It’s Christmas and time for a more lighthearted topic. Today we’re going to talk about the pricing of Steelcase chairs, specifically in Malaysia. The summary is that Steelcase chairs are surprisingly affordable (AKA not a rip-off) in Malaysia, which unfortunately cannot be said about Herman Miller chairs as of time of writing.
I hate opaque pricing, which is a subset of general non-transparency of information, which I also hate. To get one thing out of the way, is there anything I don’t hate? Yes, the nicer things in life like excessively high-resolution Dell Ultrasharp monitors and ridiculously comfortable chairs like my Steelcase Gesture.
Malaysia has had a general problem with opaque pricing where you would see no pricing mentioned or a strange non-numerical string of characters on the price tag stating “Ask for price”. It’s getting better with the internet slowly pressuring both physical and online retailers to mention prices. Though up to this day, I cannot figure out if websites without pricing information A) do it deliberately, B) forget to include pricing or C) legitimately think pricing information isn’t necessary for the buyer.
I bought my Steelcase Gesture in Germany on sale less than 2 years ago for 720 EUR including 19% VAT and delivery (820 USD). Will have to write a full review at some point, but the long story short, I can sit in it for 12 to 16 hours a day (including breaks of course) for days on end without my butt or back aching at the end of day 1 or day 2.
If you’ve been spending $150-$250 on basic task “office” chairs (I did before), do yourself a favor and get a REAL task chair (as in, none of that “gaming chair” nonsense either) – your butt and back will thank you. If I could buy a time machine, I would use it to give ‘me from 8 years ago’ that advice.
Unfortunately, I could not find any publicly-available official pricing on Steelcase chairs while back in Malaysia this year. This was highly disappointing because lack of pricing info in Malaysia means having to go onto local forums (Lowyat.net), wading through piles of crap comments in discussion threads and usually getting unhelpful/vague/outdated pricing information from some random person who may or may not be exaggerating/understating the price.
I contacted an official Steelcase reseller in Malaysia and was quoted the following prices for task chairs with fabric upholstery, armrests included and no headrest as of November 2018:
- RM 3,800 (about 910 USD): Steelcase Gesture
- RM 3,500 (about 840 USD): Steelcase Leap V2
- RM 2,000 (about 480 USD): Steelcase Think
- RM 500 delivery
If you compare these prices to Steelcase USA, which does publish official pricing, the first two chairs are slightly cheaper than the average US prices (which are more or less $1,000), while the last chair, the Think, is significantly cheaper than in the US (where it’s priced at $780).
The delivery charge is ridiculous for a single chair – they are probably counting on the 4 to 6 week lead time for people to pay for convenience (the chairs are configure to order, you can’t just walk in and buy one like picking up milk from the supermarket).
High-end task chairs like that also tend to come assembled – you don’t have to get your hands dirty putting one together, but you also shouldn’t have to pay separately for someone to assemble it for you. Also be aware of this if you plan to collect the chair yourself; it probably won’t fit into the backseat of smaller cars in its assembled state.
Steelcase has a manufacturing facility in Malaysia, which might explain the lower-than-US prices, though I couldn’t find any information on which chairs are made where. My purchased-in-Europe Steelcase Gesture has “Made in France” on the underside, so that’s not helpful.
Herman Miller options
While doing research on chairs, I also came across claims that Herman Miller (Steelcase’s main competitor) has its Aeron and Embody chairs priced at RM6,000-7,000 and RM9,000-RM10,000 respectively. Again, these are prices mentioned by random forum users because Herman Miller doesn’t publicly publish official pricing in Malaysia either.
The Herman Miller Aeron and Steelcase Leap are direct competitors, with first-generation models introduced back in the 90’s. The Herman Miller Embody and Steelcase Gesture are also direct competitors, but “new flagships” that were launched in the recent decade.
That’s a disgusting amount of markup, even with currency conversion factored in. In fact, Herman Miller chairs also are ridiculously overpriced in Germany (an Embody is priced upwards of 1,100-1,500 EUR), so it might be a non-USA pricing thing.
I know I should probably save this for the review, but who knows when I’ll have the time to write that (considering this isn’t a dedicated furniture and chair review website). I’ve used the Steelcase Gesture and Reply as well as the Herman Miller Aeron for a decent amount of time (i.e. not sit and bounce for 20 minutes in a showroom).
The Steelcase Gesture is the best value out of the bunch, in my opinion. As mentioned, extremely comfortable, great if you spend upwards of 2,000 hours per year sitting on it. The Steelcase Reply is an absolute no-go: they have these at my current workplace and they are very uncomfortable and have poor flexibility for the price. For $200, maybe. For $500, heck no. The Leap is the predecessor flagship model that’s less flexible than the Gesture; for the same price, get the Gesture.
Herman Miller’s chairs provide great comfort too. The Aeron is a chair that they have in limited quantity at my current workplace – it provides a very different definition of comfort (neither good nor bad, just different) than the Steelcase Gesture I have at home, primarily due to the mesh back and seat, and less rigid recline mechanism. Based on showroom testing, the Embody feels pretty similar to the Gesture. The way I would consider buying a Herman Miller would be to look at their US online store pricing, and check whether local pricing is reasonable (or if you can negotiate pricing down to those levels).