‘We wanted to turn our new house into a home, but with delays, that wasn’t possible’: what you can do to avoid furniture delays

·7-min read
For LLI Design, who work on interior, architecture, lighting, landscape and furniture design,  furniture delays are part of the parcel of their work.  (LLI Design)
For LLI Design, who work on interior, architecture, lighting, landscape and furniture design, furniture delays are part of the parcel of their work. (LLI Design)

Before moving into their new home in Oxfordshire in May 2021, Mark Hawley and his partner Tassilo Tochatschek ordered a raft of new furniture for when they arrived: sofas, beds, a kitchen table – everything, except the two desks and office chairs they brought with them.

By July, however, they were still without lamps, bedside tables, drawers, a kitchen table and two sofas, despite ordering both the table and sofas in March.

It required some adjustment: without sofas, they’d watch TV on two wooden barstools at their kitchen island. When they hosted a reunion with university friends, they set up four plastic camping tables and covered them with a tablecloth. It wasn’t exactly the move in that they’d hoped for.

Thankfully, the sofas arrived that month – seven weeks after the stated timeframe – while a problem with the wood stalled the table until September – more than five months after it had been ordered. In both cases, they were told that supply chain disruption was in part to blame.

“When you move into a new house, you’re very keen to make it a home as quickly as possible. With the delays, that wasn’t possible until the furniture started to arrive,” says Hawley.

“It wasn’t ideal, but there was nothing you could really do about it. I think that’s the nature of delays – you are essentially powerless. You can call, email and sit on hold, but essentially, there’s nothing you can do.”

The couple’s 12 dining chairs had arrived - but not their table (Mark Hawley)
The couple’s 12 dining chairs had arrived - but not their table (Mark Hawley)

Hawley and Tochatschek were by no means alone in this situation. Marred by supply chain challenges in the form of shipping and port delays, Covid-related absences, raw material shortages and reduced HGV trunking reliability, furniture retailers struggled to keep up with soaring demand during the pandemic.

DFS, the UK’s largest sofa chain reported that supply chain disruption affected their revenues in 2021, and that their customer satisfaction score had plummeted. This year, they say that disruption is still limiting their progress.

Likewise, online furniture retailer Made.com reported a £31.4 million loss in 2021, with supply chain disruption pushing up the cost of freight and stretching shipping times globally.

Things may have improved since last year, but customers are still facing long lead times for furniture. Made.com, for example, says that the average wait time was 3-4 weeks in June, and say that they have “worked incredibly hard to protect our customers from the well-known, ongoing supply chain challenges”.

So can you avoid furniture delays? Sam Levene, director of award-winning luxury design company LLI Design, offers his tips on how to minimise your wait .

Understand the process – and manage your expectations

LLI Design, who “procure thousands of pieces of furniture” from a range of suppliers – high street; online-only; bespoke; high-end – are, as Levene puts it, “well versed” in minimising delays.

“There is always the opportunity for delays,” says Levene. “It’s the nature of having something come from afar.”

Furniture transportation will always take time, even taking the pandemic out of the equation. Making furniture is a skilled, labour-intensive job, and manufacturing is regularly outsourced to areas where labour is cheaper.

Made.com reported a £31.4 million loss in 2021 (Made.com)
Made.com reported a £31.4 million loss in 2021 (Made.com)

It will often be shipped to the UK by sea, the cheapest transportation method for large items over a distance, hence why items are often given an eight-to-12-week lead time.

Likewise, the cost of storing large, bulky furniture means that, rather than letting it sit in stock permanently, suppliers often store items for a limited time, attempting to get them sold and dispatched as quickly as possible.

During the pandemic, though, things got “jaw-droppingly bad”, says Levene, with estimated timeframes disappearing altogether and some ordered items simply not turning up.

With that in mind, Levene says that customers should never expect furniture to arrive instantly. “I think people presume that they’re shopping online with Amazon, and that it will come the next day. It’s just not the same.”

Speak to the supplier

“If you are concerned about lead time, try to speak to the supplier upfront,” says Levene. “You should be able to get an inkling on whether it is likely to be delivered in time.”

Firstly, ask the supplier whether the item you’re planning to order is actually in stock. If so, where is it currently stored?

“If you order it and it’s in stock, in storage in the UK, they’ll want to get it out to you as soon as possible,” says Levene. On the other hand, if the item is overseas, you can expect it to take longer to arrive. Find out whether it’s been dispatched – and whether the item even exists yet.

It’s also a good idea to gain an understanding of how the suppliers’ dispatch system works. Some will do batch runs, explains Levene, meaning that they’ll only ship items overseas from the warehouse once they have reached a certain quota.

A property designed by LLI in Belsize Park (LLI Design)
A property designed by LLI in Belsize Park (LLI Design)

The same goes for bespoke furniture which, as you might expect, will take longer to arrive than mass-produced items. Ask where the piece is being made and what the lead times for both manufacture and delivery are like.

“These are the kind of things you can try and do upfront to get an understanding about how long things might reasonably take, and what the potential pitfalls and opportunities for delay there are,” says Levene.

Understand which items might take longer

“Usually, something from a high street supplier or a prominent online supplier will come faster than a bespoke or made-to-order item,” Levene explains.

The size of the item and the ease of transport will also make a difference. Larger furniture can be more prone to delays. A sofa, for example, is less likely to be kept in stock because of the costs of storing something of its size, whereas a rug, which rolls up smaller, may arrive quicker.

Visit suppliers with a physical store

If you’re buying furniture from a supplier like John Lewis, which operates from physical shops as well as online, you might have better luck.

Sometimes, says Levene, sites might give a longer estimate for furniture deliveries online because they’re showing the stock availability in their warehouse, not what is on show in their stores. If you can find the item in stock in store, you’ll be able to collect it much faster.

Many large furniture suppliers have larger outlet stores. Andrew Martin, for example, has an outlet in Wimbledon, John Lewis has one in Swindon and Heals recently opened an outlet on Kings Road.

Alternatively, consider buying second-hand – here’s our guide for how to get furniture for free.

When to cancel your order

If a supplier radically exceeds their stated timeframe for delivery – if your item has not arrived in 12 weeks and you were quoted eight, for example – you might want to explore your options to cancel the order. You’ll need to look at the company’s cancellation policy and work out whether you have grounds to do so.

This is not always an easy process, though – and may not be worth it if the item is only slightly delayed. “If it’s being dispatched from overseas and it’s on route, I think you’d probably find it quite hard [to cancel],” says Levene.

If you’re able to pay with a credit card, this can help with cancellations.

Suppliers will want to avoid cancellations and may allow you to swap your chosen item for one which is in stock instead.

Levene adds: “It’s a relatively uphill battle…If you want to spend a few hours on it, you could probably get it cancelled. If you’re busy or value your time more, it may just be that you should stick it out.”

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