Herman Miller Renew Standing Desk Review
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With the collapse of office furniture sales as a result of the pandemic, Herman Miller and its peers are scrambling to re-position, re-price and re-box a tiny subset of their commercial office furniture products to market through retail and e-commerce channels to the new Work From Home (WFH) army of consumers. In alien territory that is dominated by online brands like UpLift, Fully, iMovR and countless Chinese brands on Amazon, these multi-billion dollar companies are like elephants in the duck pond, trying to figure out how to float and fly. Despite their resources, they cannot have too much channel conflict with their decades-old, protected dealer network, so they took only a very limited number of products, severely cut back the options selections, and started selling direct-to-consumer, working around their costly dealer channel. As with offerings from Steelcase, Knoll, and other commercial office behemoths, what Herman Miller has delivered here is a vastly overpriced, severely limited offering with a sketchy delivery and installation experience for users at best. It is so overly limited in desktop shapes, sizes and finishes that you’d have to be pretty lucky to get a good match with your home office space. And you better not be too short or too tall because this hacked-back Renew standing desk doesn’t even meet ANSI/BIFMA G1 standards for ergonomic height adjustment range.
|MSRP / List Price||
Delivery costs $199 or $299 depending on customer’s distance from the shipping hub. Delivery is schedule because the truck drivers will build the desk inside your home. There is no DIY option as these desks are the same ones that are shipped to professional installers for corporate customers; no DIY assembly option.
5 years on the mechanical and electrical parts
Single-stage, two-segment electric lifting columns with non-BIFMA height range of 27″-46″
LogicData paddle controller. Programmable digital controller not offered on e-commerce version.
Tops are only available in two sizes: 24″ x 48″ and 30″ x 60″
Desktop only comes in Ash, Light Walnut, Walnut and White laminate
Height range: 27″-46″
250 lbs minus desktop weight of 45 lbs (30″x60″ weighed) = 205 lbs.
A Bluetooth option does exist for corporate customers but it is not mentioned at all in this consumer-focused variant of the Renew desk.
The Renew arrives in three boxes with the following dimensions:
|Typical Assembly Time||
Assuming drivers arrive with all the proper tools (Powered screwdriver, Philips-Recess Bit #2, Square-Recess Bit #2, Hex/Allen Wrench 5mm and 8mm, Torx Bit T30) and have prior experience building a Renew desk (both conditions are not too likely?) it should take an hour to assemble the desk. Customer complaints indicate to expect much longer. You will need to wait at home for the delivery and while the drivers attempt to assemble the desk. Sometimes they just skip the assembly after dropping off the desk and then it’s up to you to figure out, if you can even find a manual in the box.
Not compliant with ANSI/BIFMA G1-2013 ergonomic guidelines.
|NEAT™ Certified by Mayo Clinic||
|Additional User Reviews||Scroll down the page to see reviews on hermanmiller.com|
|Where to buy||
Buy on Smart Furniture
|Quality and Aesthetics|
|Suitability for Treadmill Desking|
|Positives||Made in the USA from generally high-quality components.|
|Negatives||Because these desks are really for commercial offices a professional installer with a full tool box is required, so an in-home installation adds another $199 or $299 (depending on "distance from the hub") and you have to wait around for someone to show up and then work in your home office to assemble the desk - no DIY option. Extremely limited options in size and color, and a very limited height adjustment range that'll leave shorter and taller people unable to use this desk ergonomically. Short warranty on the base. Low-quality desktop construction. Low lift capacity and other specs for a desk in this price tier. Chevy desk at a Cadillac price. 7-week ship time.|
A Standing Desk Offering Born of the Pandemic
As we write about in detail in our recap of COVID-19’s Dramatic Impact on the Office Fitness Industry, and Standing Desk Suppliers in Particular, the $1B+ commercial contract office furniture manufacturers have taken a huge beating, as bad as hotels and airlines in some ways. Practically in lockstep with the release of commercial office leases all over the country, large “project sales” of office furniture are down between 20% and 50% right now, depending on their customers’ geography and industry profiles.
