Where to Buy Office Furniture
First Question: In Person or Online?Of course this is a fairly recent question for small businesses and folks buying office furniture for their home office. Just a few years ago you only had one option when buying an office desk or office chair: head out to the store and pick one out! Some might have ordered through a catalog, but this was rare with office furniture.How things have changed! With the transformation of retail, the explosion of online purchasing, and the fizzling of the big box store phenomenon, over $186 billion was spent online in the US in 2012. A chunk of that was spent on office furniture. Maybe you've still seen yourself as one of the minority who will always buy in person. If so, or as a reminder about why online buying has taken over, let's review four major advantages of buying online:Astronomically larger catalog of choices - In a typical big box store like Staples or Office Depot, you might have about 15 choices of in stock office desks, maybe 20 if you're lucky. You might have about 50 choices for office chairs. In a typical online catalog you will have over 500 office desks and at least that many office chairs to choose from! You will have a much easier time finding something not only that you like, but that will fit with your space requirements, your decor and style, and your budget.No physical requirements - When you go to the store to pick out an office desk, you must get in your car, drive to the store, and hope they have some desks in stock. You must walk around the store looking, and if you totally luck out and find something you like and want to buy it, you must find a way to get it from the store to your car (office desks are often between 100 and 300 pounds!). Hopefully you'll have help from a store employee, but even still you must have a truck or a van to fit it in. Then you must drive it home and find a way to get it inside to start setting it up. What a hassle! When you buy online, you can shop from the comfort of your couch, have the desk or chair you like shipped directly to your office or home, and have it set up and ready to go in a few minutes. If even that would be a challenge, you can pay extra for assembly services or white glove delivery (where they will bring the furniture into your home or the room where you want it). As you can see, it's a whole lot easier to buy online, and it saves you time and physical exertion!You can see it better online - This is a paradox for many folks who are accustomed to buying in stores, and they might respond, "What are you talking about?!? The whole reason I buy in stores is so that I can actually see the product I'm buying!" I understand your sentiment, but in the case of office furniture (and furniture in general really), it just isn't how it works. Like I said, in most big box stores you might only have a choice of about 15 or 20 desks that are in stock, and that would be a good day! It is a challenge to stock such large items. But beyond that, it is very rare that you would go into those stores and find those "in stock" desks actually set up and available to sit at, touch, and inspect. It just takes up too much floor space, and too many man hours to assemble and move them around. So they just show you a small-ish picture of the desk--probably the same picture you'd see online! When you shop online, though, you can browse through several pictures, you can zoom in to see the features, and you can read extensively about the product. You'll be better informed about what you're getting, and you'll actually see the product better, if you buy online!It's significantly cheaper to buy office furniture online - Many people know about this feature, but I'll just give you the two big reasons why it's cheaper to buy online. First, the companies selling furniture online have much less overhead than the big box stores. Sure they have some, like paying their rent for offices and paying their employees who provide customer service. But they have WAY less overhead than Staples, for example. So they can sell products cheaper as a result. Second, there is no tax when you buy online in most cases. The government, in an effort to stimulate the economy, did away with taxes for ecommerce stores, with the exception that if a company sells a product to a consumer who is in the same state where they are based, they must charge the state tax. For the other 49 states they sell to, they do not collect taxes. The combination of these two things makes it much less expensive to buy online, even though when you buy online you often have to pay for freight. Remember, the big box stores also pay for freight to get the furniture to their store, so that is included in the cost they give you, even though they don't designate freight costs when you buy.So WHERE Online?It is true that there are literally hundreds of places online you could buy office furniture from, so where do you start? First let me outline what I see as the three most important factors for determining where you should buy, and then in the next section I'll share the best three places I have bought from as I have purchased for hundreds of my customers.The three most important factors in choosing the store you purchase from are:Quality customer service! This is absolutely, above any other factor, the most important issue to consider when you are choosing where to buy from. If you buy from a store without customer service or with inadequate customer service, when an issue arises (and issues small and large do arise when you are dealing with shipping large items across the country) it can make your life miserable for a time as you try to deal with it. Let me give you an example. Once I was trying to save some money on a purchase order for a customer who wanted a small modern glass cherry desk, and I bought the very desk in that link for $218 through a reseller on the Amazon Marketplace. [RED FLAG!! Be very careful about buying any desk or chair through the Amazon Marketplace. Buying from Amazon itself is typically better because you know they have a good reputation, but buying from the Amazon Marketplace is like buying from someone you have never met, who has no credentials, and who could be a complete fraud. A way to test out their customer service is to contact them before you buy a desk and ask for help on an order you placed. See how quickly they get back to you, or how helpful they are. A major issue