Online Product Reviewers: Assembly Warriors & Saints
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Since September, I have been renovating our house. Between the hotel stays, living out of a suitcase, and having newspapers for window shades (making for sketchy privacy) (sorry neighbors), I have also been trying to redecorate my house depending mainly on online shopping. Now with clothes, shoes, and makeup, I have had some real hit-or-misses regarding what I received in the mail. However, when it comes to things like furniture and lighting fixtures, the stakes get really high for a few key reasons. Reason one: it costs a fortune to ship, and often they do not take returns unless there is a notable defect. Reason two: often the furniture must be assembled, and after hours of investment in assembly (more on that later) you are not going to be motivated to take it apart, re-box it, and return it. Reason three is that furniture is far more expensive than say a lipstick or book.
I will say I have majorly messed up with online furniture ordering, so I do speak from some experience, and now, cluttering up our garage is a zillion pieces of waiting-to-be-assembled armoires (I dumbly purchased three of them). I had a vision—I really did. However, once we unpacked them and started to assemble them, I was horrified by how, well, ugly they were, and mind you, they were far from cheap. They were solid hardwood and were supposed to be the answer to both my need for elegance and storage. While I am not fully frugal, I do not like to eat money, and in this case, it was a large meal. I still feel guilty.
Enter the newest modern-day saint: the online product reviewer. For the past month, I have been spending hours and hours online trying to furnish and decorate our home. I often shop online because you can find cool, unique pieces of furniture, lamps, and rugs at the best prices possible. Additionally, if something is sold out on one site, I can often find the item elsewhere—sometimes in cool little mom and pop, brick and mortar furniture stores whose (no doubt) kids or grandkids had set up a website for their family store. I love these finds because you can talk to real people who care about their reputation as a furniture store. While those are great benefits to shopping online, the one set-back is indeed a giant setback, and that is that you cannot see the product, and I promise you online pictures can be deceptive. Here, however, is where the saints come in who take the time to give you the scoop on the product and some even (God bless you) send pictures of what the item looks like in a normal home and not some staged scene. And now I make a rule never to buy anything online that has not been reviewed yet. (Tip: sometimes a site will list the product as not having reviews. Google the product’s full name and manufacturer and almost all of the time you can find many other sites where it is sold, and you can read the reviews from a mix of places. Wayfair and Amazon seriously have the best reviewers on the planet. Target is not bad either, and there seems to be a kind of Target community as the reviewers on Target often communicate with each other and reference other people’s comments: BettyL1995 was 100% correct. They mislead you regarding the length of the curtain panels. 52 inches is the total length and not the length of each panel. I had to buy an extra panel. Plus, they are NOT blackout curtains like they claim. This fictionalized review was directly inspired by a real review at Target. The Target not-really-52 inches-not-really-blackout-curtains scandal was absorbing to read. And again, they all started to talk to each other and reference each other’s reviews. I ended up not getting the curtains.
Another great scandal I found in the review section was regarding a glass and chrome coffee table. It had an average that you should all look out for: an average of 4 stars which seems pretty good. However, it was a mix of 5-star reviews with a lot of 3, 2, and 1-star reviews. Look out for this type of rating spread. The 5-star reviews will always be placed first (except for Amazon which allows you to pick the lowest reviews). Those people gushed about the glass and chrome coffee table. They even included pictures, and honestly the coffee table was beautiful and did not look its lowish price. However, there was another group—the unlucky half. “The first one I received had one bent leg. I called, and they sent another table. That one had a bent leg too. Between the two coffee tables, I was able to build one good one.” “I was really excited to get this table, and I think it is going to be beautiful. The glass came shattered, so, I’m waiting for another table.” “On our table, none of the holes were drilled in the chrome legs to screw together. I hope we did it right. It seems stable.” I chose to not buy the chrome and glass table—it was beautiful, but I only like to gamble in casinos. A sectional sofa I seriously was about to get was halted by a very mysterious review. Right before I pulled the trigger and purchased the sectional, I decided to Google all of the reviews. So far, it was nearly all 5, 4, and 3 stars with the main complaint that it was hard (which I like). However, on a smaller site, I read this interesting and oddly scored (4 stars) (?) review: “The couch really is stunning. It was not difficult to put together. However, I’m still kind of shocked because it looks like some kind of funny playhouse miniature furniture. I’m sure I’ll get used to it.” Never, in any of the pictures was there a human sitting on the sofa. I relooked at the dimensions, and there I burst out laughing. I almost bought a sectional sofa with a 9 inch back. Not kidding. It listed the total height as 31 inches, which did not seem too unusual. However, the seat height was 22 inches. I luckily did not purchase the sectional for elves.
Other hilarious reviews that warded me away were the assembly woes. No matter how fancy the thing is that you order if it has to be shipped it will most likely need to be assembled. Paying to have it assembled at your house will not save you. We once went through three couches (missing legs, bent legs, punctured leather) until we could Frankenstein a single couch and we had paid for assembly. The assemblers are delivery men who get paid extra to assemble. They are not furniture makers. They will do everything you would do: open box, open instructions, and try to piece it together. If there are missing parts or holes to be drilled you will be helping them and contemplating with them what is the best way forward. The most common things that will go wrong almost 100% of the time are holes drilled wrong, missing assembly pieces like screws, and minor damage. However, reviews that signal me to move on are: no instructions and nobody they contacted knew how to find them, no holes drilled whatsoever, and wobbly. Wobbly scares me. Never buy furniture that reviewers continue to write: “I just hope it holds.”
Before I end, I would like to say again that people who take the time to review a product really are saints. I depend on your often insightful, funny, and accurate assessments all the time (and not just for home furnishings). People say that online shopping is isolating or not about community. I would honestly have to say the opposite is true. In fact, if you are having a hard time liking people, spend a little time reading reviews. I assure you it will remind you how funny and honest and hard-working people are, as clearly people all over the place are spending hours trying to assemble furniture.
“I can’t believe the bizarre depth of this chair. I’m six feet tall, and when sitting in it, my feet can’t touch the ground.” I did not buy that accent chair. Thanks, online reviewer.
Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.”
Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.