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An Ex-Marketing Director Spills The Secrets To Scoring The Best Deal On Furniture

I’ve always been the type of person who proudly announces when she got a deal. “This shirt? Girl, I bought it for $2.99, down from $200!” So anytime I was able to share my inside knowledge of the retail industry with people I cared about to help them buy smart, I’d take the chance.

And guess what? I care about YOU ALL! After I left the EHD world, I spent three years as a brand marketing director for an online-only furniture company. It was a fun challenge for my brain to switch from editorial to marketing, and for a while, I thought it was my perfect job, though ultimately, I missed my writer roots (and opted to spend more time with my young daughter). However, I did learn A LOT, and I called some of the hardest-working people my peers. Oh, and of course the employee discount was pretty sweet. 

So now, I get to pass on all the juicy details I acquired along the way that hopefully no one will sue me over for sharing. So that you can make the best, most informed buying decisions on your furniture-buying journey. 

Note: All these “secrets” won’t apply to every single brand. Many direct-to-consumer stores play by different rules or produce their own pieces, which makes pricing, discounts, and all that jazz very different. But most big box stores or even medium-sized ones (IRL and online) have very similar practices to stay competitive. When one starts doing it, they all eventually start doing it. Oh, and this is very much for all you American readers, not anyone abroad. 

Before getting started, however, I did want to add a very important note about how stores price their goods. A “cheaper” price tag comes at a cost, not to you but often to the company’s employees. My previous employer didn’t have the lowest prices around, I’ll say that, but I was paid well, I had fairly good health insurance and dental and vision and life and short- and long-term disability. I had paid vacation and a good amount of sick days. They paid American craftsmen to make our sofas, rather than pennies on the dollar abroad. All of this is factored in when deciding on margins. How human are the humans being treated who are answering your emails and shipping your products? It can be very easy to forget when we want the biggest bang for our buck and the fastest delivery possible. I use and abuse places like Amazon far more than I’d like to admit, but even typing this out for myself is a good reminder to shop well and shop responsibly if you can (because yes, it’s a privilege to even consider any of this when shopping. I get that).

design by julie rose | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: one of emily’s best friends gets the cozy yet sophisticated bedroom makeover she really deserves

Insider Secret #1: Sales, especially major holiday sales, don’t end when they say they’re ending. 

Ah, the ever-popular “false ending.” Here’s how it works: The website mentions an end date of say, June 1. They push that there are only a few more days…then hours…then minutes to save. You feel rushed. AGH! Gotta buy now to lock in that price. Maybe you make a decision you weren’t quite ready to make. Or maybe you turned to a credit card because you wouldn’t have the liquid assets for another few days. Guess what? I promise you, that BIG sale during a major holiday specifically, is probably going to still be live tomorrow for a few more days or up to a week or so. 

Here’s a list of the major “furniture” holidays, so you know when most likely the sales will be extended and also have the best discount:

  • February: President’s Day
  • May: Memorial Day
  • July: 4th of July
  • September: Labor Day
  • November: Black Friday/Cyber Monday

Also, keep an eye out for things like anniversary or “friends & family” sales. Those are also usually landmark promotional periods to get extended. 

Oh, and if you guessed wrong, and the sale did in fact end (or you thought there might be an extension on the extensions—this isn’t happening, sorry—you can always reach out to customer service and see if they’ll honor the sales pricing from the day before. Some will, some won’t, but it’s worth an ask. 

Insider Secret #2: If you don’t see something you want…ask for it.

Let’s say you’re window shopping at a retailer you know has a made-to-order program. You’re not seeing the exact size you need, or maybe you don’t like the button tufting, or perhaps you’d prefer a bench cushion rather than three separate cushions…ask for it. Chances are, they can make it for you the way you want or need it to be for the same price or a small upcharge. 