with the Amazon system (whether the resellers on the Marketplace or Amazon itself) is that there is really no customer service number for you to call. Speaking with a human is very difficult! So be very careful when buying on Amazon.] So anyway, I bought this desk trying to save money, and you can guess what happened. They never shipped it, or it got lost. And we never got the desk. I am not exaggerating when I say that I attempted to contact this reseller by e-mail and even by phone after I got their number over 50 times without hearing back. It was two weeks of utter frustration, and my customer was wondering where on earth their desk was. This example is just to show you that customer service is everything. If you can't easily speak with someone about your order (before, during, and after your order), I would highly recommend not buying from that company. To test out their service, call the customer service line they provide and see how long it takes to speak with a qualified, helpful human being.Quality of selection Think of your online office furniture store like it's a restaurant. The kitchen can only serve you the food it has access to, or knows how to make. If you go to McDonald's for dinner, you know that the food will probably taste pretty decent but it's in no way gourmet. It's inexpensive food, and the quality is not all that great. But it might taste good for a cheap price. Some furniture stores are like McDonald's. They offer good prices, products that seem to meet the need, and their service is adequate. But if you really start comparing the products on their "menu" or catalog to those in another store, you will quickly notice that their selection is not impressive. In fact, you start to wonder why they do not offer a nicer, more quality selection. One store might not offer a desk above $300, another store might not offer a desk under $1500, and other stores will seem to be overpriced based on the quality you are seeing. When it comes down to it, the catalog you want to shop from is one that offers customers great quality. Price is actually secondary to selection, because if a store is offering you junky products the price point is irrelevant. After all, I wouldn't pay $5 for a desk that will fall apart after a month! One way you can tell if a selection is quality is by the breadth of offerings. A good catalog ought to have desks under $200 and chairs under $150 that you can shop from, but it also ought to have high end choices over $2000, in case you want a beautiful, premium piece of furniture for your executive office. And it ought to have every level between those two price points, so you can find the right piece of furniture at the right price point. Another way you can tell if a selection is quality is if the catalog offers many different materials. Desks should be made of laminate, veneers, solid woods, glass, lacquer, etc. Chairs should have the option of fabric, real leather, leatherette, plastic bases, chrome bases, etc. There are many stores that are only resellers for a manufacturer or two, so they only offer one type of desk (wood, for example) in one general price point. This is not a good selection, so you should look elsewhere if you run into such a store.Competitive Pricing Like I said above, in my opinion nothing is more important than customer service. So all I look for is that the pricing a company offers me is competitive--close enough to the lowest competitors to make it a small issue. If they offer me great service, I want to buy from them, even if I spend a few more dollars. I also want a company who is willing to compete for my business. Maybe they can't match the lowest person on the Internet who is willing to lose money on a sale, but a good company will be willing to give you a discount to earn your business. If they are competitive in price, and are willing to help me out with price, I don't care if they are the lowest. If they offer good service, I will spend an extra $20 for that, and the peace of mind that comes with it!What Stores Do You Recommend?Like I said, I have purchased office furniture for hundreds of my customers as they outfit their offices with multiple desks, or as they outfit their home office, so I consider myself something of an expert on this issue. One thing many people don't know is that manufacturers do not sell directly to the consumer; they simply don't have the customer services processes in place to handle that. They only sell to resellers, the stores you might be buying from. So finding a good reseller is key.Here are my favorite three resellers to buy office furniture from, in order of recommendation:First place goes to OfficeDesk.com, because they embody everything I have been talking about in this article. They offer INCREDIBLE customer service--it's a family business and running this store is their full-time thing. They answer the phones directly--without an answering service--and they know about the products. They have seen them, they attend furniture shows, and they select the best desks and chairs possible. The only products you'll see on their site are the quality ones they have found their customers to like--they have told me they regularly take off products and stop doing business with manufacturers when their customers do not like the products. They are not the cheapest, but they are very competitive and they always work with me on price. If you are looking for a place to buy office furniture, I could not more enthusiastically recommend a company--buy from OfficeDesk.com!Another good site is Wayfair. They are definitely a notch below OfficeDesk.com in my book, because they have less specialized customer service people (since they are a huge company). They do offer good customer service, good follow up when you have an issue, and they are generally pretty available by phone (although occasionally you have to wait on hold). But you never get the same rep twice so the service is a lot less personal. Still, they are one of the good ones.I would also recommend checking out Hayneedle. They are not as good as either of the sites above at service, and often you have to wait a while to get someone on the phone, but they have a good selection and competitive pricing.All in all, I recommend OfficeDesk.com for office furniture, or you can go with one of the other sites above. Just make sure you buy from a company with top-notch service, competitive pricing, and a great selection!