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How To Sell Furniture Online In 2023

how-to-sell-furniture-online-in-2023

It’s 1960. A couple walks into their local furniture store and buys a complete living room set, right off the showroom floor. Twenty-five years later, their children inherit that same set for their first home. For many years, these were the only two options: shop at a physical store or get a hand-me-down. 

Today, technology has helped replicate the in-person experience online, paving the way for even more furniture businesses—and more choice.

Consumers can just as easily find an affordable and ubiquitous IKEA LACK table or a one-of-a-kind vintage dining chair without leaving their own living rooms. And there’s still room in the market for those looking to sell furniture online, directly to consumers, without the showroom. 

Ahead, hear from experts in the furniture industry to learn how to sell furniture online—everything from sourcing to managing inventory to marketing your business. Transform your idea into reality with this step-by-step guide to building your own online furniture store. 

How to sell furniture online: 5 steps to getting started

A minimal and modern living room with a bold blue shelving unit
Pexels

There’s plenty of competition in the furniture market, especially if you factor in the giant share of affordable global chains. That’s why it’s important to differentiate your products, find your unique selling proposition, and build a memorable brand

Let’s walk through the first steps to launching your furniture brand and selling online:

  1. Choose your business model: design, build, manufacture, or resell
  2. Finance your furniture business
  3. Build your online furniture brand
  4. Source furniture (for designers and resellers)
  5. Set up shop (for furniture makers)

1. Choose your business model: design, build, manufacture, or resell

A bold blue living room with modern and mcm furniture and decor
Pexels

There are multiple ways to get into the home goods market and sell furniture online. The avenue you choose will depend on a number of factors, like your skill level, startup budget, and storage availability. Let’s review the different business models.

Furniture maker

This type of business involves designing and building furniture by hand in your own workshop. You may choose to build and sell a limited number of styles by keeping inventory on hand or adopting a made-to-order model. Or you may offer a custom service that allows your customers to request specific dimensions and features. A furniture maker business requires that you have technical skills, specialized tools, and a dedicated workshop space.

Furniture designer (working with a manufacturer)

Rather than actually building the furniture on your own, you can choose to design it and work with a builder or manufacturer to create the products for you. You may require some specialized drafting skills and an understanding of materials and construction so you can communicate effectively with factories.

Curator and reseller

In this model, you would sell a number of items from different brands or makers, curating collections that are unique to your brand. While you aren’t designing and making the items on your own, there is a need for creativity in building a cohesive brand and using storytelling, photography, and customer experience to sell products. In this case, you would purchase items wholesale from other brands and ship them directly to customers.

A gold tufted velvet couch in a modern living room setting
GOODEE

Dropshipper

This method is the same as the one above, but is a hands-off option if you aren’t able to store or ship the items yourself. Look to work with makers and brands that are willing to ship directly to your customers, cutting yourself out of the supply chain.

Vintage reseller

This is another curator/reseller model that focuses on one-of-a-kind vintage or antique pieces. We’ve listed this as a separate category because the sourcing methods are quite different. You’ll need a knowledge of the vintage market to identify what pieces have resale value and what’s in demand. It’s also helpful to have skills in furniture repair and refinishing to be able to restore vintage finds. Generally, vintage and antique furniture dealers will require a significant amount of space for inventory, unless you opt for a consignment model.

2. Finance your furniture business 

How much does it cost to start a business selling furniture online? Well, that answer depends on what business model you choose. 

⬇️ On the low end, it’s possible to get started with a few hundred dollars if you plan to dropship, as there is no need to hold inventory. A custom/made-to-order furniture business can also have low startup costs—that’s if you already have a hobby workshop. This model will allow you to buy materials as you go, so there’s no need to invest much up front.

⬆️ On the higher end, if you don’t already own the necessary tools and equipment to start a maker business, expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars to set up a workshop. Also consider the cost of space rental (if applicable), utilities, and safety equipment (like proper ventilation). Resale businesses can also be costly to start, as you will be required to buy and hold inventory.

