Buy a pair of shoes online and if they don't fit, stick them in a box and return them.
Now try doing that with a dining table.
Home decor e-tailers have had to find inventive ways to reassure customers who might be hesitant to buy large furniture pieces sight unseen.
And the easiest way to do that, they say, is to offer lavish return policies, allowing customers to live with furniture for as long as a year before deciding if they want to keep it.
"I myself am used to touching, feeling and sitting on things before I purchase," said Aamir Baig, founder of home decor site Bryght. "You can furnish your entire home from Bryght, and if you're not happy with any of it we will come and pick it all up."
According to industry research firm IbisWorld, online household furniture sales are on the rise in the U.S., valued at $10 billion in 2014 and predicted to rise to $14.2 billion by 2019. E-tailers say that as they offer more liberal return policies, sales are invariably rising.
"Take a hundred nights to sleep on our mattress," said David Wolfe, president of Leesa Sleep, an online purveyor of mattresses. "If you don't like it, we'll send someone to pick it up, no questions asked."
The trend is happening across the board, even with products that are customized, and those easy to soil, such as rugs. Some e-tailers won't charge a credit card until a customer says he is happy with the purchase.
Here's the lowdown on some vendors who make sending it back simple.
The deal: Wolfe started Leesa.com in December with the notion of taking the confusion and awkwardness out of mattress shopping.
"Unless you're going to go in in your pajamas, there's no way to really test out a mattress in a store," Wolfe said. "It's not very natural." On the site, there is only one type of mattress available, in six sizes, priced from $525 to $990. Wolfe designed the mattress using three layers of foam for bounce, pressure relief and support, and to appeal to almost all body types and shapes. It arrives at your front door in a box. If by the 100th night of use a customer is not happy, the mattress will be picked up for free and donated to a homeless shelter. Wolfe said that the return rate has been minimal.
The fine print: Shoppers in the lower 48 states get a full refund. Those in Hawaii or Alaska will be charged a $100 return fee.
The deal: Sofas, chairs, tables and accessories are all covered under a 30-day guarantee from Bryght. A shopper can buy dozens of large items to outfit an entire home and return them all if he or she has a change of heart. But Baig says the rate of returns has been under 5%. It helps that each product is photographed in detail and from multiple angles, so customers have a good idea of what they are getting. "We recognize the fact that you are buying sight unseen; it's important to process returns properly. It puts the onus on the brand to deliver a great product," said Baig.
The fine print: The company charges a flat $49 delivery fee for any number of items, and the same for picking up returns — so the maximum cost if a customer is unhappy is $98.
Rug & Relic
The deal: When Rug & Relic, a store in South Dakota selling one-of-a-kind, handmade Turkish carpets, kilims and home accessories, launched an e-commerce site, it began offering a risk-free at-home trial.
"I don't care how good the photography is, the piece will not be exactly the same as it appears on someone's computer screen," said company founder Tove Hoff Bormes. "Our answer to that was to provide an in-home approval process. People were completely baffled that we would do that."
Although a credit card number is given at the time of purchase, it's not charged until a customer is happy with the piece. "We give them 45 days to decide, although most of the time a decision is made in a matter of days," said Bormes. Rugs range in price from $500 to $10,000.
The fine print: The rugs come with a labeled box for returns. Customers pay the cost of return shipping and any charges for cleaning if a rug is soiled.
The deal: Online shoppers at Interior Define can customize sofas and sectionals with their choice of fabric and color and use the piece for up to a year before returning.
"We wanted to differentiate ourselves by offering a really liberal return policy," said Rob Royer, the company's founder. "A customer can in theory take 365 days with the sofa, and return it for whatever reason."
Royer said that despite the generous system, returns on the customized couches, which start around $1,000, have been very low: Customers are sent large swatches so they have clear expectations of what they will receive and are assigned a "concierge" to shepherd them through the process.
The fine print: Once the furniture arrives and is being unloaded, customers have the option to return it within 14 days and not be charged a penny. If it is kept longer, there is a 10% restocking fee, which might on rare occasions go up to 20% for an especially unusual piece.
Dot & Bo
The deal: Popular furniture e-tailer Dot & Bo, which has an extensive repertoire of furnishings that includes throws, pillows, chests and love seats, aims to make the return process "easy and seamless," said co-founder Anthony Soohoo. While the website says that returns need to be in their original packaging, the company knows that that's virtually impossible to achieve with large furniture that has to be tried out and felt. So if something doesn't work that arrives through the brand's in-home delivery service, the shipping company will come back, pack it all up and send it off.
The fine print: Returns need to be initiated within 30 days. Customers pay the return shipping cost, which is calculated at the time of purchase. (For orders over $500, it's 8%.) Some larger items do have an additional delivery charge that's noted on each product. There are no restocking fees, unless the item is vintage. And some items are marked as final sale.