You can sink a lot of money into furniture. And if you aren’t careful, you’ll spend too much, wind up with defective products or months-late delivery, and have to live with items you hate or that don’t hold up. Before you shop, make a general plan of what’ll fit your space, set a budget, and decide how long you expect the new furniture will last. We’ve also provided a guide to help you assess furniture quality when shopping in person.

Our ratings of local stores turned up big quality differences: Some were rated “superior” for the advice provided by their staff by 80 percent or more of their surveyed customers; others received “superior” ratings from 40 percent or fewer—a big red flag for possible headaches ahead. To add context to our ratings of stores, we also provide a written guide on local retailers, national chains, and internet-only decor stores with details on price range, style, and the brands they carry.

Comparing prices is difficult because many retailers sell items that aren’t available elsewhere; and it’s unusual to find the same national brands sold by more than one or two retailers. But there are things you can do to get good prices. If you’re shopping at independent stores, we recommend you ask them to bid competitively for your business.

Don’t assume that a sale price—even a heavily discounted one—is a good deal. Unfortunately, we find that many furniture stores put on deceptive, never-ending fake sales. Even if the sign says “Save 60 percent,” it’s probably meaningless.

When ordering, avoid leaving a big deposit if possible, and pay with a credit card; if the store breaks its promises, you can contest the charge with your credit card company.