Buying things online seems to offer so much it's almost magical. Instantly have the whole world at your fingertips without even leaving home. And this is mostly true when:
That's why hundreds of bookstores have closed their doors and gone out of business.
But furniture stores are still around. What makes furniture harder to buy online? Why are even e-commerce brands opening their own brick and mortar stores? Here's why.
Acknowledging the downsides and hassles of purchasing online furniture, it still might be worthwhile if you could get a great deal. But here is where e-commerce become the most deceptive
Here's a little back-story. Fly By Night started in 1988. In 1999 we launched webfuton.com, one of the very first e-commerce sites selling futon furniture on the internet. We did good business selling high quality US and European made products- almost $650,000 by our second year. We coded a shipping calculator that took the customer's zip code and calculated how much to add for UPS shipping. If the futon cost $400 and UPS shipping was $100. We would charge $500.
Around 2002 the online landscape began to shift. Some e-commerce sites selling cheaper imported furniture began photoshopping the pictures to eliminate the knots, finish streaks, and wrinkles that these cheaper products actually had.
The product photos looked so much better than the real thing. Customers were getting deceived about what they were actually purchasing (today this is standard practice but at the time it seemed scandalous.)
The doctored photographs made it impossible to discern the better wood, nicer fit and finish, and superior hardware of the American made products.
The Invention of "Free Shipping"
In addition, these same sites stopped using shipping calculators. Instead of itemizing the final cost as $400 for furniture and $100 for shipping they charged the same $500 but dishonestly claimed that shipping was free.
We refused to join in this sleazy game. We continued to be transparent about shipping costs. We knew that trucks, truck drivers and diesel fuel aren't free. We were sure people would see right through this phony "Free Delivery" - they would never believe such nonsense.
Oh how wrong we were. We learned the hard way that those who refuse to play along with the "Free Shipping" gambit get punished, not rewarded. Eventually we closed webfuton.com and focused our energy into Fly By Night. We built a new warehouse in Easthampton and a 20,000 sq foot showroom in Downtown Northampton.
I suppose the final lesson is that emotion trumps logic. There is just something so powerful in the (logically untrue) promise of getting something for "Free" that it has become a standard practice in American business. And to this day "Free Shipping" remains the Big Lie at the heart of internet commerce.