Ask Karla: How Can I Avoid Buyer’s Remorse?

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As the recessions lingers, so may a rash of buyer’s remorse.

Research suggests that shoppers have been returning more purchases since 2008, according to Deborah Mitchell, executive director for the Center of Brand and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin. As she told SmartMoney magazine last month, “After the purchase is made, they’re still thinking, ‘Should I have bought that?'”

For reader Carla in South Carolina, it was furniture she now knows she shouldn’t have bought. Two of three pieces essentially fell apart after a few months, and Rooms To Go refused to refund her money till she complained to the Better Business Bureau…

Therefore, do you have any valuable advice for us on our next purchase, what to look for, how to save money on quality furniture, where to go, what to expect, what to say etc…when making the purchase?

Thank you for your time in this matter.

Carla

Whether it’s furniture for $2,000 or electronics for $200, here’s how I avoid regretting big-ticket purchases…

1. Check the fine print

Find return policies and look for restocking fees on store websites before shopping. As SmartMoney reported, stores like Walmart have 90-day return policies. But over at Rooms To Go, the policy is only 48 hours. And if you return certain types of purchases to Best Buy, for example, the restocking fee will cost you 25 percent of the price tag.

2. Ask around

Interrogate friends, relatives, coworkers. Whatever you’re buying, ask about their purchases. Was it worth the price? Would they recommend it? That’s how I learned about Money Talks writer Michael Koretzky’s mixed experience with RTG:

My wife and I bought our first furniture set together shortly after our engagement. Rooms To Go had the best prices – mostly because it also has the cheapest materials and shoddiest build quality. Funny thing about cheap furniture – it’s also the lightest and most portable. Since we knew we’d be looking for a house, we decided it was quite fine.

We bought a couch that immediately started to separate on one side. We also bought a bed. It’s light and has never broken.

The moral of his story? Your best buy depends on how you balance your wants and needs against your budget.

3. Consult the experts

Better Business Bureau: The BBB has been accused of partiality because it receives dues from its member companies, but if you take their ratings with a grain of salt, BBB reviews can be helpful.

To find a company’s review, search the BBB’s site. Here’s Rooms To Go’s review. Note two things: their rating (A+) and the number of closed complaints they’ve had in the past three years (1,573). For comparison, here’s Ashley Furniture. They have an A+ and 177 closed complaints in the same period.

That’s an 89-percent difference, but there are various factors that could explain it (perhaps RTG does 89 percent more business than Ashley, for example). So don’t draw a conclusion based on a BBB review alone: Instead, consider it within the context of the rest of your research about a company.

Independent experts: I check Consumer Reports before buying any type of product they’ve tested. I have an online subscription and recommend it. If you can’t afford the $26/year cost, check for free content. For example, part of their Sofas: How to uncover value guide is free.

CR isn’t the only expert out there, though. If you’re shopping computers, for example, try PC Magazine or Macworld.

Reviews: Whether they’re from experts or John Doe, online reviews can offer invaluable firsthand insight. Just remember that a magazine article holds more weight than UserJohnDoe’s Amazon.com review – which could be fake.

4. Google

Deciding between models? Google [item specifics (i.e., brand/name/model/etc.)] + [“complaints”]. If one model turns up a lot more bad news than the rest, be wary.

Unsure where to shop? Google a store name. When I Googled “Rooms To Go,” the first page of results read:

  1. RoomsToGo.com
  2. RoomsToGoKids.com
  3. RoomsToGoCareers.com
  4. Rooms-To-Go.PissedConsumer.com
  5. ConsumerAffairs.com
  6. Wikipedia.org/wiki/Rooms_To_Go
  7. Yelp.com/biz/Rooms-To-Go-Atlanta-2
  8. Facebook.com/RoomsToGo
  9. LinkedIn.com/company/RoomsToGo
  10. RoadToGreatCareers.com

I expected most of those sites, but No. 4 and 5 concerned me. So then I Googled higher-end furniture stores for comparison. “Ashley Furniture” returned one concern on the first page (Ashley-Furniture.PissedConsumer.com at No. 5), and “Thomasville furniture” and “Ethan Allen furniture” returned none.

Of course, this isn’t scientific. Like BBB reviews, this information should be taken with a grain of salt and considered only in the context of the rest of your research.

The result

It took me about 10 minutes to conclude that Rooms To Go appears better reserved for shoppers who want lightweight furniture, need cheap furniture, or don’t expect high quality for low prices. And if you apply these tips to your big-ticket purchases, you’ll be informed before spending and hopefully remorseless after.

Karla Bowsher runs the Deals page; posts deals every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; and shares consumer wisdom every Thursday. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or email her at karla@moneytalksnews.com.

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