At this point in the pandemic, you're likely aware that furniture backorders are prevalent but this article shares 5 industry tips to combat these unexpected delays.
You can find numerous articles on the leading cause for furnishing delays -- but how can you practically navigate resolving these backorders? As an interior designer with a degree in supply chain management, I'm going to give you the tips I implement for my clients to make sure you're making the most of these long lead times.
Note the original ship date at the time of ordering
Customization is a beautiful concept when all the cogs in the wheel are operating smoothly. This trend has transcended numerous industries including cosmetics, supplements, interior design, and more. While consumers love products meeting their personal preferences, ever since the disruption of COVID-19, we are seeing exceptionally long lead times especially in the design community.
Despite growing ship times, the demand for home furnishings is expected to remain high for the next 6 to 12 months, according to Mark Schumacher, CEO of the Home Furnishings Association. 
While there is nothing the consumer can do to change the speed of product shipping, there are some proactive steps you can take to make the most of these delays.
The first step is verifying before a purchase that the retailer gives a time frame for when the item should arrive. In order to keep a good paper trail, keep a screenshot and the email stating the date. In the case that you experience an unforeseen backorder, it is best to have documentation that can be leveraged for your benefit.
Contact customer service directly
Once you get a backorder notification, the best way to get results is calling the vendor directly. I know that many people dislike talking on the phone but it's much easier to reason with a person instead of chatting with a robot.
The vendor's customer service phone number typically can be found at the bottom of their webpage.
When you get on the call, you want to speak to a representative about an existing order. Have your order number ready along with the original ship date so the call is as quick and painless as possible.
TIPS FOR RESOLVING BACKORDERS
Here is your opportunity to make the most of the delays you are suffering. Something important to keep in mind is to always approach customer service with respect because they are not the responsible party for the backorder. While they may not be able to magically speed up your delay, their job is to make the wait time less painful and to problem solve on your behalf.
1. | Ask for a Reimbursement of Shipping Costs
I like to use the following statement once the representative has found the order and confirmed the recent delay, "I understand that these backorders are out of control for everyone, but while I was comfortable with the initial wait time of X months, I really didn't expect that date to get pushed back further. What can be done since my item won't arrive for another XX week/month?"
It is always best to start with an open ended question because they may come up with a resolution you didn't think about.
After they have given their concession, I typically ask for a reimbursement on the shipping costs already paid. This is the most common resolution I have seen from various retailers since shipping is the cause for the delay. Depending on the size of the furnishing and the retailer, this could be upward of a $250 refund.
2. | Ask for a Product Discount
If the shipping costs are small or the retailer is unwilling to remove the cost, it's worth asking if they would discount the product. I have seen up to 10% of the product's retail price taken off the invoice.
The key phrase to repeat is, "you were willing to pay full price to have the product arrive on the initial specified date but with the recent delays this product is no longer what you originally agreed upon". I wouldn't ask for a specific discount but leave it open to what the representative offers. If it's only 5% off of a $2,000 sofa, I'd ask if they really think a $100 discount is really worth the hassle you're going through...
3. | Negotiate Multiple Deliveries
If your order is composed of multiple items and one delay is holding up the shipment, then ask if they can deliver in multiple trips free of charge.
There are also circumstances when a single item has multiple components that ship separately to the warehouse. For example if you have a sectional that has a chaise and a sofa that fit together, it may be worth having them ship the portion they already received so you have some seating in your home.
This method can also be utilized when you receive a damaged item and the replacement is delayed. In this case, if the damage is cosmetic then you can ask to keep the item until the replacement is received. Depending on the product, it may give you a place to sit or eat in the meantime.
4. | Get on the Delivery Schedule Early
It's not only important to ask about discounts when experiencing a backorder but also to be inquisitive about the retailer's delivery process.
Is your item coming through white glove delivery (where a team unboxes and assembles the product in your home)? This is a great service for large deliveries but may mean further wait times after the item arrives at the warehouse. This call is an opportunity to go ahead and get on that final in-home delivery schedule since you have a new expected delivery date.
5. | Change the Shipping Method
Another question is whether or not the vendor allows customer pick up from a store or a nearby warehouse. These options may not be available but it never hurts to get creative on avenues to receive your items in a quicker manner.
If you are able to pick up an item, make sure that the shipping costs are removed since you are now taking on that effort. For a warehouse pick up, some vendors require a scheduled time frame so make sure to lock in a date before ending the call.
Option to cancel the order
Even for customized orders, you should always have the power to cancel the order for a full refund if the ship window has been pushed back. Before taking this step have an action plan for how you will source a replacement item.
You might be able to find something secondhand or in stock at another retailer. Canceling may not make sense for your situation but it's a good reminder that you are not powerless.
At the end of the day, waiting months for a piece of furniture is undoubtedly frustrating but I would argue it's worth the wait for something you love. Furniture is more permanent than most other purchases, so keep in mind that this piece may be in your home for 10+ years.
Lastly, there is a time and a place for negative reviews but I highly encourage you to wait until the order has completely resolved -- whether the item has arrived or been cancelled. You don't want to jeopardize the customer service relationship before everything has settled. The main reason the retailer is willing to give discounts or flex their typical process is in hopes to give you a good experience -- so give them a chance to do just that!
The impact of globalization has many benefits but industry leaders are still learning the implications of extraneous circumstances on their supply chains. This season of long lead times will come to an end and hopefully retailers are able to further strengthen their operations from the learnings of the past couple years.
In the meantime, I hope you feel empowered to take action on those items you've been patiently waiting for and can make the most of these "unprecedented times".
If you don't want to deal with the hassle of backorders, schedule a call with Hope Miriam Designs so we can use our expertise and specialized channels to seamlessly resolve delays.