Cheap vs. Expensive Office Chairs

In an industry with what seems like unlimited options, the price you pay for your office chair may have the biggest impact on how happy you are with your purchase. Looking at different chairs head-to-head, there are some very obvious differences and some that are not so obvious. In this analysis, we took three chairs that range from the cheapest side to the most expensive end of the spectrum to determine value. Here, you’ll learn why you should stop buying cheap office chairs.

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Cheap vs. Expensive Office Chairs

    1. Shipping Process
    2. Assembly
    3. Warranty
    4. Build Quality
    5. Adjustments
    6. Eco Impact
    7. Cost Per Year

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The first difference you’ll notice between cheap and expensive office chairs is the shipping process. Chairs on the cheaper end have the lowest quality packaging. This is done intentionally to keep the price low, but you have a much higher chance for damage as compared to a higher priced chair. The more expensive chair will have stronger cardboard, foam inserts, and protective plastic for shipping. Most chairs use FedEx or UPS Ground, where they are not always gentle with the boxes. Having your chair more protected for the shipping process will save you from potentially having your chair show up damaged and in need of repair or replacement parts.

Cheap office chairs will almost always require a lot of assembly. Shipping them completely disassembled allows them to be shipped in the smallest possible box to keep the cost down. However, this means you’ll be spending at least 30-60 minutes assembling your chair when it arrives – this doesn’t always go smoothly. Because the parts may be low end, they don’t always fit together perfectly for the assembly process.

As you go up in price, you will typically see less assembly required. A chair like the Eurotech Vera will have most of the tedious components which bring the assembly time down to around 15 minutes. You’ll also notice that the parts fit together much more smoothly than those on a cheaper chair.

When you look at the highest priced chairs, like the Herman Miller Aeron, you’ll receive your chair fully assembled and ready to use right out of the box.

Warranty coverage will vary greatly between the cheapest and most expensive chairs. Typically, you’ll find cheap chairs equipped with a warranty of one year or less, cheap components, and lower weight ratings (between 200-250 lbs.). Some cheap chairs don’t even come with a warranty at all.

More expensive chairs will have longer warranty coverage, higher weight ratings, and in some cases, longer usage ratings. For example, the Eurotech Vera has five years of coverage on the foam and fabric of the chair, covering users up to 275 lbs., and a usage rating of 40 hours a week.

Bumping up to the Herman Miller Aeron, you’ll receive 12 years of coverage on everything for users over 300 lbs. and a usage rating of 24/7. This is where a ton of the value comes when deciding to buy a high-end office chair. Doing so will give you the peace of mind of sitting in a chair that’s covered for a minimum of 12 years.

Build quality is where you’ll see the most drastic difference between cheap and expensive office chairs. When looking at inexpensive office chairs it’s important to understand that they are built with the lowest quality components to keep the price low. This means that there is very little value in the actual material of the chair. A lot of the value comes from packaging, shipping, and manufacturing costs topped off by the assumed margins taken by the company selling the chair. With all these costs considered, you realize that very little money was actually put into the build quality of a chair that costs less than $100.

The Eurotech Vera is a huge jump in quality from a chair that costs around $100. You immediately notice that the chair feels much more solid, has top-tier components, and is put together with parts that fit nicely together. You can tell that there is more substance in the chair and that it’s built to last much longer than a cheaper chair.

The Herman Miller Aeron will be another huge step in comparison to the Vera. The parts are all high-end, with most being designed specifically for the Aeron. The chair feels like it’s the most solid out of the bunch, but the biggest separation between the others is the fit and finish. Because most of the parts on this chair are custom made, they fit together perfection, giving it one of the cleanest and attractive looks in the office chair industry.

The adjustments offered on cheap office chairs are typically much more limited than those on more expensive chairs. For example, most cheap chairs will have center-tilt or swivel-tilt recline mechanisms. This means that the chair will recline from a pivot point right under the seat. The problem with this motion is that your knees will come up as you recline. This may cause your knees to run into your desk or table and bring your feet off the floor if you recline far enough.

Higher end chairs will have synchro-tilt mechanisms or mechanisms that were designed specifically for a chair. The Vera is a good example of a synchro-tilt mechanism, which will incline the seat at a lower ratio as compared to your back. This creates a smooth reclining motion while keeping your feet flat on the floor and in a better ergonomic position.

The highest end chairs, like the Aeron, will often have specific mechanisms only found on that chair. The Aeron has one of the nicest mechanisms available and gives you one of the smoothest and most comfortable recline motions in the industry.

You’ll also get a lot more adjustments in general on a high-end office chair. Things like four-way adjustable arms are common on more expensive chairs as compared to the fixed arms you’ll see on most cheap chairs.

Other things like seat sliders, lumbar adjustments, headrest, and forward seat tilt are not usually available on inexpensive chairs. In fact, most cheap chairs are limited to just seat height adjustments and upright tilt-lock.

The lack of a seat slider can be noticeable to some users as it can cause a big gap between the front of the seat and the back of your legs. Seat sliders allow you to move the seat forward or back to place you in a more ergonomic position.

Another thing to think about is that the adjustments ranges will typically get larger as you get more expensive in your chair selection. A couple good examples are seat height adjustment and arm height adjustment. While cheaper chairs are usually equipped with seat height adjustment, the range can be as low as a 3-inch difference. More expensive chairs have larger cylinders allowing for a larger range in seat height adjustment.

The same goes for arm height adjustments. You’ll notice that even when comparing the Vera and Aeron, there is a larger difference in range, as the Aeron has massive range while the Vera is limited.

Something most people don’t think about when buying a cheap chair is what happens after a year or two when you need to replace it. Unfortunately, a lot of these cheap office chairs end up in landfills after a handful of years of use. This can pose a problem, as the chairs are large, have a lot of components, and require quite a bit of effort to dispose.

The better the chair the longer it will last, and less replacement chairs will end up going into landfills. The Aeron is an amazing example of this, as it can last up to 20 years or more. We consistently see chairs from the 90’s or early 2000’s available for sale in good condition. Buying an expensive chair that can last ten years or more can really help to eliminate a lot of unneeded waste going into landfills.

One important thing to consider is the longevity of your office chair and what it will end up costing you per year. One way to get a good idea of how long a manufacturer thinks their chair will last is to look at the warranty. When looking at chairs with a one-year warranty or less, it is safe to assume that parts will start to degrade pretty quickly. After using a cheap chair for a couple years it’s going to feel quite a bit different than when you bought it. You should only expect a chair like this to last around 1-3 years.

You’re going to get a lot more longevity out of a mid-level chair like the Vera. Looking at the warranty coverage of five-years on the foam and fabric, it’s safe to assume that a chair like this will last around 5-8 years.

Obviously, you’ll get the most longevity out of the most expensive chairs like the Aeron. This chair comes with 12-years of coverage on EVERYTHING. Seeing chairs on the market being sold 20 years down the line only helps the argument for the durability and quality of this chair.

There is quite the range when calculating the per-year cost on these chairs based on their minimum expected lifespan. The cheapest chairs will have an estimated $80 per year cost, the Eurotech Vera will cost around $110 per year, and the Herman Miller Aeron will cost around $128 per year.

Breaking the cost down per year brings the numbers much closer together. Another thing to consider with the per-year cost, is that you don’t have to pay much more per year to be sitting in a much nicer chair for that entire timespan. That being said, going with the cheap chair can definitely save you some money in the long run, but you will likely be replacing that chair several times, and using a low-end product for that entire timespan. Investing a little more money upfront can you into a high-end chair, which means you’re using a nicer product and may give you the longevity needed to make it more cost effective than the cheap chair.

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