Founder spotlight: Chris Hughes, Founder, Timberware

Owner of Timberware stands beside a large wall sign for his business
Paul Trepanier Photography/Timberware

“I’ve worked with my hands for as long as I can remember,” says Chris. Chris worked as a welder’s apprentice and a general contractor before launching Timberware, his second business. Building homes developed in him a love for woodworking. His own business allows him to focus on that craft, making custom wood furniture and home décor pieces for his clients. 

“My best advice would be to start with what you can afford and slowly grow your tool arsenal,” says Chris.He started his business with savings and bootstrapped, upgrading as he grew by reinvesting profits back into his workshop. “Be patient and don’t overextend yourself.”

It’s possible to start a furniture business from home if you have a suitable space (basement or climate-controlled garage) for storage, but forecast out what the costs might be to scale to a dedicated space or work with a warehouse partner.

💡Tip: Many vintage resellers get their start by finding and reselling used furniture through marketplaces like eBay and Chairish, or even local buy-and-sell sites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. This is a great way to try your hand at selling furniture online as a lucrative side hustle before you expand to a full-time small business.

📚 Learn more about funding your furniture business: 

3. Build your online furniture brand

Person types on a laptop while a yellow book sits on the desk beside them
Richmond Lam/GOODEE

It’s important that you define your brand at this early stage. Answering a few questions will help you tell your brand story, carve out your visual aesthetic, capture your mission, and more clearly envision your ideal customer. 

Now that you’ve decided whether you will make or resell furniture, pick a lane for your furniture business. Will you only sell sofas and go deep on one product? Are you interested in jumping on a hot trend? Do you plan to focus on well-built minimalist pieces for small spaces? What about tapping into the growing number of people working at home and selling unique office furniture?

Consider the following when picking a business model or angle (with examples):

  • Category/use: office furniture, outdoor living, home accents
  • Product: sofa beds, dining tables, nursery items
  • Style: midcentury modern, minimal, rustic
  • Customer: students, apartment dwellers, cottage owners
  • Niche: “smart” furniture, modular pieces, furniture made from recycled materials
  • Cause: fair trade, handmade locally, sustainable
  • Price: low retail/high volume, high end/bespoke

When Chris launched Timberware, the possibilities in woodworking were infinite. “We hadn’t found our niche yet, so we just built a bit of everything,” he says. Chris found that trade shows really helped him hone his offering. Trucking heavy furniture back and forth from these shows wasn’t easy, but the exercise helped him understand the market and find his focus.

Founder spotlight: Byron and Dexter Peart, Co-founders, GOODEE

The two twin founders of GOODEE pose in front of a yellow wall
GOODEE

When fashion industry veterans and brothers Byron and Dexter Peart were considering their next venture, they reflected on their upbringing in a house filled with pieces from their parents’ home country. What they remember is that each item told a story. Their brand, GOODEE, is a furniture and home décor business aiming to elevate the stories of the makers behind each product they sell. 

For GOODEE, establishing brand values was something that evolved out of founders Byron and Dexter Peart’s previous business, fashion brand WANT Les Essentiels. “It was really about this balance between things that mattered and what people really wanted,” says Byron. 

Through experience, the brothers found that people felt torn between two choices: luxury or sustainability. “We wanted to build GOODEE as a response to that,” says Byron. Their brand takes a clear stance: the two are not mutually exclusive. Dexter and Byron leveraged their business and design experience to curate a collection that delivers on their solid brand values.

Once you’ve conducted market research and honed in on a niche, put it to paper. Make a clear statement about what you have to offer, then layer on your mission, values, and brand story. Now that you have clear brand guidelines, you will continue to reference them as you design your site and curate your collection. As you scale and even hire staff, these guidelines will help keep your messaging consistent, too.

4. Source furniture (for designers and resellers)

A caramel leather couch sits in an empty room
Pexels

How you source suppliers or manufacturers depends on which business model you will use to sell furniture online. 

Designers

For furniture designers who do not plan to make the furniture themselves, look for a trusted manufacturer. “The closer you are to your production and your supply chain, especially in the beginning,” says Dexter, “the easier it will be to build and forge partnerships with whoever’s making your products.” When you’re getting started and you don’t have familiarity with manufacturing, it’s recommended that you find a manufacturer that will allow you a lot of oversight and who will work with you as a partner in your business. 

