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Buying Kitchen Cabinets Online

How It Works & What To Consider

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.

What Is This Process Really All About?

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.

Publisher's Comments

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.

The Process

The process for buying kitchen cabinets online has to start with a plan for the space your cabinets will occupy and which types and sizes of cabinets you'll need. You can measure your kitchen and develop the plan yourself or utilize the design services that some online retailers offer (not all do).

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" and Assembled Cabinets

One of the first things to note about buying kitchen cabinets online is that the cabinets are sold as "RTA", which means 'ready-to-assemble', or fully assembled. Some sellers carry both options.

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.

Shipping Costs

When you purchase cabinets online one of the costs you'll encounter that you don't see in the offline world is the shipping. The good news here is that this is one of the areas that differentiates the various online businesses. If shipping cost is a make-it-or-break-it factor for you, you have some choices.

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.

What's Required Of You

To buy kitchen cabinets online there are some things that are required of you as the buyer. Most important are the measurements and specifications of the cabinets you want.

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.

The old adage 'measure twice, cut once' could be tweaked into 'measure thrice, order once' for online cabinet buying.

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.

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What Are The Benefits -- And Are There Any Drawbacks?

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.

The Benefits...

  • Cost Savings - one of the predominant benefits of buying cabinets online involves the cost savings over purchasing them through offline retailers. Elimination of the bricks-and-mortar middleman and buying more directly from the source allows for this cost break.
  • Better Quality - buying online may allow you to get higher quality cabinets for what you'd pay for cheaper cabinets in a home center. A number of online retailers offer all-wood construction exclusively while others offer it on upgraded products. (Click here if you'd like to go to our Kitchen Cabinet Construction page to learn more about all-wood construction).
  • No Sales Tax (for now...) - you may not have to pay any US sales tax depending on where you live relative to where the cabinets are produced and dependent upon your own state's tax regulations. Whether the internet remains a 'tax-free zone' in the future is debatable but for now it's available.
  • Convenience And Control Over The Process - buying cabinets over the internet gives you more control in that it's convenient (you can do it from home) and that you choose the products directly. There's no one pushing you to purchase something you don't want or need. The online retailers are there to help if you need them but you control the timing and extent of their involvement.

    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.

...And The Drawbacks

  • Difficult To "Touch And Feel" The Product - to best judge cabinet quality it's best if you can get out and look at the product. Most online cabinet sellers offer door samples that you can "rent" for a nominal fee to check out the door construction and finish color/quality. The fee is refunded when you return the sample. One seller even offers a 'mini-cabinet' sample so you can see the cabinet box construction and materials.

    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.

  • Concerns With Internet Buying - you may be reluctant to make a purchase of several thousand dollars over the internet and that's understandable. It's not as tangible as being able to talk to someone face to face particularly if you encounter any problems.

    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.

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What Are The Differences Among The Online Cabinet Retailers?

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.

  • Product Offerings - online cabinet retailers offer a similar range of cabinet products as their offline brethren do. You'll find variation in cabinet quality, type of construction and quantity of product offerings.

    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.

  • Website Differences - since we're dealing with an internet transaction when you buy cabinets online, the quality of the website is important. The better sites are easy to navigate, have all the product information you'll need including prices and most importantly, are clear and open regarding their specific policies for shipping, damaged goods, internet transaction security, etc.

    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.

  • Policy Differences - another differentiating factor among online cabinet businesses involves the policies governing such things as returns, damaged goods and shipping. Pay close attention to these policies when considering buying cabinets online because some companies have better (or more liberal) policies than others. Look for specific links to these policies; some websites make them easy to find while others require some hunting.
  • BBBOnLine® Participation - not all businesses established to sell kitchen cabinets online have affiliation with the online arm of the Better Business Bureau. Online cabinet sellers that display the BBBOnLine® seal are members of their local BBB and affirm a commitment to good customer service and ethical online business practices.

    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.

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What Are The Key Points I Should Be Aware Of?

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.

  1. Information - Is There Enough? - Does the website (and the company behind it) sufficiently answer your questions and present a sense of credibility? Check their FAQ section (if they have one). If it's well done it should answer most questions that you might have.
  2. Ability For Contact - be sure there are ways to contact the company (phone / fax / email). It may help to make a trial contact to determine how responsive they are.
  3. References - if you're serious about buying cabinets online first check to see if the company you're dealing with can provide references to previous customers that you can follow up with. Some businesses specify this up front. If it's not clear on the website, ask anyway.
  4. Design Services - determining exactly which cabinet sizes are best for your kitchen design may be difficult if you don't have any experience with this sort of process. Looking for an online cabinet seller that has some design services may be beneficial. Most offer this service for a small fee that can be applied to any purchase you make.
  5. Payment Options - determine how payment is made and whether the business offers any flexible payment plans.
  6. Drawings & 3D Renderings - it's one thing to choose the right cabinet pieces for your kitchen design but wouldn't it be nice to see what it will look like before you actually make the purchase? Look for an online cabinet company that offers 3D renderings and elevation drawings of your proposed design so that you're OK with how it will look.
  7. Samples - take advantage of samples that an online cabinet seller has to offer. Some are better than others as far as the type of samples offered (doors, cabinet boxes or both). It not only gives you an idea how the finish color will look but also the type of construction and materials that are used.
  8. Change Orders And Cancellations - understand the online company's policies for change orders and cancellations. Some do not accept either. That's tough if you need a 30" base cabinet, not the 33" one you ordered but only noticed after the order was placed (which is why you should quadruple-check your measurements and order -- see #9 below).
  9. Recheck Measurements And Your Order - you're responsible for providing measurements of your kitchen in order to determine the size and quantity of cabinets needed. Make sure you check your measurements as well as your order several times to make sure there are no errors. You don't want to have to return anything because of a mistake on your part.
  10. RTA vs. Assembled Cabinets - be sure you're ok with the level of assembly that's required if you opt for buying RTA (ready to assemble) cabinets. They're typically cheaper than already-assembled ones but it's up to you to put them together.
  11. Shipping Charges And Policy - be clear on shipping charges. Some policies include only one attempt for delivery of your cabinets. If you're not home and another delivery has to be made, you're responsible for additional shipping and handling charges.
  12. Delivery -- You Unload - when the shipment of cabinets arrives at your location be aware that the shipper is only required to move the goods to the tailgate of the truck -- no further. You are responsible for unloading the contents and moving them into your home or wherever they'll be installed. This is per the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) regulations. If you happen to get a shipper that'll help you offload, great. But if you're not physically capable of doing this, think twice or make arrangements for assistance.
  13. Receiving Inspection & Timing - remember that you're responsible for checking all the parts of your order for any missing items and/or damage once it's delivered. Some online cabinet companies have very tight reporting timelines you have to follow in order to receive any compensation -- as short as 24 hours for missing items and 72 hours for "hidden" items (things you don't see until you open up the cartons).
  14. Return Policy - clearly understand what the return policy is so that you're not left out in the cold should a return be necessary. Stock items can usually be returned (with an associated restocking fee) but you'll need to pay the shipping (unless goods were damaged). Custom cabinet items are usually not returnable. Also, some online cabinet sellers allow returns only on unopened boxes.

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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Judging Cabinet Quality - Read this article to find out what you need to know about judging the various levels of cabinet quality.

Choosing Kitchen Cabinets - Choosing new kitchen cabinets? Find out what there is to consider and a few more tidbits of information before you decide on buying new cabinets.

Cabinet Refacing As An Option - Maybe your existing cabinets just need a facelift. Find out more about cabinet refacing options in this article.

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