Illustration of a sofa being taken off a delivery truck

You’ve browsed, you’ve bargain-hunted, you’ve finally found the perfect furniture piece for your room—and now you have to get it home. Depending on where you’re shopping for furniture, this could be a simple maneuver, or you could be on the hook for hundreds of dollars in delivery fees and scrambling to figure out how to return a product you don’t like.

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Most of the time, the delivery process seems to go smoothly, according to the experience of the CR members who reported on their furniture purchases for Consumer Reports’ new Furniture Retailers Survey. Of the more than 38,000 furniture purchases rated in our survey, only 6 percent of those bought in a store and 10 percent bought online had an item arrive damaged or with missing parts. And only 6 percent of walk-in or online purchases had their deliveries rescheduled or delayed.

Also encouraging: Most of the members we surveyed did not return the purchases they made. When they did, the most common reason was because the item had arrived damaged or with missing parts, with a few returning items because the quality, comfort, or color wasn’t as expected, or because the item did not fit in their home.

Walk-In Store Deliveries and Returns

Delivery costs: Furniture stores generally offer curbside delivery and “white glove” delivery service. Curbside delivery, where the company drops the furniture off outside your home, usually costs a flat fee, depending on how close your home is to the store or how much you’re spending overall. White-glove delivery service—sometimes called in-home delivery—is the more expensive option because it typically means the furniture gets delivered to your home, assembled on-site by the delivery team, and placed exactly where you want it. Know, however, that stores may have different definitions of what white-glove delivery service entails—some might just deliver the box to an area inside your home, no setup or assembly included—so it’s important to find out what you’re signing up for before you pay up. 

Rates for white-glove delivery service can vary significantly from retailer to retailer, but shoppers can expect to pay between $60 and $400, depending on their home’s proximity to the store or their total bill. RH (formerly Restoration Hardware), for example, offers customers white-glove delivery service on all furniture purchases, with flat rates starting at $199 for homes located within 50 miles of its nearest store; Ethan Allen offers white-glove delivery (which the company calls premier in-home delivery) starting at $59 for orders up to $499.

Return policies and fees: Like delivery fees, return policies at walk-in stores can vary depending on the retailer. Stores that offer customers full refunds usually require items to be returned within 10 to 30 days. Some stores, however, are more restrictive. Bob’s Discount Furniture grants refunds only for furniture that’s returned within three days of delivery, minus the cost of return shipping via the delivery service the store specifies (which it requires—you can’t just drop the return off at your local store). Furniture Row has one of the least generous return policies—once a customer receives a product, the product can only be exchanged, not refunded. At the other end of the spectrum is Ikea, which allows customers to return products within 180 days, with proof of purchase, for a full refund.  

Some stores will accept returns outside their normal return window in exchange for store credit. Badcock Home Furniture, for example, offers full refunds for items that are returned within 10 days of delivery and full credits for items returned between 11 and 30 days, less a 20 percent restocking fee.

You may be charged a restocking fee on returns—typically between 10 and 20 percent of a product’s sale price. Also, stores might not refund a customer’s original delivery fees. This depends on the reason for your return. If the item arrives damaged or different from how it was described or purchased, many retailers will pay for the return shipping. But if you’re simply returning the item because you no longer like or need it, you will probably have to cover that cost. In that scenario, you may have to get the return back to the store or to its warehouse yourself (though some stores will come pick up a return if it’s too large to ship back easily—sometimes free, sometimes for a fee).

Online Deliveries and Returns

Delivery costs: One of the selling points of purchasing furniture from an online retailer is that many offer free standard shipping on all orders or free shipping on orders above a certain price. Indeed, according to the Consumer Reports survey, 41 percent of online furniture buyers said free shipping or delivery was one of the main reasons they chose a particular online retailer.

Overstock.com, for example, offers free ground shipping on all U.S. orders except those shipped to Alaska and Hawaii. Meanwhile, Wayfair offers customers free standard shipping on orders of $35 or more, and it charges a flat shipping rate of $5 on orders less than $35. 

