By Charlie Wells
Anthropologie’s “Mirren” modular, one-arm sofa costs $2,398. It’s made from a chunky basketweave material and would look great in pretty much any living room. The catch? It won’t be ready to ship until March.
The “Darcy” sofa that Ashley HomeStores says has “fine lines and great curves,” on sale for $369.99, also features a wait time of up to 14 weeks.
And in Britain, Ikea’s gray “Bondholmen” outdoor table with six chairs costs 620 pounds ($858) and would be perfect for al fresco dining on a budget. But it’s completely unavailable for delivery and out of stock from Belfast to Birmingham.
Across the U.S., U.K. and a number of other countries, extremely long delivery times are leaving furniture shoppers fuming. People trying to buy new couches, yard furniture and even cribs have found themselves staring at delivery dates far out into the future.
Companies say unique headwinds have resulted in delays: a combination of Covid-related problems, increased demand for housing (and thus furnishings), extreme weather and an unexpected foam shortage that is so severe it was even addressed in the British Parliament. A global shipping-container squeeze, backed-up ports and shortage of transport truckers have added to the chaos.
“A big part of understanding what’s going on is that supply chains tend to be very long,” said Joe Terino, a partner who leads the supply chain practice at the consultancy Bain. He estimates that some 40 percent of the world’s furniture is made in China, and the pandemic has added pressure to pain points in the path that furniture takes from the factory floor to a family living room.
The delays have caught off guard even those who thought they had planned well in advance.
Jessica Pilkington, 36, and Jordan Braxton, 42, spent close to $3,000 in April on everything they felt they needed for a new nursery for their first child.
Their crib, dresser and changing table would be delivered in mid-June to their home south of Boston. Quite a wait, but enough time for them to feel comfortable before the baby’s mid-August due date.
But one Friday night in early June, the furniture store called with bad news: The “absolute earliest” they could ship the baby’s furniture was late August — weeks after the child was supposed to be born.
“I was the one who was fuming most of the night,” said Braxton, who had rushed to paint the nursery with a soothing, Key West-colored accent wall and some tropical accoutrements. “Especially because we had done our due diligence.”
The couple woke up early the next morning, headed to a different furniture store and put down an additional $700 for furniture they were promised was in stock. They feel fortunate that they had the budget to spend more and were able to cancel their original, delayed order with little hassle. (Their baby girl arrived safe and sound, on time, a few weeks ago.)
Delays are difficult to prevent or fix after making a purchase, but there are some things consumers can do, consumer advocates say.
It starts when you’re shopping with a sales associate. Looking at an exceptionally long delivery time? Try to negotiate a smaller down payment, says Marguerita Cheng, a financial adviser who runs Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
If that’s not happening, try to push for free delivery or an extended warranty. Those with excellent credit might see if they can get six or 12 months “same as cash,” which would save on interest payments.
“Whatever you do, don’t pay by cash or check,” Cheng said. “Credit cards offer valuable protection for consumers.”
Even when a baby isn’t involved, timing is particularly important for some furniture purchases.
Michael Martin, 49, who is from outside Glasgow, was looking forward to enjoying as much of Scotland’s notoriously short summer as possible in his garden, particularly after his foreign holiday plans fell through. He figured a couple outdoor chairs, a couch and some Aperol spritzes might help.
He ordered his furniture on April 5. After a delay and difficult cancellation with one company, Martin ordered entirely different items from another vendor and finally got the delivery on Aug. 2, when the weather was already starting to cool.
“Just in time for summer ending,” he says.
Some shoppers who didn’t want to — or didn’t know they could — cancel their original orders have ended up concocting some creative solutions for the weeks and months they’ve had to wait.
Cameron Garvin, 28, was thrilled to move into a luxury apartment in Austin in February. He had been living with a roommate but after securing a great, new, work-from-home job, moved out into his own place. He promptly ordered rugs, kitchen supplies, a dining room table from West Elm and a desk from Crate & Barrel.
The dining room table took a month to arrive. The desk took three. Meanwhile, Garvin worked, ate and slept in the same place: his bed.
“What was I going to do?” he said. “It was that or the floor.”
Anthropologie, Ashley HomeStores, West Elm and Crate & Barrel didn’t respond to requests for comment.
People who find themselves stuck in protracted delays should check their contract’s fine print, because consumer protection legislation varies across states and countries, said Ira Rheingold, a lawyer who serves as the executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates in Washington.
Those who struggle to cancel their orders through a vendor should try to dispute the transaction with their credit card companies, he says, who “have more leverage than you do.”
As with other consumer issues, complaining is a great tactic, Rheingold said. You might try your local consumer-protection agency. If disgruntled consumers make enough complaints, it might result in an investigation, which no company wants.
If all else fails, there’s another tactic: Using Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
“The truth is, one of the most effective things you can do to get a company’s attention is to complain about them on social media,” Rheingold said. Keep it polite, courteous and factual, with the emotional side left out.
The strategy may not get you your couch before 2022, but it could at least get you a human on the phone.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com.