It’s what I like to call the “secret menu.” We didn’t like to do it at my last company, but someone could even provide their own fabric or ask to see “off-menu” textile choices or colors, and it could be done. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get to know that customer service team. They are your best friend for getting to the finish line the way you were envisioning. 

design by ryann trombetti | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: ryann’s moto reveal: a moody multi-functional living and dining room with a lot of soul

Insider Secret #3: Watch and learn…their sales cycle.

Unless we’re talking about the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale or anything during Black Friday (non-affectionately referred to as BFCM in the biz), sales feel like a big SURPRISE as a consumer. But, trust me, they are not. Sales calendars are mapped out months (or more) in advance. My advice, if you have a little time to watch and wait, is to do just that: watch the sales over the course of at least three months, and take note of their highest discount tier (for furniture, it’s normally between 25% off and 35% off, btw) and then wait for that to come back around again. 

Insider Secret #4: Free shipping isn’t actually free. 

Some people know this, and some people look past it, but here’s an absolute truth: that “free shipping” the company you’re eyeing is touting; you’re already paying for it. It’s all rolled in. While it certainly makes it convenient, it’s super important to take the tally on final pricing across all the brands you’re considering shopping from. While one store might charge a flat rate of $199 as a shipping fee, others might charge by the piece, or not at all. See what it all adds up to and then make your decision, because sometimes the place without the free shipping will actually come in lower. 

And lowest? Well, that’s your mom-and-pop store, because they likely aren’t passing along shipping costs to you. They may be passing along other overhead, but if you do a bit of sleuthing to find out what factories are making the items you’re interested in purchasing, you may just be able to find the same piece locally. Because that’s right: That proprietary design you’ve coveted is likely not proprietary at all and one factory is supplying the same or very similar frames to multiple retailers, just under a different name. 

design by julie rose | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a mid-century eclectic living room with kilz primer and paint – the dark room problem solved

Insider Secret #5: Google image search is your friend.

My dear, dear friends. If you are not using reverse Google image searching to make sure another store isn’t selling the same furniture or decor item (or really, anything in any category of retail), you need to start. Retailers “white label” the name of the products they sell—meaning, the vendor will provide a name such as the Arlyn Sideboard, but the consumer-facing brand you buy it from will change its name to the Evelyn Credenza so it feels unique to them. It’s not enough to search “Evelyn Credenza” to see if you can find it elsewhere; you need to use the plain product image on white. 

Not everything is vendor-supplied and sold by multiple storefronts, but a lot is. In these cases, you’ll find that prices are all over the place. Some may be offering free shipping while others are not. Some might have higher price points to offset a discount. Others may just have to charge more for certain items to hit the margins their corporate headquarters require of them. And some sites are just weird money holes. If it looks shady, it is likely shady.

When we all used to just go into stores, we “shopped around” and that shouldn’t stop just because most of us are scrolling and clicking from our phones and laptops before adding to cart. Sometimes, the difference is hundreds of dollars. 

Insider Secret #6: Don’t be tricked by higher discount tiers.

This is very similar to my final advice where I discussed shipping: consider and compare the FINAL pricing across a few stores if you’re not totally settled yet on a specific piece. I won’t name names, but numerous companies have recently raised their prices by a certain percentage only to raise their minimum (or maximum) discount tiers to sound more alluring or be more competitive. By no means a new practice in retail, in fact, it’s pretty common. If you’re heading to the virtual checkout counter in the cloud during a promotional period, it’s fine…the total will be pretty similar regardless, but be mindful of this. If a brand you follow was always consistently at a 20% off discount, and suddenly they’re offering 30% consistently, chances are, those prices ticked up 8-10% to make up for it. 

It’s a game, but it does lead me to the next factoid…

design by ajai guyot | photo by ellie lillstrom | from: see how ajai transformed her client’s builder grade guest room -get ready for a ton of cozy design ideas & working-mom real talk

Insider Secret #7: When prices go up, it’s not usually the brand just being “greedy.” 