Interior design colour swatches are arranged on a table
Pexels

Resellers

If you’re looking to resell products by others, you can hit the pavement and approach makers and brands to ask about wholesale pricing and terms. There are also wholesale marketplaces that allow resellers to browse vendors who are actively looking for retail partners. 

Vintage sellers

Vintage sellers source furniture in a number of ways. Due to the nature of the business, you’ll need to be consistently on the hunt to ensure you have inventory. Here are a number of sources to get you started:

  • Auctions. Sign up to receive notifications for auctions in your area. Some of these take place in person, but there are several online auction sites like eBay and MaxSold that allow you to browse and bid on your own time from home.
  • Estate sales. These can be a goldmine for a lot of vintage items in one place. Stay on top of upcoming sales by getting on the email list of local estate sale management companies. 
  • Online marketplaces and classifieds. Sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace might turn up some treasures, as well as listings for yard sales, moving sales, or estate sales. 
  • Flea or outdoor markets. Showing up early means first dibs, but you’ll get the best deals at the end of the day and the end of flea market season, when dealers are looking to unload stock.
  • Collectors. Private collectors may be interested in working with you to unload some of their stock. These are people you may meet as you start building contacts in the vintage community. 

Dropshippers

Furniture dropshippers can browse a number of dropshipping suppliers and directories, like AliExpress. It’s also possible to set up dropshipping terms on an individual basis with select furniture brands. GFURN has a dedicated page highlighting its dropshipping program.

5. Set up shop (for furniture makers)

The founder of Timberware works in his wood workshop
Paul Trepanier Photography/Timberware

For furniture makers, getting started can be costly if you don’t already own tools or have a dedicated workshop. Like Chris, you can start with the basics and expand your toolbox as your business grows.

Chris’s advice for setting up your own furniture workshop:

  1. Keep your workshop tidy. “A clean and organized shop is a safe and productive shop.”
  2. Consider workflow. “What tools do you need to have in order to accomplish what you want to do? What order will they be used in? This will help you figure out the layout for each main piece of machinery. From there, you just find the best place for the smaller stuff.”
  3. The table saw is the heart of your workshop. “Make sure you have enough space around it to make the cuts you need.”
  4. Manage dust. “Where should your ducts be run for maximum efficiency?”
  5. Light it up. “For lighting, go bigger than you think you need. You can never have too much light in the shop! I recommend going with LEDs everywhere.”
Timberware's founder operates machinery in his wood shop
Paul Trepanier Photography/Timberware

Furniture inventory and storage

If you’ve decided to make or resell furniture and are not dropshipping or making to order, be sure to consider your space needs. As we mentioned in the financing section, this could account for a considerable chunk of your startup costs. 

In the earliest stages, warehousing is in your garage. It’s in your bedroom. That’s the natural way for a business to start.

Byron Peart, co-founder, GOODEE

“In the earliest stages, warehousing is in your garage. It’s in your bedroom,” says Byron. “That’s the natural way for a business to start.” He says it’s important for new business owners to be close to the full supply chain in the beginning. Only after managing this aspect yourself can you understand what you’re looking for in a warehouse partner. One who, as Byron says, “will share your values with the same rigor and discipline as you would yourself.”

Stacks of identical green patio chairs
Pexels

When deciding how and where to warehouse or store your products, consider the condition of the space. Many materials like wood and natural fabrics are susceptible to extreme temperatures, pests, and fluctuations in humidity. If you live in Canada, for example, your home’s unheated garage might not be the best long-term solution for inventory storage

Warehousing and storage solutions for furniture:

  • Dedicating a room inside your home for this purpose
  • Renting a climate-controlled storage space (best for overflow inventory that you don’t need to access regularly)
  • Working with a warehouse partner who also handles shipping and order fulfillment 
  • Renting/buying your own dedicated office/warehouse space

Photography for furniture and home décor products

A DIY home photography studio
Burst

As with clothing, furniture is very personal. Without a fitting room or showroom, it’s up to online businesses to replicate as much of the in-person buying process as possible. Scale and size, texture, and detail are all important aspects to capture when photographing furniture and home accents. 

Photography is key for a curated brand like GOODEE. “There’s something very democratic about us curating and finding these beautiful objects,” says Dexter. “And then showcasing them in the same way.” Photography, owned by GOODEE, creates consistency across the brand’s website.

