Giving credit where credit is due, one of my coworkers, Mary Nowak, presented this concept to me this week. It seems in this digital age, everyone is trying to reap the rewards of shopping online instead of enlisting the advice of a designer or a local showroom. Apparently it’s just as easy to get a sofa online as it is a date. But just how much are we willing to sacrifice to save money? And who really looks like their online picture. In the past, hiring a designer was a luxury few could afford or so they thought. Many people found it intimidating as their designers suggested items that were priced well outside their comfort zone. It was a time when it was more about the name than the style and that usually meant a hefty price to go along with it. High priced designers were making a killing…and it was our profession they just about buried.
Hiring a designer is no longer just for a lucky few, it’s now for the savvy. Over the years, scores of well-established design schools and universities have churned out a sufficient number of talented individuals to make access to a designer more reasonable and in a more consumer-friendly environment than ever before. This, in turn, has changed the way many people approach furnishing a new home. Designers have the ability to negotiate wholesale pricing and even with their fees added, the price is still less than retail. Plus you have a designer on your side to help avoid mistakes.
But still there are those who feel compelled to shop online, forfeiting any type of personal guidance or service in hopes of saving a few dollars. For smaller, disposable items, it can make good sense but buying an item of value online can be a little like Russian roulette. Who cares if the sofa you ordered online doesn’t fit? Just put it in your next garage sale. What if the fabric looks terrible in person? If there’s a defect or damage in shipping, or if the item breaks after only a few months, you will probably wish you had someone local to call to make the problem go away. And the only person with a vested interest in your happiness other than yourself is your local designer or showroom. I have a feeling when you call them that your call isn’t going to get rerouted to a customer service department in a third-world country. (Peggy, can you hear me?)
Many better quality retail stores and design firms are eager to work with clients on smaller projects. And this isn’t just because of the economy. It’s because we have all gotten a little smarter over time. We realize that helping a young couple with their first home and developing a relationship with them often results in future homes down the road. It’s become the building block for smaller firms and for designers who are in the business for the long haul. It’s residual business. I have personally had clients start out with just a small living room and, over time, grow into several jobs for their relatives and also larger homes for themselves as their careers have blossomed. When it comes to clients, a good investment always grows.
Onliners pride themselves on savings but in many cases, item for item, the prices end up about the same. And if you have a problem once you get it home, you can usually resolve it easily and quickly. Online companies often had hidden charges such as crating, in-home delivery, etc. that add to the price. And it’s funny how they make you pay for it in full before you even take delivery. Hmmm.
We all use online services for something. Electronics, games, reviews, news and yes, even dates. But a sofa or dining room set? What if I answered the door and the sofa didn’t look anything like it did in the picture? Ah, the date from hell.