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Ordering Furniture Over the Phone

Telephone ordering services are one of the best sources for new furniture. Savings normally run 40% to 50% off retail. Unless you live near a factory outlet, or decide to become your own licensed decorator and buy your furniture wholesale, you will usually find the best bargains on new furniture from these services.

You can order furniture from almost any major manufacturer through a variety of reputable order by phone companies. Most of these companies carry a wide variety of styles. Many carry hundreds of different brands. Prices do vary from company to company. Always call at least three sources to compare prices and get the best deal on the particular brand and style of furniture you wish to order.

Many telephone ordering services can also order mattresses from major manufacturers. You may wish to compare their prices to those available in your city.

  1. What information to have when you call to order
  2. Locating the correct stock numbers for furniture
  3. How to make sure you're dealing with a reputable company
  4. What to do if the brand you want isn't available by phone
  5. What to do if furniture arrives damaged
  6. Standard freight charges
  7. Standard delivery times
  8. Sales tax requirements
  9. Methods of payment

What information to have when you order

As with any order by phone company, you should have as much product information as possible at the ready when you call. Although some companies publish catalogs, it is generally not necessary to refer to the catalog when you place your order. If you already have the product information, most companies will be able to process your order right away, assuming that they carry the particular brand you have in mind.

When you are shopping at local design centers and retail stores and looking through design magazines, you should record the following information (where applicable):

  • Manufacturer name
  • Stock (Item) number
  • Type of wood (Oak, cherry, walnut, etc.)
  • -- This refers to the kind of wood the furniture is actually made of, not the color the furniture has been stained.
  • Type of finish (Oak, cherry, walnut, etc.)
  • -- Don't forget that the finish refers to the color only, not to the type of wood used.
  • Color of fabric
  • -- if applicable
  • Upholstery details
  • -- You should note what specific touches you want, such as a skirt on sofas and chairs. You should also specify the pattern name or number of the fabric you want.
  • Finished size
  • -- Specify the length, width, height, and depth of the furniture, where applicable.
  • Description
  • -- Give a general description of the furniture - "Queen Anne chair", "contemporary pillow-back sofa", etc. If you are in doubt as to whether a detail is important - write it down!

Locating the correct stock numbers for furniture

Much of this information is usually recorded on a label underneath table tops, bed frames, and chair seats and on the backs of sofas, bookcases, dressers, entertainment centers, and mirrors. Always look carefully for this original label from the manufacturer. By law, it should not have been removed or altered - although some businesses do this anyway.

Some retail stores - but not magazines and wholesale design center showrooms - will alter or hide item numbers and manufacturer information to hinder competition from telephone ordering services. If the alterations are obvious (crossed out information, little stickers covering up the original manufacturer's product information, etc.), shop somewhere else.

How to make sure you're dealing with a reputable company

Check our online list of inspected and approved order by phone companies. Kimberly Causey, author of The Insider's Guide To Buying Home Furnishings and The Furniture Factory Outlet Guide, personally visits and inspects each order by phone company recommended on this site.

Unfortunately, anyone can buy an ad in the back of a magazine and get an 800 number. Magazines and phone companies do not check companies out to be sure they are reputable--as long as they pay their advertising and phone bills. Every year, many consumers are ripped off by sending money to companies that don't exist.

Many more consumers are ripped off by ordering furniture by phone from companies that claim to give big discounts, but actually sell at or near full retail.

Kimberly only recommends companies that offer discounts of at least 40% to 50% off of the manufacturer's true retail price (not the phony discounts used by some companies.

Kimberly also makes sure that any of the companies on her list have excellent reputations for service. Kimberly speaks with thousands of furniture buyers each year. If she hears of any verified complaints against an order by phone company, she removes them from her recommendation list. Due to the very careful inspections she does of each company before they are listed in the first place, she has only had to remove one company from her list in the last five years due to a bad report from a furniture buyer.