Once they realized the dramatic impact the pandemic was going to have on their revenues these behemoth companies, like Herman Miller, Steelcase, Knoll, HON, National, et al, have all attempted to pivot as quickly as possible to capture the Work From Home (WFH) market, to try and offset their enterprise sales losses as customers abruptly turned to e-commerce for their home office standing desks.
These pivot maneuvers have taken different forms, from acquiring digitally-native furniture companies (e.g. Kimball acquired Poppin.com) to taking retail and e-commerce companies they already owned (e.g. Knoll acquired Fully.com in 2019 and Herman Miller acquired Design Within Reach back in 2014) and cross-pollinating commercial and consumer products back and forth between them.
All of these large companies, however, have the same channel conflict problem. For decades they have sold their commercial-grade office furniture products exclusively through their dealers, so-called “commercial contract furniture dealers.” But to be competitive with online sellers like UpLift, Fully, iMovR, Autonomous, and dozens of ultra-cheap Chinese-made desks sold on Amazon, as well as retailers like IKEA and Costco, there is not enough margin to cut in their dealers on these single transaction sales to consumers. So they basically cut them out of the equation and for the most part have gone “D2C” (direct-to-consumer) with their WFH offerings.
To at least try and keep their dealers from getting too upset about the situation the products being offered through the D2C channel are “highly curated” (i.e. artificially limited), and Herman Miller’s Renew Standing Desk is no exception. Only a handful of colors, sizes and options are offered to the consumer, whereas an enterprise customer would theoretically want to stick to buying through their contract furniture dealer who can order anything from the catalog and provide installation and design services. For example, only four of the 35 desktop laminate colors offered on the Renew are available through their website, and other upgraded finishes aren’t offered at all.
There’s a practical reason for this, though, in that unlike e-commerce players like iMovR that manufacture on-demand and can offer tens of thousands of desk configurations that can all ship out in one week, Herman Miller and its brethren have been producing desktops in large batch runs forever. It’s just how they’re wired. For enterprise customers that can wait four to six months to deliver a few hundred or a few thousand desks to a corporate campus that’s not a problem. But for e-commerce, it is. So to enable relatively fast shipping they’ve had to pre-produce a limited number of colors and sizes and keep them in stock, which would be a huge and impractical capital investment if they were to offer all their colors and sizes online.
The Highly Curated E-Commerce Offering
We compared what Herman Miller offers online in terms of desk sizes, colors and finishes, height range and other options to what they offer through their traditional dealer channel. Keep in mind you can’t actually buy anything through the dealer channel as a consumer. A Herman Miller dealer won’t return your phone call if you aren’t interested in buying hundreds of desks at a time, and they don’t generally have a website for random customers to order online. As a consumer, you’re limited to their WFH offering, which is a direct purchase from the manufacturer with no dealer involvement.
The Renew is Herman Miller’s top-of-the-line standing desk, an upgrade from their more cost-conscious Nevi and Motia desks. In the case of a 30″ x 60″ desk, the Herman Miller contract furniture catalog lists a price of $3,228, which dealers buy at 50% off, or $1,614. No one actually pays $3,228, it’s just that advertising scheme we’re all familiar with from retail furniture stores that run “30% OFF!” sales routinely. So a regular selling price for this desk would be $2,260, give or take, depending on volume.
Herman Miller initially priced the Renew on its consumer-accessible online store in the $2,100 – $2,400 range. Apparently, this met too much price resistance because the next time we checked (late February 2021) they had dropped the price down to $1,575 for the smaller 24″ x 48″ desk with the least expensive base color option (White / White), and up to $1,885 for the larger 30″ x 60″ desk with the Graphite Satin / Polished Aluminum finish on the base.
If you’re gasping for oxygen at these price points you should be. If you’re looking for a made-in-USA standing desk in particular you can find much, much nicer ones at nearly half the price; and for a similar price to the Renew, you could be upgrading to real solid wood and other much more advanced features.
In this price range, you’d expect a very hefty lift capacity of 350+ lbs. The Renew’s base is rated for 250 lbs, from which one must deduct the weight of the work surface. At 1.25″ thick the 30″x60″ MDF-core work surface should weigh about 45 lbs, yielding a net lift capacity of 205 lbs. While this sounds like a lot keep in mind that this lift rating is under ideal conditions of all the weight being evenly distributed along the line running between the lifting columns and doesn’t account for side-loading stresses on the linear actuators. (Learn more in our primer on Do Weight Ratings on Standing Desks Really Matter?)
