As background, I have never owned a piece of furniture that wasn't made of laminated particle board (minus the table I made in a woodshop class once) and I've only spent more than $100 on a piece of furniture once--to buy my bed. So the couch-shopping expedition was a first for me. Here's what I learned about the best and worst places to shop for an inexpensive, new couch.
Local furniture chain: The first store we went to was a local chain. The store was clean, attractive, and did not smell funny (you'll see why this is important later). The furniture was well-spaced and reasonably priced and there were quite a few people shopping. The store had several options, attractive options, comfortable options, in my price range. If I had to fault the store for something, it would be the lack of different color options for each sofa and that the sofa I wanted wasn't available to buy immediately, it had to be special ordered (because beige is such an unusual color?). On the plus side, I could go to the warehouse myself and pick it up, saving the $70 delivery charge. Still, $70 was a reasonably delivery charge, I felt.
Ikea: The Ektorp sofa at first appears to cost only $399, but mysteriously, only the white couch is that cheap. While a white couch may look lovely (for about a week), it isn't very practical. The other colors and patterns cost $499 or $599. They also make Ektorp sofa covers ranging from $49 (for white) to $249 (for certain patterns)--in other words, you can't buy the $399 white couch then inexpensively spruce it up with a slipcover. (Besides, if I wanted to slipcover a couch, I'd get one at Goodwill for a lot less.) Ikea also has two other sofa options in this price range, the Karlstad and the Knihult, but neither was what I had in mind.
Macy's: Macy's had some attractive sofas if I were going for a high-fashion look, but fashion and comfort don't seem to coincide in furniture any more than they do in clothing. Plus, their sofas were all in the thousands of dollars. I even saw one that was $3300. There's no way I would ever spend that much money on a single piece of furniture. On top of that, the couches really didn't look like they were worth that kind of money. No wonder the entire furniture department was eerily void of life. Even the salespeople seemed to have given up on it.
JC Penney: The furniture department smelled like mildew and had a depressing aura. I felt bad for the woman relegated to working there. While there were quite a few inexpensive sofas on JC Penny's website, they all had to be special ordered, would take 4-6 weeks to arrive, and would come with a $185 delivery charge that would largely negate the savings (particularly annoying to me, since I have access to a large pickup truck). Plus, these online couches were apparently not available in the store, so I would have to buy one sight unseen. To me, it is very important to test a couch for comfort, so that option wasn't going to work. In the store, they only had sofas that were out of my price range. Perhaps the online couches are available for viewing at other locations, but there are not a lot of JC Penneys in my area.
Lazyboy: In addition to their large selection of recliners (I am the proud owner of one, purchased at Goodwill for $50 three years ago and it still looks and feels brand new), they also sell couches. I immediately felt intimidated when I walked into the store because it is very nice. It says, "this is a store for people with money." Maybe not crazy amounts of money, but more than I was willing to spend. Even the couches in the clearance room, which came with no warranty and no return option, cost nearly $1,000 or more. Even though the store was having a no-sales-tax sale, their prices were still too high for me. Even the tax on a $1,000 couch is less than $100, so for me this was not a meaningful sale.
Local warehouse furniture store: This store was supposedly a wholesale warehouse, but the prices were in the quadruple digits. It had concrete floors, flourescent lights, and the furniture was crammed together. The store had no ambience whatsoever; indeed, it would have made a great location for a plot on the cop drama The Shield. In this plot, an Armenian mob boss would run a furniture store as a front for his money-laundering business. The prices were probably a bargain if I was in the market for high-end furniture, but honestly, I wouldn't know. I just wanted something basic.
Another local chain: This was a large store, the size of an entire floor of Ikea if Ikea were not set up like a maze. Mysteriously, they sold the same couches as the first local chain, but in different colors, even though it was supposedly a different store. I considered buying the same couch I had liked at the first store but in a different color because it was available to take home immediately and the color (sage) wasn't bad. I wasn't totally sure the color would match my living room, though, and I wasn't about to repaint the living room. That made me decide that the couch at the first store was the one for me, even though I would have to wait 4-6 weeks to get it and even though, at $600, it was only a good deal, not a super-duper-spectacular deal. But it's exactly the couch I had set out to find at the beginning of my journey.
The winner: I was glad to have checked out the other stores, only to know what was out there and to firm up my opinion that I had found the right couch. I know you can sometimes negotiate the price of furniture, but this didn't seem like that kind of store. Negotiating the price of the couch seemed about as likely as negotiating the price of a couch at Ikea. Still, I asked the saleswoman if the couch would be going on sale any time soon. My parents suggested this as a way to get a sense for whether negotiation was possible. I could tell that it was not. It seems the store doesn't really have sales since they offer such low prices to begin with. That seems fair to me, and I don't really believe in haggling over things that are already fairly priced.
They tried to upsell me on a $70 stain protection plan. It sounded great--if the stain protector doesn't work they will come out to clean your couch for free, and if that doesn't work they will replace it for free--but I wasn't interested in spending more money and I was already at the top of my price range. Besides, I've never lost a piece of furniture to a stain before, and I bet I can buy a stain guard product at the store for a lot less than $70. I may actually look into that, because I plan to keep this couch for at least 10 years. The couch is long enough for me to lay down on completely stretched out, has big, comfy armrests and big, fluffy back pillows. It's light beige, so it will match anything. It's also going to attract cat hair like nobody's business, but then, most furniture does.
Hopefully what I learned from my couch-shopping experience will give you some ideas about the best stores to find deals in the next time you want to buy new furniture and what to expect in terms of pricing, timing, and delivery fees.
Photo by triplezero
Post by Amy Fontinelle