I'm finally back after an extended bit of travel for a High School class reunion in New Jersey and a family Thanksgiving gathering in the Orlando area of Florida...In this post, I offer insights from an undercover shopper.
Educated in business school and groomed on the trading floor of a bank, Jennifer Litwin never planned to get into the furniture business. But after a few disastrous shopping trips for home furniture, Litwin took a furniture course at Sotheby's and changed her career. Known as the ''shop cop,'' Litwin, an author and a frequent national television guest, has great advice for shoppers during the holiday season. Litwin reviews furniture on behalf of Consumers Digest and has written a book called The Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever based on her undercover shopping research.
During a typical outing, Litwin has queried sales people about the difference between a $2,000 and $5,000 piece of furniture. She found that the sales staff at some of the top home-store chains provided answers that were either wrong or misleading. She was also troubled by deceptive product labels. In 2002, the U.S. government eased standards on how furniture could be labeled and manufactured. The United States also is importing more furniture from China and other foreign sources that operate with different production standards. As a result, Litwin has found products made from cheaper woods or particle board, but sporting labels of expensive woods such as cherry or oak.
Before you write the check or hand over your credit card, it's important to understand each store's written warranty and return policy. For example, Apple and Circuit City stores have a 14-day return policy for some merchandise. Pier One has set a Jan. 31 deadline for merchandise purchased after Oct. 29.
Crate and Barrel and Target have a 90-day cash back policy but will grant store credit after the initial period. There is no return deadline at Nordstrom and Costco.
Some stores charge re-stocking fees as high as 15 percent to 20 percent of the original purchase. Rooms to Go, for example, charges a 20 percent re-stocking fee, Litwin said. Re-stocking fees typically apply to furniture, bedding and electronic equipment. Stores have also become increasingly reluctant to accept bedding and jewelry as gift return items, Litwin said.
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