It can be hard understanding who you are buying your outdoor patio furniture from. When we were selling patio furniture, customers frequently thought we were the manufacturer but we only carried products from other companies. Many assumed we had back stock but we didnt order product from the manufacturer until the customer ordered it from us. Finally, some people thought we did the shipping but the manufacturer shipped directly to the customer for us an arrangement called drop-shipping. Drop-shipping is a very common practice, and many of the patio furniture websites you find are based on this business model. So, how do you do you know what kind of website you are buying from? And which is the best for you, the customer?
Many patio furniture manufacturers sell their furniture direct, and many do not. You can usually tell whether you are purchasing directly from the manufacturer because they say so. Often their prices are lower than other websites because they can afford it, but many will not undersell because they know it isnt fair to their retailers. Some do not even sell to the general public, as an incentive to recruit more retailers.
The advantage of buying from the manufacturer is that it cuts out the middle man, and for many that is enough. After all, the middle-man might not provide very good service, which will force you to deal with the manufacturer anyway. Buying the from manufacturer can save you a lot of frustration.
The disadvantage of buying from the manufacturer is that you have no additional buffer against problems. Should a mishap occur with your order, and you are not pleased with the manufacturers response, thats it. With a middle man, you have two potential levels of relief to tap. Having been the middle man, I can tell you that we provided our customers many partial refunds where we disagreed with the manufacturers resolution. Admittedly, not all middle-men will do that for you.
Internet Retailer Website
These are websites that sell only on the internet, and carry no backstock the middle-man referred to above. These account for many patio furniture websites, of which ours was one. Many operate out of a home (as ours did) and others have a set of offices with employees. It can be impossible to distinguish without asking.
An Internet Retailer operates by taking your order on their website, and then placing an equivalent order with their supplier (usually the manufacturer). The manufacturer tends the shipping (an arrangement called drop-shipping), and usually forward tracking information back to the Retailer, who may or may not relay it to you. Most patio furniture websites should do this (we did), though some do not. If you do not receive a tracking number, you should ask for it, along with a website link and/or phone number to the shipping company. At this point, the internet retailer is usually out of the picture.
The advantage of purchasing form an internet retailer is two-fold. First of all, they are a smaller operation, meaning they rely on each and every order completing successfully. It is in their best interest to make sure you are happy, regardless of what happens our business even provided refunds knowing the manufacturer wouldnt reimburse us. However, some internet retailers post policies that all problems are deferred to the manufacturer. In other words, theyve got your money, so dont bother them. We disagree with that philosophy and would recommend finding another retailer should read this in their policies.
The other advantage is that internet retailers have more clout with the manufacturer than you do. If the manufacturer messes up an order, losing you as a customer isnt a big deal to them. However, when a retailer threatens to pull business, thats a big deal. In fact, we almost did that once, because too many of our customers items were arriving damaged due to poor packaging. In this case, we gave the manufacturer a second chance and they really cleaned up their act.
The disadvantage of purchasing from an internet retailer is that they do not provide you enough information to contact the manufacturer. The reason is to keep the manufacturer from marketing directly to you. Of course, an Internet Retailer who really cares will deal with the manufacturer for you, and this will not be a problem (we never received any complaints about this policy). However, an Internet Retailer who just wants to make money will not only hide who the manufacturer is, they will not go to bat for you when a problem arises. You can spot them either by policies referring all problems to the manufacturer, or by websites with products but no useful information.
Brick and Mortar Website
Many brick-and-mortar stores have their own websites and ship from their own warehouse. They have even more manufacturer leverage than the Internet Retailer, yet handle all the shipping to you, like the manufacturer would. If you find a good one, they provide the best of both worlds.
The disadvantage of buying from a brick-and-mortar warehouse comes when internet sales are only a small percentage of their business. You can usually tell because their websites have poor navigability, broken links, and dont show up very high for various patio furniture search terms. As a result, tracking down problem orders ends up being done by employees with many other responsibilities, as opposed to a business whose survival depends on getting those problem orders right.
Affiliate websites do not sell anything, but they may look like they do. There is nothing wrong with them, but you may not realize who you are buying from until you click on an item and find yourself on a completely different website usually one of the three kinds mentioned above.
Most orders go beautifully, and so price is usually the motivating factor in deciding which website to purchase from. However, orders do occasionally go wrong, and the nature of the business selling to you determines the road to resolution. The best advice you can follow is not to choose one kind of business over another, but simply to understand who you are buying from. If you want more personal service, find an Internet Retailer who will deal with problems when they arise; if their policies refer problems to the manufacturer, then move on. If you dont like dealing with a middle-man, purchase from the manufacturer (if you can). Brick-and-mortar stores selling on the internet are a good middle ground; if their websites are in poor shape though, move on.
The bottom line is to be informed.