Five years ago the idea of making a big purchase like a sofa online seemed ludicrous to many, nowadays with all of the stellar options on the internet, it’s much more common-place. Yes, it would be nice to experience all of the intangible information you can get from just sitting on a sofa IRL. However, requiring that kind of experience before purchasing can create limitations on our options. We know that many of you, like us have or currently are contemplating buying a sofa online, so we asked Rob Royer, CEO of Interior Define to answer our burning questions. Let’s hope it makes the leap from bookmarking a few options to purchasing a sofa, a lot easier!

Let’s go straight to the core of it all…What is the best reason to buy a sofa online versus at a store?
Vertically-integrated (where the company owns its own supply chain), online brands are often able to sell an equivalent (or higher) quality product at a better price by not investing heavily in traditional, large format retail spaces. In our case, the process also enables a significant amount of customization. However, it is important to do your own research as there are vast differences in the quality and price point between online brands.
Good to know! But with all of it being digital, how can we tell what is good quality what isn’t?
As online experiences become more immersive (for example 3D visualization, detailed images, and video) it becomes easier to gain confidence in a brand’s quality. That said, read the product descriptions thoroughly as well as any content on the brand’s construction process.It’s also always a good idea to reach out to the company via phone and / or email. The more familiar representatives are with the construction details, the more faith you can have in the company’s control of the production process and care for the details. Speaking with a representative will also give you insight into the brand’s level of customer service.Product reviews (both on a brand’s site and off, e.g. Houzz reviews), are also a great way to gauge real customer experiences.Finally, what are the brand’s return policies? If they enable you the opportunity to receive your sofa and return for any reason, it indicates the brand’s confidence in their quality and likely points to a higher-quality offering.

That’s such a great tip: a good return policy often means a brand’s confidence in their own product. How about the actual construction…Are there certain characteristics that some sofas have that are universal signs of quality?
Solid, kiln-dried wood frames are the standard for a well-built sofa. Also look for frames that are joined with corner blocks, attached by both staples and glue. These details will help ensure a sturdy, long-lasting frame. The other most important, and apparent, details are the quality of the cushions and the quality of fabric used on the fame. Look for high-resilience foam core cushions, topped with either down or down-alternative. More modern, clean-lined cushions may be constructed primarily of foam, to maintain their shape.

Cushion fill is really important, it’s what makes a sofa comfortable or not. Of the many options, which one will be long lasting?
High-resilience, foam core cushions should last for years. However, any cushions (whether foam or a mix of foam and down or fiber) require regular maintenance. Fluffing and rotating cushions regularly will considerably extend the life of your sofa’s cushions. Down-topped cushions are generally considered higher-end, but require more maintenance than foam-only options.

Fabric is another important factor when selecting a sofa. How can we tell what the fabric will look like?

It is always a good idea to order fabric or leather samples (swatches) before selecting your material. Being able to feel the fabric is an important step to understanding if it represents the texture and feel you’re seeking, which can be very subjective. Receiving samples is also a great way to assess color, which can vary on your computer’s screen. For durability and longevity, it is always a good idea to consider a synthetic or a synthetic blend material. Leather is a great option for longevity as well. Natural materials, e.g.100% cotton or linen, will stain more easily if not pre-treated and will generally require more maintenance over time.

We’ve been told over and over again to avoid synthetic materials in our sheets and clothes, so it isn’t the same with upholstery?
It is in many ways the opposite rule of thumb for upholstery. Synthetic materials will outlast almost any natural material, aside from the highest-end materials like mohair. With newer technology, synthetic blends can mimic the softness of natural materials but hold up considerably better over time.

Ok, even with this knowledge in mind, are there any other steps we can take to try to avoid making a mistake with buying a sofa online?
Always pay close attention to the dimensions of the sofa you are interested in purchasing. Beyond the footprint it will take up in your space, make sure the height will not break any sight lines that are unique or valuable to you. For instance, measure the full back height (to the top of the back cushions) to ensure the sofa doesn’t block a view or look out of scale with other furniture. Additionally, measure your common space if you live in an apartment or condo building. People often forget to measure hallways and elevators. Many brands include a measurement guide on their website.

That is very true, dimensions are everything. Let’s talk about your company specifically — is there anything else at Interior Define that makes buying a sofa online a good choice?
We believe the entire shopping experience should be a signal of what’s to come — the comfort you will experience on your sofa. That is why we offer complimentary fabric swatches, free white-glove delivery with every order, and a 365-day return policy. One of our product experts will walk you through the entire process to make sure you receive the perfect, customized sofa. In addition to our online experience, we now have I/D physical guideshops in both Chicago and New York, which help bring our customization experience to life.