Why would furniture companies sell a product like bonded leather which they know will fall apart and result in customer complaints?
I was told by the salesperson that bonded leather was a very durable material and that if I bought the extended warranty it would protect me against any product defects.
My recliner began to peel after one year. I contacted the retailer, who told me this was not covered by their warranty or extended protection plan.
I took my complaint to the BBB. They have not been able to help.
There have been over 100,000 complaints about defective or peeling bonded leather since it was first introduced in 2010.
Furniture manufacturers and retailers are very much aware of bonded leather’s problems.
Warranties are specifically written to protect retailers and manufacturers against liability for problems resulting from defective bonded leather.
The warranties can be legally construed to reject warranty coverage for defective bonded leather furniture as soon as you have accepted delivery.
Despite this, many retailers will replace defective bonded leather furniture if the complaint is registered within the first year after purchase.
Once the first year is past, it is extremely difficult to get peeling bonded leather furniture replaced.
Although you can google articles that claim to have methods for repairing peeling bonded leather, none of them really work well.
The retailer’s willingness to replace defective bonded leather furniture during the first year is not automatic and depends on several factors.
Furniture warranty claims are almost always rejected at first (or simply ignored.)
About 50% of complaining customers do not follow up after their initial complaint is unsuccessful.
Retailers will resist replacement more strongly for larger orders.
It is more difficult to get furniture dealers to replace $3000 reclining sofas than $399 recliners.
Furniture warranties offer very little protection after the first year.
Check out my blog article Furniture Warranties – Tricks, Traps and Warnings.
Why is bonded leather still sold in the face of so many complaints?
Prior to 2010, very few furniture shoppers purchased seating with synthetic (faux) leather.
Vinyls and 100% polyurethane synthetic leathers had been around for 50 years, but accounted for only a very small percentage of total seating purchases.
Bonded leather was a material that salespeople could pass off as “partially real leather,” implying that it was “better” than the 100% synthetics.
Introduction of bonded leather was instrumental in the growth of reclining furniture.
Bonded leather quickly became the most popular type of material sold with reclining furniture (and also for low-cost office seating.)
Because of the enthusiastic public acceptance of bonded leather, reclining furniture has become the fastest growing segment of the furniture industry over the past decade. (Low-cost office seating has also skyrocketed.)
From a marketing and profit standpoint, bonded leather has been a great success.
Bonded leather revolutionized the Reclining furniture category.
Prior to bonded leather’s introduction, the large majority of reclining pieces were sold in real leather.
Very few large reclining pieces (sofas and sectionals) were offered or sold.
Most people could not afford the price of real leather reclining sofas.
Very few shoppers could afford the cost of real leather sectionals.
Bonded leather reduced the price of reclining sofas by hundreds of dollars and the price of reclining sectionals by thousands of dollars.
Today, reclining furniture sales for sofas and sectionals are far higher than for reclining chairs.
Bonded leather has also increased furniture dealers’ sales and profits in another way.
Prior to 2010, reclining furniture, made with real leather, had an expected lifespan of 10 -20 years.
Currently, the average lifespan of popularly priced reclining furniture is closer to 5 years.
Average lifespans for reclining furniture with bonded leather are even less.
Average lifespans for larger reclining pieces are shorter than for reclining chairs.
The increased sales & profits generated by bonded leather seating have been astronomical.
Extra costs related to bonded leather complaints are minimal compared to the huge increase in sales and profits.
Furniture retailers and manufacturers are shielded from the bulk of potential costs by warranties that specifically exclude liability for problems caused by bonded leather.
Bonded leather successfully broke through consumer reluctance to buy synthetic leather furniture.
This is especially true for reclining and office seating.
At this point, a large percentage of shoppers have become aware of bonded leather’s problems.
Hundreds of articles and thousands of reviews have been written about bond leather furniture over the past 5 years. Close to 100% of these have been negative.
Many furniture shoppers are actively avoiding bonded leather when buying new furniture and specifically asking their salespeople whether the furniture they are looking at is made with bonded leather. Salespeople do not always give truthful or accurate answers.
Salespeople recommend furniture based on how it looks, feels, and functions in the showroom when it’s brand new.
Many of these salespeople won’t be working in furniture stores for more than a few years. They have very little concern (or knowledge) about how the furniture will perform 5 years in the future.
Power recliners are easier to sell. They have all sorts of wonderful features that salespeople can point out in the showroom.
Before working predominantly with design and manufacturing, I spent 12 years in retail, working first as a salesperson, then a sales manager and 8 years as a buyer for a major retail chain.
So I understand the salesperson’s perspective and priorities.
Many salespeople are not well trained and unaware that bonded leather is highly likely to fall apart within just a few years.
Those who do know, don’t always care.
They get paid for making the sale and do not usually know if their customer complains more than a year later.
My reviews are more concerned with long-term durability and value.
At the last High Point International Home Furnishings Market in October 2022, I visited the showrooms of most of the high end reclining furniture manufacturers.
At each showroom I asked sales managers and company executives if they thought their motorized power reclining furniture will still be functioning 10 years after purchase.
None thought their furniture would last that long.
I asked whether they thought their power reclining furniture would last 5 years.
Only two were confident enough to state that they thought it should last at least 5 years.
In some cases, these manufacturers sold leather reclining sectionals priced over $15,000.
There is one positive aspect of bonded leather.
It has conditioned the public to become more accepting of 100% synthetic (faux) leathers.
Recently, a new synthetic leather technology combining polyester and polyurethane has been replacing bonded leathers in furniture stores.
The new 100% synthetic composite faux leathers are very comparable in looks, feel, and cost to bonded leather.
Composite faux leathers with high percentages of polyester and low percentages of polyurethane are less expensive than those with higher percentages of polyurethane.
Many retailers are now switching to these new composite faux leathers.
Manufacturers have never liked bonded leather and only offered it due to retailer (and consumer) demand.
The new composite faux leathers have not been around long enough yet to determine how well they will wear over the long term.
But it is difficult to imagine that they can be as bad as bonded leather and so far, there have no complaints that I am aware of about the new synthetic leather fabrics.
Although the new composite faux leathers are 100% synthetic, there has been very little consumer resistance so far.
This is a dramatic contrast to public resistance against synthetic leathers prior to the introduction of bonded leather.
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