So let’s get down to the differences in what Herman Miller offers online versus through its dealers.
To traditional enterprise customers, Herman Miller’s desktop options include a whopping 35 colors of high-pressure laminate (HPL), whereas online they only offer four colors (learn about HPL and other materials in our primer on choosing the right desktop for your standing desk). Commercial customers also get options like “formcoat” (a cheaper “powder coat” MDF-painting process) and real-wood veneer, but these are not offered to online buyers.
Commercial customers can order any size desktop from 24″ x 48″ to 36″ x 84″, on six-inch increments. In other words, 21 different sizes. E-commerce customers are offered two: 24″ x 48″ and 30″ x 60″.
In terms of desktop edge treatments commercial customers have several options, including “Square”, “Thin” and “Eased”. Online customers have only one option, and it is clear as mud which one will arrive at your door since Herman Miller didn’t bother to remove photos of configurations not being offered. In the installation manual (below) you can see that the Renew desk’s work surface normally comes in a plain rectangular shape, an oval shape, a 90° corner, a 120° triad configuration and an extended corner shape. What is offered online appears to be only the rectangular top version.
With the propensity of photos on the website being the oval shape we might assume this is what is currently shipping to e-commerce buyers. However, it is shown in both a square and eased edge treatments in the photo gallery and there is no drop-down option to select anything but “24×48” and “30×60”, so it appears to be a complete crapshoot as to which style you’re going to receive. (Caveat: the Herman Miller website was changing a lot as we were fact-checking this review and so we’ll try to update this review once those changes settle down.)
Lifting Base Technology
Of the three Herman Miller standing desk lines (the others being the Nevi and the Motia) the Renew uses the highest-quality componentry. Thelifting base on the Renew desk is based on linear actuator technology from German-based Ketterer.
Commercial customers have the option of a 22″ – 49″ adjustment range with an upgrade to a dual-stage base, which is the most common configuration since this is the only one that meets the ANSI/BIFMA G1-2013 Ergonomic Guidelines that corporate, government and education customers are required to buy. To simplify inventory Herman Miller has with this one decision significantly limited the available market for this desk, especially considering that if a desk is shared with spouses or kids then someone in the family is likely to be too short or too tall to be able to use it ergonomically.
This is going to be a deal killer for very short and very tall people, but the Renew is only offered to online customers in one height range, and it’s a very narrow one of 27″-46″. Shorter users will find the lowest sitting height to be too high, while taller users will find the top end to be too low and/or too shaky (as the tubes of the lifting columns have very little overlap at maximum height extension).
In terms of paint colors on the base, commercial customers get ten base color choices to choose from, while online customers get three. The three are Graphite Satin / Polished Aluminum, White / Polished Aluminum and White / White, with the latter being the cheapest.
The Renew is built with a LogicData controller, which is one of the best on the market. The style of the controller is a simple up-down paddle. Commercial customers also get the option of the classic programmable digital controller with height preset buttons, though this is not offered to online buyers of the Renew standup desk.
Also peculiar is that online buyers will see no mention of the smartphone app that would be required to take advantage of the desk’s optional Bluetooth feature. In fact, Bluetooth isn’t mentioned anywhere on the website, in the installation manual, or in the downloadable User Adjustments Guide. But it is mentioned in the 86-page commercial dealer’s downloadable price book.
In an age where so many standing desks have free Bluetooth apps (e.g. Lander, Lander Lite, ZipDesk, Captain’s and Ensign’s desks) it seems funny for Herman Miller to downplay this potential feature for consumers. Their corporate solution, however, requires the purchase of Herman Miller’s LiveOS and a subscription to make use of it, which isn’t particularly consumer friendly in any event. So it appears this is yet another way that Herman Miller is protecting its dealer channel from cannibalization of their customers by the company’s online store, by literally not revealing that the Bluetooth capability exists in the controller.
Limited Add-on Options
Only two add-on options are offered for the Renew when buying it online.
