Buying kitchen cabinets online is an alternative to buying them through the more traditional methods like home centers and kitchen designers. The process has its benefits, namely in lower costs, convenience, and a higher level of quality than what you might get for the same money in the offline world.
There are also some things that are different about buying cabinets online that you don't encounter when buying through more conventional means.
For starters, you can't actually touch and feel the product unless you're able to get samples sent to you. Then there's the issue of not being able to deal face to face with your cabinet designer/maker.
So before your mouse finger starts getting twitchy in anticipation of an online cabinet spending spree, there are a few things you should know about the online cabinet buying process. Read on to find out if this method will work for you.
Buying kitchen cabinets online is really just what it means -- you choose cabinets and purchase them from a website-based retailer. The cabinets are then shipped to you and you install them or have someone install them for you.
It may sound a bit unconventional but it's not that "new" anymore. There's over a dozen and a half cabinet retailers doing business on the web and it appears as though the process is here to stay.
You may see some online cabinet retailers refer to a set of cabinets as a "kitchen". In other words, they'll advertise something like "buy your kitchen online." This is just another way of referring to the cabinets and not everything else you'll find in the kitchen.
Once the plan is established you start making choices on cabinet pieces to flesh out your kitchen design. This involves looking through an online catalog of cabinet specs and choosing the size of the pieces you want along with the door style and finish color. From that standpoint the process is similar to the offline world. The only difference is that you might be doing more of the picking and choosing without the influence of a kitchen designer working with you.The quantity of style and color choices that are available will vary among the online cabinet sellers. Some offer more than others. You'll also find both custom and stock cabinetry along with choices for upgraded features.
Payment is made with either credit card, money order or cashier's check. Payment terms vary among cabinet sellers and include payment in full up front, financing or a stepped approach where you pay as the order progresses (you pay an initial down payment and the balance when your order is ready for shipment).
Completed cabinets are shipped to your door usually by a carrier contracted by the cabinet company. The process isn't completely finished however as you'll need to inspect for any manufacturing and/or shipping damage. You'll also need to verify that the complete order is there. This is important because some online sellers have strict time requirements for reporting and/or returning damaged goods. In other words, you can't wait a week before you start unwrapping everything otherwise you might not be able to send any damaged product back.
RTA cabinets are broken down into pieces and shipped to you whereupon you'll need to assemble them before you can install them in your kitchen. The level of assembly will vary based on who you buy your cabinets from. Some require more simple means of assembly such as turning a screw in a locking device called a "camlock" to assemble the cabinet box whereas others involve gluing joints and installing drawer guides.
Fully assembled cabinets (also called "factory assembled") are shipped to you completely built, except for possibly some trim pieces that you'll need to install after the cabinets are hung in place. Although they alleviate the need for assembly, they take up more space than RTA cabinets on the shipping truck so shipping costs may be higher.
Some retailers will charge for shipping based on the size of your order or a percentage of the total cabinet purchase. Percentages range anywhere from 5% to 25%. Others however will waive shipping costs if your order exceeds a specified amount.If you live in the US outside the state that the online seller is located, you won't have to pay any sales tax. This might offset the shipping charge.
Because you're not buying from an offline bricks and mortar retailer, you don't have the option of having them measure your kitchen for you. You'll need to do this yourself. The upside is that most online retailers provide good information on how to do this. You'll just want to make sure you measure at least twice and even three times to make sure you have it straight.
The reason this is important is that any returns, other than for damage, are harder on you than the retailer. If you buy a stocked cabinet, you can return it but there's a restocking fee and you'll pay shipping. For custom-made cabinets, you're out of luck because the retailer won't take them back. You can order another one of course, in the right size, but that's an additional cost both for the cabinet and shipping.
Some online cabinet sellers offer a design service for a small fee ($40-$100) where they'll take your kitchen measurements and work out a cabinet layout design for you. However you'll still have to give them the precise measurements of your kitchen.
Finally, you'll be responsible for inspecting the shipment and making sure there's no damaged or missing items once it's delivered.
Buying kitchen cabinets online has some benefits over doing the same in the offline world. The drawbacks may be subjective, based on your opinion, but they're worth considering to understand if this process is right for you.
Additionally, most online sellers have all the prices available so you can see easily roll up what your total cost will be. You can do it on your own time even if you're just trying to get a feel for prices without the hassle of having to work with anyone else.
From that standpoint it's not like you're buying completely sight-unseen but it's just more inconvenient than walking into a cabinet shop and looking at the product.
Internet cabinet companies take measures to allay typical concerns. Examples include such things as participation with the Better Business Bureau Online (BBBOnLine®), openly explaining their business policies and providing several means of contact (phone, fax, email). In addition, purchases made with major credit cards offer security backed by the credit companies that will refund your money in the event of proven fraud.
There are plenty of available choices when it comes to online cabinet retailers and while they're all in business to sell kitchen cabinets, there are some differences among them that you should be aware of.
Some will offer only RTA (ready-to-assemble) cabinets or just pre-assembled units. Others will offer both.
Also, not all online retailers make their own products. Some online sellers are distributors of cabinets that are manufactured by other companies -- the online company just sells and distributes the product.
One of the key variables among the sellers' websites is the clarity (or lack thereof) on the ordering process. Some are very good about stepping you through the process. Other sites however have limited information and you're left on your own to figure out exactly what to do.
Final verdict on the websites: it pays to check out several to find the one you're most comfortable with and answers all your questions.
As a consumer making a potentially large internet cabinet purchase, this may provide you with some additional confidence in working with a particular online cabinet business.
To check whether a company is affiliated with the BBBOnLine and/or see a report on a company's record, go to the BBBOnLine Consumer Safe Shopping Site. On that page you can input the company's name or search for a company alphabetically.
Before making a final decision to buy kitchen cabinets online consider these final points. Some were mentioned in the information above but they're compiled in one list here to use as a checklist when researching these companies.
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