June 18, 2003, 12:00 AM

Judge orders furniture site to stop taking orders

Top furniture manufacturers don’t compete with their retailers – they use the web to get shoppers into the stores.


The cost of high-end furniture has always had some shoppers looking for ways to beat down the price-–and though there are legitimate ways of doing so, the Internet is the latest player in what also can be fertile ground for scams. A North Carolina judge last month blocked the operator of web site CarolinaFurniture.com from taking new furniture orders until all currently outstanding orders have been filled.

“Hundreds of consumers from across the country paid this dealer, but he hasn’t followed through with the orders,” said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. “Dealers like this make it all too clear why consumers need to do their homework before they order furniture on the Internet, by telephone, or by mail.”

Of more than 500 complaints filed with the North Carolina Attorney General’s office against CarolinaFurniture.com and other retail furniture companies registered to the same operator, including another web site, 433 complaints, representing nearly $800,000 in furniture or refunds not delivered, remain unresolved.

The site advertised auctions promising significant discounts off furniture from major manufacturers. But most major manufacturers of expensive, branded case and upholstered goods don`t sell directly online because it would conflict with the efforts of retailers that sell their brand in their stores. That`s one reason sales of branded furniture have not taken off in a big way online.

One exception is smaller pieces known as accent furniture, an arena where Internet companies such as Bellacor.com have found success with new business models that leverage the web`s reach. Bellacor`s web site acts as an online showroom showcasing lighting products, smaller furniture and accessories from hundreds of manufacturers with which it has distribution agreements. Bellacor`s product specialists, available online and via phone, provide customer service similar to what an in-store, veteran sales associate would provide.

And though major manufacturers of large, branded lines aren’t selling furniture direct on the web, they’re using the Internet to drive customers into stores. An example is the recently relaunched Furniture.com, allied with regional furniture retail chains Levitz and Seaman’s, which features online information and pictures, but forwards them to a local Levitz or Seaman’s retailer for purchase.


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