For ten years we have abused our living room furniture. Our kids spilled juice and milk on it, our cat clawed a huge hole at its side. It now looks positively horrible. We have been looking for new furniture on and off for the past year, but could never agree on something that we both liked. Last autumn as the economy collapsed we put the search on hold, but last weekend we jumped back into the market and made a purchase. We are now the proud owners of a brand new leather sofa and chair (see picture from the store on left).
But wait, there's more. We also decided to buy a new dining table and chairs. Our 10 year old IKEA set was too small for our family of five and our twins are now ready to move from their high-chairs to sitting around the table. We found a set we liked, which was being offered on clearance in a local furniture store and decided to go for it. The total cost for both the living room and dining room furniture came out to approximately $4,200, including the delivery charges.
Here are a few thoughts about this whole affair:
Negotiating the Contract - when purchasing our new furniture, I was asked to sign an order form. While it may be called an "order form" it is nothing short of a binding contract between us and the store. The sales person expected me to sign this contract without reading it and without making any changes to it: "all I need is your signature at the bottom". Not very likely. Whenever I am asked to blindly sign a form, I insist on reading it in detail, and I am glad I did the same this time. The form stipulated that sales of clearance items are final and items are sold "as is", with no return or refund permitted. I refused to accept this. While we got clearance pricing for our dining room set, I insisted that the store amend the form to specifically state that our sale was not final and items were not being sold as is. I also insisted that the form specify the color of the furniture. The sales person pointed to a model number (A2) and explained that this designation stood for Dark Cherry, but what do I know or care about the accuracy of her statement? I insisted that the items would be described as "Dark Cherry" on the actual order form. Accepting the word of a sales person who tries to explain away the specific words of a contract is not a strategy that will hold up in court.
Payment Terms - we paid for both purchases using credit cards - don't worry, we intend to pay off the entire amount immediately. We do not carry a balance, ever. We purchased the living room set using our American Express Blue card - we prefer this card because it offers a substantial cash-back reward. However, the local furniture store did not accept American Express, citing high transaction charges. We used our Citibank Dividend card to make that purchase instead. In this economy it is to be expected that many retailers will go into bankruptcy. While we paid the full purchase price in advance, using our credit cards, we do have the right to cancel the order until actual delivery. This means that if either store fails, we will not lose our money. Many stores offer to customize your furniture to your exact specifications - with a lead time of several months. In such cases, they expect you to pay for the furniture when placing the order and such orders are typically non-cancellable. Even though both companies seem pretty solid to me, I don't think I would want to take a 4 to 6 month bet on their continued solvency by placing a custom order... I think that "better safe than sorry" is the slogan of the hour.
Credit Card Purchases - interestingly, our Citibank MasterCard purchase went through smoothly. Our American Express purchase was declined. When I called American Express to see what the problem was, they told me that their fraud department flagged the transaction. After putting me through the hassle of talking to two separate service representatives they unblocked the card. I found this particularly annoying - this is not the first time I run into American Express' brand of idiotic security policies.
Taking Pictures - as you may have gathered from reading this post, I am a suspicious consumer. I follow Ronald Reagan's old doctrine: "trust but verify". I respect the words of sales representatives, but have no inclination to rely on their words. Whatever verbal commitments they make will be pretty darn hard to prove. Instead, I gather as much evidence as I can, and make sure that we are protected contractually. One of the measures which I have started taking ever since cameras became standard cell-phone equipment, is to take pictures of whatever it is that I am buying, if I am not taking it home with me on the spot. If there is later a disagreement about color, shape or model, referring to the picture makes the discussion much easier...