I have been spoiled during the pandemic. Yes, I know, we all had a lot to complain about — the cabin fever, the daily groundhog existence, the anxiety surrounding every cough and hot flash — but inconveniences aside, shopping online were epic.
For someone who grew up in a time when the only thing delivered to your door was the occasional pizza and the yellow pages, the ability to order everything from groceries to glamping gear online and have it appear at your doorstep, sometimes in a matter of hours, has been life changing for the better.
Fancy a new book? Don’t have your favorite lipstick anymore? Both are just a click away. Sometimes, as pathetic as it sounds, the highlight of my days in confinement was following the UPS truck on my mobile device as it drove up to my house to deliver dog food.
Besides vaccine makers and delivery services, the biggest winners from the pandemic have been businesses that quickly adapted to the new normal, retailers that previously relied on walk-in traffic but deftly focused on online sales. The best of them have also ushered in hassle-free returns, which thank goodness seems like another pandemic no longer here to stay.
As the pandemic has transformed shopping forever, consumers have also learned that just because you can order anything online doesn’t mean you should.
When you’re buying something for your home, where feel, color, smell, or comfort is important, you better get your stuff off the couch and put it in a store ─ unless you already know the product. For example, if you like a friend’s toaster and want to order the same online, go for it. But if the item belongs to one of the following categories or if it is an item that you cannot return, think twice before buying it online.
1. Mattress. You really have to experience something as personal, big, and expensive as a mattress before buying it. It is an item to be purchased lying down. I bought my mattress after having had a particularly wonderful night’s sleep in a nice hotel. I picked up the leaves, took a photo of the label and went looking. Many mattress sellers, including this one, do not allow returns.
2. Pillows. Pillow preferences are also very personal. You can’t know what you like ─ soft, chewy, firm, dense ─ until you try several. And you can’t trust descriptions; soft and chewy from one vendor may be firm and dense from another. Here again, to feel is to believe.
3. Cutlery. Few products are closer to us than the utensils we hold and put in our mouths. Considering most people only buy cutlery once or twice in their lifetime, this is not a choice to be made on the fly. To choose the right cutlery, you have to handle it, feel its weight and its balance.
4. Major appliances. Before spending a lot of money on a major appliance, such as a refrigerator, washer, dryer or dishwasher, experience it in person. Open and close the door. Find out how the moving parts work and if the surface finish has fingerprints.
5. Upholstered furniture. When comfort is king, as it is with a sofa, don’t decide on a photo alone. When ordering my sectional, I sat on a sample of the sofa in a store. There I felt and sat on different types of filling. I ordered fabric swatches to test, and using tape, traced out how the sectional would lay on the floor. Then I ordered it online.
6. Area rugs. Because you have to consider size, pattern, material, color, quality, and how it blends in with everything else in the room, area rugs are the most popular home accessory. difficult that you can buy. If you get any of these factors wrong, the mat will fail. Take several back to a local store to try them out. If you see a rug online that you like, order the size of the doormat to see what the colors look like in your room and to judge the quality. A short mat is easier to return.
7. Flowers. When buying flowers for other people, call a florist who has a real store (not just a website) in the city where you are sending the flowers. Order directly from the store, so players in the middle don’t use up some of your change.
8. Painting. You can no more choose a paint color online than you can choose a perfect mate from a picture. You just don’t know how either will turn out until you bring them home. The paint colors are different on the monitors compared to the real thing. Also, the color will change in the light of your home. To choose paint correctly, bring samples home, then get a few paint samples and paint them on boards. Look at them at different times of the day on different walls, then buy the paint at a paint store.
9. Flooring. Likewise, seeing an online photo of a tile, wood or laminate floor in a staging is not the same as being able to stand on it, see its shine and feel its texture.
10. Scented candles or soaps. These items must pass the sniff test, which the last time I checked was not an option online. If you like a floral-scented soap or candle from a specific company, buy it online in bulk. But if you’re unfamiliar with the brand, you might be disappointed that what the company says smells like garden bouquet, smells like rotten grass to you.
Marni Jameson is the author of six books on home and lifestyle.