A minimal home office design
In this lifestyle photo, GOODEE stages a desk with home accents to offer design inspiration and demonstrate scale. GOODEE

When you’re starting out, you can shoot your own photos using a DSLR and simple lighting kit, or work with a professional photographer.

Tips for DIY furniture photography:

  • Scale is incredibly important. Aside from providing detailed measurements in the description, be sure to capture the piece within a space, next to other familiar and commonly sized decor items. 
  • Zoom in. Detailed closeups will help your customers “feel” the product without touching it. Try to capture texture in fabric and the detail of wood grain.
  • Go 3D. Shopify now allows all store owners to upload 3D models or video of products, enabling your customers to view your furniture from every angle. 
  • Tell a story. Beyond the product description, your visuals should also tell a story: who is this for? How should it be styled? What are some other products that complement it? Do this by including lifestyle photos along with those against a plain background. Stage it in a room and provide style ideas that inspire customers to envision it in their own space.

In the following photos of a dining chair by GOODEE, the first image is staged in a living space to offer suggestions for how it might be styled. In the second, the close crop allows customers to see the chair’s detail.

A living room styled with a mix of modern and classic finishes
GOODEE
Zoomed in product photo of a recycled plastic chair
GOODEE

For vintage furniture resellers, shooting product photos is an ongoing task. Refer to our guide for selling vintage clothing for tips on how to set up an easy-batch system for DIY photography.

📚 Learn more: 

Sell furniture online: how to set up your online store

Before you actually launch your furniture business to the world, take time to play around with your online store builder. Launching a simple landing page at this stage, along with your social accounts, can help you build an email list so you can make a big splash at your official site unveiling.


Launch your business on Shopify and start selling furniture today


Design and themes for online furniture stores

As with any store you launch on Shopify, you can do it with little to no design skill. Free tools like our logo maker and multiple options for Shopify Themes let you plug in your images, text, and customizations to create your own branded site.

Demo screen of Shopify website theme, Startup
Demo of Startup Shopify theme

A few of our theme picks for selling furniture online:

  • Craft theme (free) offers a simple, clean layout for first-time furniture sellers.
  • Editions theme ($$) places focus on featured products—great for brands with one-of-a-kind products and constantly evolving catalogs.
  • Startup theme ($$) is great for single-product brands—for example, if you sell only mattresses.
  • Empire theme: Graphic ($$$) prioritizes large photos and collections. This one is great for brands taking a strong stance on an aesthetic or lifestyle.

If you have the budget but not the visual skills, consider hiring a designer or agency to help you put together a branding package. Shopify Experts are vetted professionals who have experience working with brands of all sizes.

📚 Learn more: 

Product pages for selling furniture

GOODEE’s product page design is a winning example to aspire to as you set up your store. We’ve dissected one of its pages to explain why it works and how to implement some of its brilliance in your own product pages:

Product page for a chair on the GOODEE brand website

1. The primary image is a clear product photo with a solid background, showing the entire chair, uncropped and without distractions.

2. Additional views of the chair including alternate angles and the product placed in a scene.

3. Prominent “Add to bag” button with an option to “Add to favorites”—this is a helpful feature that allows customers to think and come back later or compare multiple products side by side. Read on for suggestions on how to achieve this with an app.

4. A single paragraph sums up everything you need to know about this chair: where it’s made, how it’s made, notes about its durability, suggestions for where and how it can be used, and how to style it. Storytelling language can transport your customer into the feeling you’d like them to have about a piece of furniture.
Product page for a chair on the GOODEE brand website5. Secondary photos include lifestyle images that show the chair in a setting with other furniture and accents—ideally other items that can be purchased in your store. These images provide inspiration and show scale.

6. Detailed specs of the chair help customers understand if it will fit in their space. In this section you could include details like: weight, dimensions, care notes, material composition, origin, assembly requirements, etc.

7. If, like GOODEE, your brand is built around a cause such as sustainability or fair trade practices, here is another opportunity to be transparent about your commitment.