I cannot speak for every company out there in existence; only the few I was made privy to inside operations. Surely there are “greedy” brands out there, but here’s the truth: so much goes into the cost of an item like a sofa. The factory crafting and supplying the product has to consider the cost of foam, the cost of dacron wrapping (for cushions), wood, fabric, transit, workmanship. A small uptick in each of those things can equal massive profit drops when pricing stays the same. 

And during the pandemic and then inflation, it was B.R.U.T.A.L. The cost of gas went up which meant shipping rates shot through the roof. Demand was at an all-time high for wood in the building industry, so the suppliers could just charge more for it. We’re seeing this everywhere, from eggs to your sectional to (what feels like) the air we breathe. 

design by velinda hellen | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: sara’s living room & dining room reveal

So there you have it. Nothing here is super hush-hush or unknown. It’s just a matter of keeping your eyes open and, most importantly, taking your time. Give yourself the runway to study up and make an informed choice if you’re buying new (there are a whole set of other rules and things to know if you’re buying second-hand). 

Please let me know if you have any questions or want me to clarify anything. I’m happy to share or answer what I’m able to. 

Shop smart, friends. Until next time… <3

Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: A Modern and Organic Living Room Makeover

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Bec
1 year ago

Insider Secret #8: While label furniture. Same product, not dupe, same exact product at a very different price. Google it, too long to explain.

Lia
1 year ago
Reply to  Bec

Didn’t Arlyn just explain that exact thing?

Dana Leigh Lyons
1 year ago
Reply to  Bec

I think you mean white label, which seems to be what Arlyn talks about in #5 (“whitelist”). This site offers an interesting tool in that regard (haven’t used it yet myself): https://www.spoken.io/

Thank you for the inside scoop, Arlyn!

priscilla
1 year ago

thanks Dana, I fell into the spoken.io hole for a while, it’s pretty good!

Edith
1 year ago

Arlyn, It is a total joy to have you back at EHD. I have been meaning to mention it since your return, and am sorry that it has taken me so long to comment. Love your writing, so glad you are here!

1 year ago

Excellent post and such valuable tips! Thank you, Arlyn!!

1 year ago

Thanks! Is it possible to explain a bit more about how you do your google image search for items to compare costs?

Ally
1 year ago

This is so good!! Thank you, Arlyn!

Lane
1 year ago

Sales in so many ways are time consuming. I love Room & Board for not playing that game. Their prices match the quality, but there’s no waiting. One can just go and buy whatever knowing that’s the best price. I wish more companies did that.

Jeffrey C
1 year ago

I just embrace the clearance section at R and B and check it weekly as they seem to add to it more frequently than in years past.

Kate
1 year ago

So helpful–thank you, Arlyn!

Molly
1 year ago

Not a furniture topic, but this post gives me an excuse to vent about wallpaper online shopping and comparing. Some sites will show the price as a single roll but only sell by the double, some show different (or at least confusing) metrics in the sizes so it’s hard to determine how much you need/confirmation it’s the same roll size as where you’re comparing. I won’t even discuss the places that “only sell to trade.” And the prices! I sound like my mother here when I write “I remember back in the day when expensive wallpaper was $10/roll.”

Appreciate the insider tips, Arlyn!

Heather
1 year ago
Reply to  Molly

Yes, I have three wallpapers I love, but they will only send samples to those in the trade. And I feel bad asking any designer I know to get me the samples because I am not planning on hiring them (as much as I’d love to!).

Kj
1 year ago
Reply to  Heather

Post them here? It’s a total long shot but maybe someone has them.

caroline
1 year ago

Great tips! This is the kind of article that sets EHD apart from other design websites.
And I really appreciate the comments in the “Before getting started” paragraph; it’s so important to be mindful of the human (and environmental) costs that our can “great deals” exact.