But fees for larger furniture items that must be delivered by truck are often higher. Pottery Barn, for example, charges a flat rate for furniture items based on the order total and number of miles, starting at $149 for an order up to $999 and a distance of under 99 miles.

Like walk-in stores, many online furniture retailers also offer white-glove delivery for an extra fee. Fees can vary by retailer, but as a benchmark: White-glove delivery for furniture purchased on the Macy’s website costs between $70 and $261, depending on the home’s location and the size of the furniture.

Return policies and fees: Generally, online furniture retailers’ return policies are in line with the return policies offered at walk-in stores. However, most online retailers make customers pay for return shipping (unless the item arrived damaged or was different from its description, or it was the wrong item altogether—in those cases, the retailer will usually try to make the return process as easy on the customer as possible). When you do have to return large furniture to an online-only retailer, the process can be difficult—especially if the customer is responsible for repacking the furniture and dropping it off at a shipment facility, such as a UPS location. 

Another potential downside: Some online retailers, such as Coleman Furniture, require customers to return items in their unused condition and original packaging or equivalent in order to qualify for a refund or store credit, which can be a real challenge if you’ve already assembled furniture or thrown away the packaging materials.

If an item arrives damaged or with missing parts, online customers don’t usually have to pay for return shipping—although they may be required to repack the item and take it to a shipping facility.

Repacking large furniture, though, can be difficult. (Note: Some online retailers won’t accept returns if a product has been assembled or modified.) Your best approach? Ask the vendor what its packing requirements are for returns and for advice on how to break down and repack the item, says Marina Hanisch, an interior designer based in New York City. 

Smart Furniture-Shopping Tips

Buying large furniture? Get white-glove delivery service. Picking up large furniture from a warehouse and transporting it home yourself can be a hassle. So can lifting heavy furniture that’s just dropped off at your front door. White-glove delivery solves those problems. Another reason to purchase it? “White-glove service helps avoid damage during the unpacking process,” Hanisch says.

“For large furniture, if you order white-glove delivery, that also [often] includes white-glove returns, where they’ll come back out, disassemble it, and return it” for you, Hanisch adds. Check with the retailer to be sure this is included.

Inspect furniture on delivery. The best way to protect yourself from getting stuck with a damaged product is to inspect the furniture when you receive it, and to alert the delivery people and retailer of any damage right away. (Value City Furniture’s return policy says customers must notify store personnel of damage within seven days after delivery.) If the item arrives by truck or if you’ve purchased white-glove delivery service, Hanisch recommends inspecting the items while the delivery team is at your home. “Usually you have to sign [a form] prior to the delivery team leaving where you certify that the item was delivered intact and not damaged,” she says. “I would inspect the furniture from top to bottom before signing that form.”

Also, take photos of damaged parts in case you need to provide proof later on. When buying furniture online, “take a picture of the box itself if the box has been damaged before you open it,” Hanisch says. “That can help prove that the product was damaged in transit.”

Avoid buyer’s remorse. Unlike people who shop in a store, online shoppers can’t touch a product or see it in person before purchasing it. Still, there are three steps you can take to avoid purchasing a product online that you realize you dislike when it arrives at your home.

First, ask the retailer to send you a free wood or fabric sample before you purchase the item so that you can assess the quality of the material. (Some retailers charge a small fee for samples.) Second, view the product listing on several devices—such as a cell phone, a computer, and a tablet—to make sure you’re getting an accurate picture of the color. (Screens with different brightness settings can make the same color look different.) And third, use online customer reviews wisely: Read reviews only from verified customers and pay closest attention to specific remarks, such as those saying that something was difficult to assemble or that the color was brighter than it appeared in the online image.

Measure carefully. This may sound like a no-brainer, but if you want to buy furniture that fits your space well, it’s important to take precise measurements of the room in your home that you’re furnishing and compare that with the furniture’s dimensions. Also measure all the entryways, doorways, hallways, stairwells, and elevators that the furniture will have to travel through to reach its destination. (The last thing you want is to have a sofa arrive at your home and then learn that it can’t fit through the front door.)