- Andre Victoire
- Baby Nursery Furniture
- B & Q
- Barker & Stonehouse
- Furniture 123
- Furniture Village
- Garden Bargains
- John Lewis
- Laura Ashley
- M & S
- Oak Furniture Land
- Oak Furniture Soutions
- Pine Solutions
- Sleeping Solutions
Furniture has traditionally been an expensive product to buy, then came flat pack and prices plummeted, then came mail order and online and the prices dropped further.
If you think about the costs involved it is easy to see why.
High St Shop / Retail Park
The overheads are huge here:
- shop rent, utility bills & business rates
- cost of display furniture
Most furniture stores are dead Monday - Friday 9-5, I have been in enough during the day, perhaps 5 customers might pop in. The weekend is a different story, but with all that dead time racking up the costs it isn't hard to see why furniture on display in a shop is so expensive.
This is much easier as your costs really are:
- catalogue photo shoot, design and distribution
- telesales & customer service call centre
As you can see the space required for display is not required and so costs are a lot less, the disadvantage to the customer is that you cannot see the product before you buy.
- cost of a website (often using suppliers sales literature and stock images)
- online marketing
Although the above is a bear minimum, it has meant that anyone can set up selling furniture with minimal investment. This means that they can sell the same furniture sold through a more traditional channel for much less. I have listed above the bear minimum that is required, but what about the following things to notice before you buy, some online retailers offer these whilst others don't.
- am I prepared to pay a premium for these things?
- What happens when things go wrong. Many retailers try to pass problems off to the supplier and in fairness most supplier will do what they can to resolve them, but your contract is with the retailer, not the supplier and they have a duty to take care of you.
- Postal Address - easily visible on website - usually on Contact Us or About Us page
- Contact Telephone No - easily visible on website - usually on Contact Us or About Us page
- Companies House - the number should be displayed and the directors.
- Secure Transactions Supported - ensure your card details are safe online.
Some websites don't show any address at all, how would you contact them if you needed to? Others have a PO Box No only, which is common for large companies and correspondence, but if there is no genuine postal address anywhere, how do you contact them if you need to, especially if things go badly wrong and you need to get your money back or worse take them to court?
Under UK law all limited companies must display their full contact details and directors name etc on their correspondence material. This was extended to websites under the UK's E-Commerce Regulations.
Many websites have no phone number at all. If you can't chase your order by phone, what are you going to do if something crops up and you need to alter the delivery or you hear nothing for weeks?
A proper landline number (beginning 01 or 02) is the best as in most cases* it gives a genuine location, and if you have cable your call is often FREE!
All telephone numbers which are easily found on the website are also confidence builders, but if you are spending a lot of money with an unknown company, phone the number and check it is answered!
If it is difficult to find the telephone number, it is because the business owner does not want to receive telephone calls and this is a possible sign that they may be difficult to get hold of if things go wrong.
* For the record some companies such as SKYPE sell geo-located numbers, for use by anyone anywhere. There are even some 020 numbers in London that are Premium Rate! Fortunately the proportion of these numbers is very small.
It is a legal requirement of all websites show the company name in full and all of its directors. Many sites don;t show this, what are they trying to hide? It is the law so they should obey it. (see below)
If you are buying online, look for the secure symbol (usually a locked padlock) at the bottom of your browser, you can also look at the web address shown in your browser which should start "https" not "http" when it comes to typing in your credit card info, the "s" means it is secure and using some form of encryption.
I have grouped Manufacturers, Suppliers, Distributors and Importers together as very often they are one and the same or fulfilling the same function in the supply chain.
In order to facilitate catalogues and online retailers, the people that warehouse and supply the furniture "dropship" it on behalf of the retailers. This means that the retailer never touches the actual stock you receive. The retailer therefore relies totally on the supplier sending you the right furniture and delivering it properly. This means:-
- Ultimately the product is the same whoever you get it off.
- If a particular branded item you want is out of stock on one website, no one has it anywhere else.
- The supplier deals with all product related issues, i.e. quality, damage etc, although legally the company or person you bought it off is still responsible (Statutory Rights)
Whilst online retailers have driven down the cost of furniture dramatically over the last few years, the quality of service varies significantly and the actual product you receive is often outside of the direct control of the online retailer.
Many online retailers, and the majority of them are small family run furniture shops that have moved into online retilaing and have a solid grounding in customer service and a reputation to protect in the real world and develop online, althogh there are others.....
Websites and The Law
- Legal Checklist
This is an area often overlooked, but ignore by many.
In addition to the above, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 ensures that what is known as "Accessibility" in the world of computers is a must with your website.
The Data Protection Act also applies:-
This is all very complicated for the average business wanting to put their business online, but very simple, you need to keep data for the purpose for which it was collected and for no longer than it is needed.