Suzanne
1 year ago

Arlyn, I love your writing! I’m so glad you’re back on a regular basis. I’ve missed you! And I love the tips. I’ve figured out a lot of these as time has gone on. There are certain sales cycles I keep it my brain, so I’m willing to wait to buy items on my wishlist. And the Google image search is something I just started in the last year. It’s super helpful. Similarly, I would use Pinterest to show similar pins, which is what first clued me into the whitelist items.

Alison
1 year ago

Arlyn! Can I ask you a question about a “code finding” plug-in like Honey? Does it really help you find the best deals or is there something else behind it? (besides the companies tracking your spending/searching and using that data…… 🙂 ) Any insight?

CMc
1 year ago

As someone who works for a furniture manufacturer (although we produce overseas), I am so glad you mentioned white labeling. We make the same product for some ~very pricey~ top-tier retail brands you know, then sell the same product to other retailers, as well as local/small stores across the country. This is especially true for slipcovered product. Oftentimes, the only change is the cover. Same quality, same product integrity. And the price tag is much lower :). This is my #1 tip when someone asks me about savvy furniture shopping.

Anne Davis
1 year ago

At what point did I miss the reveal of the new sofa? Looking at the photos yesterday I’d have to say it was the Fabienne but I didn’t see any commentary about the final choice.

Admin
1 year ago
Reply to  Anne Davis

come back tomorrow!! 🙂

Anne Davis
1 year ago

Ah yes, she did pick the Fabienne. I hope she has something to say about it because I have been thinking of buying. I want to know what she thinks.

1 year ago

Thank you for these Arlyn!! I’ve always thought that buying furniture was a money pit and there was no way out, now I know that there is a way to save money and enjoy furniture!

Kara
1 year ago

This is all so great; I have a couple to add: -You might have an affiliate discount via your job or other membership. You’d think everyone who has this would remember it, but I worked for the Apple store in college, and I have a USAA membership, and I constantly forget to ask about affiliate discounts. Your gym, your bank, your insurance, whatever. Also if you have a friend with an employee discount, they will most likely have one at all the other brands under the parent company. It’s not a lot, sometimes 10 or 15%, but if the thing you want can only be had full price (or you’re worried it might sell out) it’s better than nothing! -YMMV in a post-Covid world, but if you have the energy and patience, one of the best ways to get quality furniture is to buy a second hand piece and have it reupholstered or restored. So much furniture these days is just particle board under a trendy color. But sofas and chairs and shelves made out of actual honest-to-god hardwood are sitting in the thrift store, at risk of ending up in a landfill. And don’t let little details deter you… Read more »

Kara
1 year ago
Reply to  Kara

Replying to myself to add, even though it’s a little outside of the focus of this very useful post, some questions to ask in order to save money:
1. Do you need new things, or do you need to eat a sandwich/go outside/drink water/do a 3-song tidy/talk to another human/take your meds?
2. Do you need new things, or do you need to rearrange things you already have, so they feel new?
3. Do you need a *whole* new thing, or do you need to fix it, or replace part of it, add an accessory, or have it deep cleaned?

Karen
1 year ago

Hi Arlyn,

Thanks for the reminder that sometimes “cheaper” has a trickle down effect on the company’s employees.

I’ve decided to replace some aging furniture items, and given inflation and sticker shock prices of new furniture, have been exploring quality used furniture. You mentioned that “there are a whole set of other rules and things to know if you’re buying second-hand”. Please share do share those details!

Shay
1 year ago

I echo some of the previous comments about being glad you’re back as a regular contributor on the blog, Arlyn. You’re a wonderful writer (loved your posts when you wrote everyday for a year—well almost everyday—on your own blog), and you have lots of good info to share. This post was really helpful. I hope you’ll do another one soon on buying secondhand/used/vintage (whatever you want to call it). I’ve always purchased new furniture but agree with some others that we need to be better stewards of our resources and reuse/refresh older pieces. Anyway, welcome back!