia isn't helping you right now.
        HypnoToad72
      • Welcome to Florida ...

        In addition to being economically distressed, everything here is over-the-top, from our politics to our bizarre news stories. For any crazy news story that makes the U.S. national news, there's about a 50 percent chance that it happened in Florida. Hopefully, you'll bring a little bit of sanity to the state. Don't worry, there's also a lot of "normalish" people here. Get used to driving everywhere. It'll be warm in January if nothing else, and we have lots of nice beaches, springs and theme parks.

        I hope your furniture purchase works out. If not I'm sure there's an Ikea or Rooms to Go not too far for you to drive to.
        K B
  • Retail dead? Ehhhhhhhhhh--maybe not.

    A lot of people still prefer to "squeeze the fruit" before they buy.
    Userama
    • "squeeze the fruit"

      I agree. Although almost all items can be bought online, sometimes it is necessary to physically see or feel the item.
      statuskwo5
      • Jason is talking about a bed and your talking about squeezing the fruit?

        Hmm.
        kenosha77a
      • in a supply-side free market,

        who said customers ("consumers") have any freedom?
        HypnoToad72
    • Having bought clothing online, and returning it,

      it is a waste of time and gasoline for me to have to return clothing, to say nothing of the e-tailer's expenses in restocking as well. And most customers will invariably feel this way at some point.

      It's becoming a nightmare, but if this is an example of "free market", let's get something civilized put back in.
      HypnoToad72
  • Three Thousand for a King Size bed and bedroom furnishings. Hmm!

    I recently bought a Tempur-Pedic King sized Rhapsody Bed with foundation and frame for almost $4000 dollars.

    Well, I am particular about the bed I sleep on. That Tempur-Pedic is one of my sinful pleasures in life.

    But I'm not the only person in history who valued a good bed and mattress. Rumor has it that George Washington traveled with his bed! I can't imagine how it must have been rowing across the Delaware river in 1776 with a bed packed in the boat. Somehow I don't think the painting by Emanuel Leutze shows a bed on George's boat either.
    kenosha77a
    • Tempur-Pedic

      Have you tried the natural latex, Englander bed? Not liking what I have heard about the Temer-Pedic type of beds- the chemicals and heat factor. Nice and soft beds though. When it comes time to buy again, I may research it all about the different types of foam. There are likely two sides to story, with one being the absolute fact -- just would want to have more data before buying that type of bed.
      mytake4this
      • Never heard of the natural latex Englander bed.

        However, for the first year I did detect a specific aroma around my Tempur-Pedic that I purchased twelve years ago. This new Tempur-Pedic exhibits the same aroma but I'm sure it will go away .. much like the new car interior aroma departs after a few months.

        The heat factor is a non-issue - pure and simple.
        kenosha77a
    • Tempur

      Is a mattress, not a piece of furniture. We own a similar memory foam mattress, we like it.
      jperlow