The pros and cons of buying furniture online

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"IT'S FROM TAOBAO!"

Sounds familiar? You've probably heard this gleeful declaration a dozen times, or said it yourself, when friends admire something in a new home.

But this is not really the case for my place. Even though I have no qualms about buying makeup or clothes online, when it comes to something as permanent as furniture, I hesitate to buy without first seeing the product in real life.

What if the shade turns out to be a garishly bright pink instead of the dusty rose in the pictures? What if I misread the measurements and it turns out to be doll-sized? Stuff like that can't be sold off quickly or sent back easily if it's from overseas, and often represents a considerable potential loss.

A lot of my friends have no such misgivings, and will proudly tell me that their house is outfitted from top to bottom in Taobao steals. "You save a lot of money," shares Lisha Raghani, my neighbour. "The dining table lights I was eyeing in a local shop were going for $300. On Taobao, the same lights were $80."

She also bought custom blinds online, with a mandala design created by a local artist. Her total cost: $120, including shipping - less than half of the $300 she would have paid if she had bought them from a store.

When it comes to buying online, reading reviews and transparent communication are a must. For those of us with little faith in our second language abilities (like yours truly), Lisha strongly recommends getting third-party help, like an Ezbuy Prime membership.

"I don't speak Chinese, so this service is extremely useful. When I was furnishing my house, I spoke to the Ezbuy agents more frequently than I spoke to my husband," she laughs.

Of course, I had to ask if she'd ever received a wrong or damaged order. She has, but tells me their after-sales service is fairly comprehensive. "They've been able to resolve most of the issues."

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Given such reassurances, buying a piece online for my home is starting to look more enticing. A quick search of "Nordic pendant lamp" reveals page after page of beautiful professional pictures with plenty of information to assuage the apprehension of even the most cautious buyers.

There's even an image search function, where one can upload a photo of a coveted product and be instantly shown similar items available at a fraction of the price. No wonder more and more discount-savvy Singaporean homeowners are buying online.

Perhaps it's not such a scary venture after all. Armed with the right tools - a gung-ho attitude, careful research and clear communication (thank you, Google Translate) - navigating the perilous world of online furniture shopping no longer seems such an impossible feat.

I've just taken a deep breath and clicked "buy" on a table lamp online. Wish me luck.

This article was first published in Home & Decor.