If you plan to buy furniture by phone, be sure to check out Kimberly's list of reputable companies. Complete information about each company (names, addresses, phone numbers, directions, lists of the brands carried by each company, discounts offered, etc.) are given in her book, The Furniture Factory Outlet Guide. You can also instantly download her list in PDF format by clicking here.

What to do if the brand you want isn't available by phone

If the particular piece of furniture you want isn't available through any of the services, it is probably an exclusive product from an ultra-high priced designer. If the snob-appeal of this exclusive furniture - read "furniture with prices that have been vastly overinflated due to the elimination of open competition by monopolistic merchandising practices" - is important enough to you to justify paying two prices (at least), you will have no choice but to buy it through an interior designer, and pay a hefty commission on top of the inflated price, of course.

However, if you are trying to keep costs down, look around carefully. No matter what furniture style or period you are interested in, you should be able to find high-quality furniture that looks very similar to the exclusive furniture and is available through a telephone ordering service at a far better price.

What to do if furniture arrives damaged

This is a rare problem, but it does occur. The best way to eliminate this problem is to deal with a company that has excellent service. The companies Kimberly recommends all use special furniture delivery services that deliver nothing but furniture and are well-trained in proper care, delivery, and setup. These companies will uncrate the furniture, bring it inside your home, put it in the correct place in what ever room you like (even upstairs or in a basement), and make sure it has no tiny scratches.

Disreputable companies use common carriers that leave the furniture still crated in your driveway. Kimberly absolutely does not recommend you ever deal with any company that has such shoddy delivery service.

When dealing with a reputable company, the standard procedure if a piece is found to be damaged when the delivery service uncrates it is for the delivery service to bring it back to the order by phone company or factory outlet at its own expense. The manufacturer will either correct the damage and have the piece redelivered, or in a few cases, have it repaired in the customer's home at no charge. With a reputable company, you never have to worry about being stuck with furniture that isn't in new condition.

Standard freight charges

A good rule of thumb for freight expenses: the cost to ship your furniture home normally runs no more than 5% of the retail price. For example: an armoire costing $2,000.00 at retail would normally cost about $100.00 to ship to your home from the outlet.

Real life example: recently Kimberly ordered an armoire for her own home. The retail price from Thomasville was $3,600.00. She found the same armoire at one of the Thomasville Factory Outlets for only $899.00. The cost to have it shipped to her home, including full inside delivery and setup was only $100.00. That's about 3% of the retail cost of the armoire.

Standard delivery times

The usual delivery time when you order furniture by phone is 8-12 weeks, just as it normally is when you order furniture through a local retail store or interior designer. Medium to high end furniture is generally not kept in stock--it must be made just for you by the manufacturer.

If you need your furniture more quickly, a great way to save time is to travel directly to the factory outlets in North Carolina and buy your furniture from the pieces in stock at the factory outlets. Because the furniture has already been made, delivery times are reduced to 2-4 weeks.

Sales tax requirements

If you don't reside in North Carolina, you will normally not be charged sales tax when you order furniture over the phone.

However, some states now require that furniture shoppers pay sales tax to their own home state on any items purchased over the phone from a company in a different state. If your state requires you to pay sales tax on your purchase, the order by phone service will normally let you know and tell you where to send your payment.

Many states (like New Hampshire) still do not require sales tax on out of state purchases, so those customers get an extra discount on their purchase of 5%-7% depending on what state they live in.

Methods of payment

The standard procedure with many of these services is to require a portion of the order to be paid at the time the order is placed, typically 20% to 50%, with the balance due at the time the order is ready to be shipped. Always make all payments with a credit card. Normally, the deposit will be charged to your credit card immediately, and the balance will be charged when the merchandise is actually shipped.

A few services insist that customers pay the entire balance up front if they are using a credit card. Avoid these companies if you can - there are some companies that do allow you to pay the balance with your credit card only when the furniture is actually shipped. There are also some companies that allow you to pay the balance by check after your furniture arrives.

Reconfirm the payment policies of any service you contact before placing an order, as they can change from time to time, and ALWAYS use your credit card. Check out Kimberly's list of order by phone companies with consumer-friendly payment policies.

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