Product page for a chair on the GOODEE brand website

8. GOODEE’s founders believe in the strength of story, and it’s woven into their site in multiple places. On each product page, the maker of the product is featured in a dedicated section with a short description and link to view other products. This can also help with cross-selling (featuring pieces within the same collection, for example).

Product page for a chair on the GOODEE brand website9. At the bottom of the page, customers are invited to review the product. Completed reviews appear in this section, offering future customers additional peace of mind from real customer testimonials.

10. A related products section can help your customers compare similar options or view complementary products.

As you build your product pages, think about what you want it to achieve. “If you can’t explain to your customer why that product needs to exist in the first place and why they should bring that into their home or give it as a gift,” says Byron, “then I think you failed that customer experience.”

About, Contact, and FAQ pages for furniture brands

The founders of GOODEE pose in front of a gold door
Richmond Lam/GOODEE

Byron and Dexter made the choice to put their faces—as well as the faces and stories of their artisan partners—at the front of their brand. Human stories resonate with buyers, especially in the wake of a pandemic, when the importance of supporting small businesses and shopping sustainably has become all too apparent. 

“We found ourselves unwillingly all at home over the past 15 months,” says Byron. The investment in GOODEE’s story that finds balance between design and positive impact resonated with shifting customer perspective during the lockdown. 

Your story can set you apart from massive competitors. In this arena, small and human-backed businesses always win. Your About page can tell your origin story, highlight your brand values, share some of the faces of those on your team, and find common ground with your customers. 

For furniture designers and builders, this is also the place where you can invite your customers behind the scenes to take a peek at your process and inspiration. 

Screenshot of GOODEE website
GOODEE

Your contact information and FAQ are also important pages. FAQ pages are useful for furniture businesses, especially for shipping and returns information. Due to the large size and weight of many furniture pieces, shipping may be more complicated and returns may not be possible. 

Clearly communicate your shipping and return policies here. And allow customers to easily contact you with follow-up questions. Bigger purchases often require additional support.

When building all pages and navigations on your site, consider search engine optimization—or SEO—which helps search engines like Google rank your site. Learning SEO will require an upfront time investment but, if done right, will pay off in the end in the form of organic (free) traffic to your website.

📚 Learn more: 

Customer experience: AR, 3D, and apps for selling furniture online

The gradual shift to online shopping was accelerated during the pandemic. Emerging technology is making it easier for furniture stores to offer the showroom experience online.

Using 3D and video file types, you can give your customers a 360-degree view of your product or show the product in motion or in context. For example, a video of a person sitting down on a sofa would demonstrate the level of cushion firmness—something that can’t be captured in a photo. 

Getting your products shot in 3D may be a big upfront cost, but these versatile image types have shown to increase conversion rates by up to 250% when they appear on product pages.

lamp rotate large
Horne

To meet the specific needs of your business, here are a few select apps from the Shopify App Store to help you sell furniture online:

📚 Learn more: 

More ways to sell furniture

What are some other places to sell your furniture? Other than your online store, consider other sales channels to get your products in front of customers in a crowded market. If you’re a maker or designer, can you reach other geographical markets by wholesaling your products? If you’re an online-only furniture brand, this may be an easy way to dabble in retail. 

Pop-up retail is also a great option for vintage furniture resellers, designers, or makers. Think local outdoor markets or trade shows. Often, larger retailers will open in-store pop-up spaces for emerging brands that complement their offerings.

Also consider if any social sales channels or online marketplaces are right for your audience. As a furniture maker or vintage reseller, you can integrate your Etsy or eBay sales with Shopify to get the best of both worlds: your own dedicated site and access to potential buyers on marketplaces. What other sites—think home goods resellers—can you explore?

Marketing for your furniture business

A person sits on the edge of a desk looking through a notebook
Burst

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to marketing for furniture businesses. A good rule of thumb is having the right message in the right place at the right time. Those factors will depend on who your customer is and where they hang out. Is it more worth your time and money to invest in email marketing or in Facebook ads? Should you try content marketing or Google Ads? Testing is your friend at this stage.

When selling furniture online, consider that your product will be subject to taste and may require guidance for those less design-savvy. Content can be very powerful for this reason. Build an audience on Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok by offering home design advice and tips. These can be tools to drive traffic to your store and establish yourself and your brand as a credible expert in this space. 

