Just like so many things on the internet, sometimes you just don’t know if you’ll like it or not until you have it in your hot little hands. We consumers can be fickle creatures. Previously we just bought things from shops and kept them unless they were faulty. Now people buy a stack of clothing just to try on at home, fully intending it send it 90% of it back and just keep one item.


With the best will in the world a website image may not be an 100% replica of what you actually receive and this becomes a bigger issue which a raft of largely online only homeware stores like Made.com, Bo concept, Swoon Editions et al.


In the world of interior design, it’s not unusual for some things to be bought online regardless of a client’s budget. It can be quicker, closer to home, more simple, be a client preference and of course offer more choice.


Here are some ways to avoid disappointment in your home projects when looking for those unicorns online.


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Not all front doors are created equal. Buying something big? Most sites selling buying large furniture will provide you with a measurement guides. It’s really worth reading these. Wouldn’t you be devastated if your much adored, long awaited red velvet sofa can’t fit through the door on arrival?


Measure measure measure. Not the most fun bit, but has it be done. Be sure you know what you are getting into. If you are in a house share / couple, and the other part of the team is better at details, get them to own this. If you are doing this as a designer for someone else, take extra care and be open in your communications about the size of items and make sure this matches their expectations. If the client has a point of no return after which point they won’t be happy with a size, find out what that is.


Really try to picture them in your new home. To help with this, get the tape measure and masking tape out and draw it out on the floor space if that helps. This can eliminate bad decisions.


What does it feel like? Most large companies will offer free swatches now so you can check fabrics out before you buy. Really worth doing this. It’s very hard to replicate a colour exactly on a webpage and obviously impossible to know how it would feel against your skin when on it.


Give them a bell. On a large job recently where we were looking after all the purchasing too, there were details that just didn’t appear on the website. I love a digital experience as much as the next guy but was happily surprised to find the many call centres still cut it. (Though alas, some unfortunately don’t).


Accept that some things won’t be quite the same as the image online and in your head. If you will struggle with this, maybe it’s worth buying only furniture you have seen and tried out. Some people will be happy if it’s a 95% match to a product viewed online. And some people will not. It’s definitely worth getting a sense of this if you are buying on behalf of someone else. If all else fails, most places will take something back within a certain time frame (though that is best avoided and a waste of time all round).


Product reviews. I always read these and in my research have developed a bit of a radar for people who love to rant online. I have periodically bought products that have received the odd bad review, sure. I think we should read them and see if they are relevant to how we would personally grade a product. Obviously stay well clear of products that have multiple one star reviews though.


How long is too long? It can sometimes kill the excitement if a product takes weeks and weeks to arrive. This is a frustrating flaw of buying large items which are often made to order and not in stock. You’ve paid a lot of money and you just want it now. The system hasn’t caught up yet, it’s a real pain and can take the edge off exciting projects. People have limits re how long they will wait. If you are doing this on behalf of someone else and have told them the lead time, make sure they truly understand this.


Gut feelings are really important. If you truly love it online (and have checked out the measurements / logistics) buy it. It’s likely that you will love it as much when it arrives if you have really fallen for it.


And finally… don’t forget to go analogue. I always start a project with a walk around a few suitable stores for the brief to get a feel for what might work, even if that means a trip to a different city. It can help hone things down and also makes for a fun day out.


So that’s it. Happy shopping…