For $280 you can have the power cord travel through the leg instead of coming out of the wire trough beneath the desktop. Apparently, this is a big deal for corporate customers, though you won’t find it on very many standing desks because you still have cords coming down one way or another to power other devices on your desk like computers, monitors, chargers, etc. We can’t imagine many WFH consumers would opt for this feature over just buying a good cable management kit for standing desks that’ll include a power strip in the trough.
The other option is for a $200 “Integrated Cord Management” device, which is really just a giant trough to replace the wire cover (“H” in the installation manual picture above). Some engineer at Herman Miller apparently thought it would be a capital idea to cover all the under-desk components like the power controller and all the motor cables. But its design is majorly flawed, it’s simply too large and deep. If you choose to add this $200 piece of plastic, prepare to have it crash into your lap when the desk is at sitting height. The consequence is that you either have to sit with your legs stretched forward, impinging circulation on the back of your thighs, or you have to sit too far away from the desk, forcing you into a harmful “computer hunch” posture.
Neither of these options is recommended. Even a top-of-the-line cable management kit like the Tucker Pro will serve you much better for a lot less money.
Assembling the Renew Desk Won’t Be Your Problem, Kinda
We always recommend reading over the assembly manual in advance of buying any standing desk online (or better yet, watch a video of the entire assembly process). Unfortunately, Herman Miller isn’t in the habit of shooting video manuals so you have to suffer through imagining putting the desk together using their downloadable Renew Desk Assembly Manual. We say “suffer through” because it’s obvious that a) it was intended for professional furniture installers who have all the right tools, and b) this desk is normally sold to enterprise customers in a wide variety of desktop shape, size and color options, and other production variations.
Even though the Renew is now being marketed at the home office worker as Herman Miller and Design Within Reach try to capture back as much business that has fled to e-commerce as possible, all they really did was take a small subset of the Renew options and price them cheaper for consumers. They didn’t even bother to create new documentation for this simplified, albeit still very pricey rendition of their mainline Renew desk.
So how did Herman Miller resolve the issue of difficulty of assembly for WFH consumers? They decided to charge an extra $199 or $299 (depending on your distance from the shipping hub) for delivery and in-home assembly. Using a national “final mile” delivery company, the drivers who will be assembling your desk in your home will have a near-zero chance of having seen a Herman Miller desk before. Judging by some of the user reviews of this delivery experience they may not even bring all the right tools to the job (how many carry a T30 Torx bit in their toolboxes?).
It sounds nice, the idea of having “professional installation” instead of having to build the desk yourself, but these are not the same professional furniture installers that came to your corporate campus to build 1,000 office desks over several weeks’ time. These are drivers used to setting up large-screen TVs and such. You will need to schedule a delivery window and stay home until they show up (which isn’t always within that window, could be later or even the next day depending on how their day goes) and then give them the time to review the instructions and build the desk, and the space to do it in.
There are no video guides for the drivers either, so customer experiences with the delivery and installation have been problematic. Some customers report killing half a day waiting for delivery and drivers not leaving until late into the evening. Some of the assemblies went so poorly that the desks ended up being returned as defective.
Here’s what one flustered customer wrote in their 1-star review of the experience: “WORST EXPERIENCE – UNACCEPTABLE! I am flabbergasted at how bad the experience was with Herman Miller. One would expect a premium experience but it was like I had bought from an unknown fly by night operation and the whole experience has been a complete waste of time. I waited two months for this desk to arrive. The promised deliver date was way behind schedule and there was a lack of communication from the start which was a bad sign and I should of just canceled my order. The logistics company gave me a two hour window of 5-7pm on a Friday night so we had to wait around for delivery- they ended up coming at 7:30 so they were late. The delivery people left our house at 9:30 pm! We had dedicate four and a half hours for this desk! This is a total disregard for your customers time Herman Miller! After all this – the desk was defective! It was 4 inches higher on one side so it’s not level, the up down buttons work opposite to what they are supposed to do – up goes down/ down goes up. There is a chip in the desk to boot. The logistics guys were very nice and I felt bad that they had to work late on a Friday night. I hope they got paid.They worked hard to get the desk assembled correctly – three people worked on it for two hours and my husband even tried to help!! This whole experience has been comical – I waited two months for a totally defective desk. I do not recommend Herman Miller products due to poor quality control and poor service. I would give negative stars.” So… caveat emptor.