In the end, your marketing content will come across most authentically when you work within mediums and platforms that come natural to you. “We’re a little old school, in that we still get most of our clients by word of mouth,” says Chris. “With that being said, Instagram is a great tool for us. I love posting stories so that our followers get that behind-the-scenes look into our shop.” 

📚 Learn more: 

Shipping, returns, and customer service

A person stands amidst a stack of boxes“Shipping is a massive challenge,” says Chris, who admits he hasn’t quite perfected it. “We have shipped 800-pound dining tables across the country. It’s nerve-wracking!” For GOODEE, inventory management, fulfillment, and shipping are handled by the brand’s warehouse partner. 

When you’re just starting out, you may be managing order fulfillment and shipping yourself. For you, Chris has advice from his own experience:

  1. Find a shipping company that has good reviews and build a relationship with them. Make sure you can get quick quotes based on weight and dimensions ahead of time so you can factor that into your price. You don’t want to swallow an unexpected $500 shipping charge—and neither does your customer.” 
  2. Package or crate your product really well. This way you have the peace of mind that your beautiful dining table looks as it should when it reaches your customer.”

Returns can be very tricky when you’re dealing with oversized items. Be sure that your return policy is very clear. If you do not accept returns, this information should be clearly presented to the customer at the checkout stage and even on the product page. If you’re willing to accept returns, establish the terms with your shipping partner upfront and let the customer know who will be responsible for the return shipping charges—which may be substantial.

GOODEE’s founders share that the brand’s return rate is under 5%. They achieve this through detailed product pages and stellar customer support, but also by making the decision to (almost) never run sales. “By having a site that’s not on sale,” says Byron, “you’re not really trying to use all of these other techniques to get someone just to buy.”

📚 Learn more: 

The fine print

Before you start selling furniture online, check in with legal and insurance professionals to see if your business requires any additional protection due to the size and price of the items you’re delivering. You’ll want to protect yourself from loss, such as items damaged in transit. But you’ll also want to protect your customers. Will you sell extended warranties? Do you need commercial insurance? Do your homework to ensure you’ve put the right protections in place before you start selling.

Get a seat at the table

Two patterned fabric chairs
Pexels

Whether you’re planning to build or curate furniture to sell online, it can be a rewarding and creative business. 

Dexter and Byron made the move from fashion to furniture because they found beauty in the way that home unites people. “There’s no gender, there are no sizes,” says Byron. “We all have a connection to these emotional moments that we share together in the comfort of home.” 

For Chris, the reward comes from working with his hands, doing projects that excite him. He says that identifying those are the key to a successful business. “If you are passionate about what you’re building,” he says, “that will come through in your work.” 

What are you passionate about? What gap exists in the furniture market? At the intersection of these answers is a business opportunity waiting for your unique idea.

Feature image by Pexels

How to sell furniture online FAQ

What is the best website to sell furniture?

The best website to sell furniture will depend on your business model, product type, and preferences. Some popular options include Shopify, Craigslist, Chairish, AptDeco, and 1stdibs.

How do I sell used furniture online?

There are several ways to sell used or vintage furniture and household items online:

  • Use an online store platform like Shopify or an online marketplace to sell new, vintage, refurbished, or used furniture. Promote your furniture for sale via social media.
  • Advertise old furniture in classifieds, local buy and sell sites, or on bulletin boards. This is a great way to reach potential buyers in your area.
  • Sell your used furniture through local consignment shops. Selling items through these stores is a hands-off way to fetch a fair price for your goods.
  • Host a garage sale or yard sale to sell used furniture. This is another great way to get rid of unwanted furniture quickly and make extra cash.
  • Hold an auction or use an online auction site. This is an effective way to sell vintage or high-end used furniture pieces quickly and can often fetch higher prices.

Where is the best place to sell expensive furniture?

The best place to sell expensive furniture is by building your own online furniture store on a platform like Shopify. Having your own website to sell high-end pieces increases trust with customers who see you as having a legitimate business. Your own website gives you the freedom to represent your furniture in accordance with your brand guidelines. A beautiful theme, detailed description, and quality photos can go a long way to converting a customer on big ticket items.

This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.

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