To explain in part how the experience this customer had could have gone so badly, here’s a glimpse at how many parts are involved and the tools they would need to have on them to assemble a Renew desk:
For a lot less money than the Renew (plus delivery and installation charges) you could buy a truly premium standing desk that arrives 95% factory pre-assembled, with your part of the installation not even requiring you to fetch a toolbox. Several premium, made-in-America standing desks come this way, assembling in 3 to 8 minutes once removed from the packaging. They cost 40% less than a Renew and there are no shipping fees added to the price. Learn about those options in our round-up of Quick Install Standing Desks. They also typically ship same day to one week from order, as opposed to seven weeks from order for the Renew desk.
Customer Service? What’s That?
We recommend reading through the user reviews on Herman Miller’s own site, as we always do, to get a flavor for how well they handle customer service with end consumers. Let’s be honest, all these major manufacturers that aren’t digitally-native are used to having their dealers perform the end customer service, so we weren’t too surprised to hear that getting good customer service was a challenge for a lot of customers.
We tested their live chat capability on the hermanmiller.com website on a Sunday, when many WFH customers have the time to do their online research and shopping. The 30-minute wait time for a live sales rep to respond to a simple product question was a bad omen. Once we did get a response the rep appeared to know practically nothing about the product. This is not the kind of experience you would expect from a digitally-native standing desk manufacturer’s live chat interaction. It is the most common way that e-commerce customers communicate with sellers these days to ask questions… a few still call by phone, and some send an email, but most users interact over live chat. So this needs to be a core competency for Herman Miller and it clearly isn’t, at least not yet.
Considering the outlandish prices they are charging for the Renew desk we find this aspect of the customer experience to be the biggest differentiation in what you can expect between a big corporate furniture brand like Herman Miller and one of the highly-proficient, digitally-native brands like iMovR, UpLift or Fully.
We were very surprised to see only a five-year warranty on the base when the competition from Fully, iMovR and UpLift are 15 years. This again seems artificially set since commercial customers get 12 years of warranty on the whole desk. For consumers, the desktop warranty was left at 12 years, but with so many limitations you’re not ever likely to file a claim and incur the expense of return shipping. For more information on warranties, be sure to read our primer on How to Compare Warranties on Standing Desks.
E-commerce-Ready With a 7-week Ship Time?!
Herman Miller just doesn’t seem to get it. Even with the massive recent price drop and their massive advertising campaigns targeting the WFH market, they just don’t seem to understand that consumers’ expectations are set by Amazon, not Steelcase. It seems inconceivable that any consumer will want to pay up this much for the Herman Miller brand and then wait seven weeks just for the desk to leave the warehouse.
Color us perplexed, but not all too terribly surprised.
The Bottom Line
Severely overpriced, low-quality desktops in extremely limited sizes and colors, two-month delivery, expensive in-home installation fees, a too-limited ergonomic range and substandard customer service are not a great combo when considering buying a standing desk that costs upwards of $1,575. You can get a far superior product and overall customer experience with one of the other top-rated standing desks we’ve reviewed, and especially if limiting your consideration to made-in-America standing desks that are sold online. See how the Herman Miller WFH standing desks compare to those from Steelcase.
The pivot maneuver for this multi-billion-dollar office furniture behemoth to serving the work-from-home consumer via e-commerce has been poorly executed, as it has generally been for most of their peers. Fortunately for Herman Miller, chair sales to home office customers have gone much better than desk sales, and it really saved their bacon with Wall Street.
Our advice? Stick with the digitally-native brands of standing desk sellers. You’ll get way more product for the money, an easier assembly task, more responsive pre-sale and post-sale customer service, not to mention a vastly greater choice in size, shape, color and desktop materials. Even an ultra-premium, American-made standing desk like the Lander, with far greater quality, an immense selection in desktops, tech-forward features (like Bluetooth and built-in health coach, anti-collision, full ANSI/BIFMA certification and compliance), twice the warranty term, free shipping, excellent support and a 3-minute assembly time will set you back about 40% less.