Online shopping is a godsend, don't you think? You can sit in the comfort of your home (or office or friend’s house or public transit) and actually buy things rather than driving to the mall, going into a physical store, trying clothes on, waiting in line, paying in person and driving home. You get all the benefits, and none of the hassle – or do you?
We’ve all had it happen – you find an amazing shirt/dress/pair of shoes online and it looks beyond perfect. You order it, and the days are filled with joyous anticipation – it was the ideal color and style, they had it in your size, and you got so excited you paid for 3 day express shipping. And then the box arrives! And that’s where the joy ends – it doesn’t look like the photo, the fabric is totally different and the color is off. You try it on, and it looks absolutely nothing like it did on the 5’10”, size 2 model. So where did you go wrong?
Yes, online shopping can be the most convenient method to getting what you want without ever leaving the sofa, and it definitely minimizes time and effort at the outset. But, in order to be successful, you need to do some homework and be aware of a few common pitfalls - unless you want a closet full of unreturned items with tags on them.
BUYING ONE SIZE
When I’m talking to clients about online shopping, I often equate your virtual ‘cart’ to a fitting room – if you’re not 150% sure of the correct size in a certain item, you’d most likely take two sizes into the fitting room to see which one fits. And it’s the same way with shopping online – if you’re not super confident that you’re a size 10 in that cute J. Crew blazer, buy a second size (as credit card limits permit)!
Buying just one size in something new (especially from an unfamiliar brand) is like playing shopping roulette – and I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big shopping gambler. But buying two sizes literally doubles your chances that one will fit, and personally, I like those odds. Yes, it does essentially guarantee that you’ll need to do a return – which is the next mistake to avoid…
HOPING FOR NO RETURNS
Hoping for no returns is like believing that everything you take into a fitting room will fit – and who’s ever had that happen? Accept returns as part of online shopping and it’s a much smoother process.
As a personal wardrobe stylist, returns are part of my job - but knowing the return parameters at each and every website I shop from not only makes it easier, but also avoids missed deadlines and unforeseen mistakes:
- Is shipping free? Are returns free? If not, am I comfortable with the cost?
- What’s the shipping timeline? Is it firm, or a vague ’10-14 business days’?
- Can I return online purchases in brick and mortar locations?
- What’s the timeline for returns? Does the clock start clicking when I order, or when it ships or when it arrives on my doorstep?
- Is the return label included in the box?
- Is it shipping from an actual location in my country or do I need to return overseas? (which can be a big pain)
The good news is that the majority of online retailers have clear guidelines on the website, and many offer free (or nominal fee), little to no hassle returns.
JUST LOOKING AROUND
“I’m just looking.” That’s what you say in physical stores, so why can’t you do that online? The simple answer is that there’s SO MUCH to look at! You may find yourself scrolling through 500+ options of work tops, which can be pretty overwhelming and draining. So, my solution to that is one word (repeated three times): filter, filter, filter.
Filtering what you’re looking for can save you time, energy, frustration and even actual money. Different online stores have different filters – some of them are super useful, and some, not so much. But either way, it pays to filter because:
- You can narrow down to the specific style and color you’re looking for.
- Many online sites filter by occasion, so you can skip looking at prom dresses when you’re really searching for a dress for a big work presentation.
- You can limit what you see to items available in your size, so that you can avoid falling in love with a shirt just to discover that it’s only available in XXS.
- When stores have very rich filter options, you can narrow down to things like sleeve length, pant leg style, pattern type and even price!
For example, I just did a quick search at Nordstrom for wedding guest dresses, yielding over 3300 results! But when I filtered it down to short sleeve, knee length cocktail dresses, I slimmed my options to 150 results. And if you’re not sure, most sites let you pick multiple filters (like sleeveless and short sleeve at the same time) to keep your options open.
BELIEVING WHAT YOU SEE
Clothes should fit like they look in the photo. We all may think that, but it’s rarely true, unless you have model proportions – and even then, you need to be the proportions of that exact model in the picture. Also to note – clothes are often pinned, tucked, taped and otherwise manipulated to look a specific way in the website photo to enhance their attractiveness and appeal. So what can you do to avoid getting something that looks nothing like it did online?
- Measure yourself – especially when you’re shopping unfamiliar brands. Yes, it takes some time, but a few minutes in front of the mirror with a tape measure can save a trip to the UPS store. And pay attention to the way that specific website says to measure – sometimes it varies.
- Check out the model’s details – not to compare yourself to her, but to see how tall she is and what size she’s wearing. Many sites do this, so that you know if she’s 5’8” and the pants are ankle length on her, they may be hitting the floor on your 5’2” frame.
- Read, read, read – just like filtering narrows down your options, reading can do the same thing. Check out fabric contents, product details, washing instructions, other consumer reviews, etc. Get as much information as you can to ensure that the item fits all your criteria for something great.
- Look at the pictures – and not just the main image. Click through all the photos – if you’re lucky, they show the item from the front, back and sides. And if you’re luckier, they’ll even have a video so you can see how the fabric moves.
BONUS TIP: Many stores now offer 'reserve in store', which means that you can make online selections from your local store's inventory and then have it on hold, waiting for you at that location. So, you get all the convenience of shopping online, none of the hassle of picking through racks of merchandise, and the immediacy of trying it on in a fitting room to see if you like it!
So, if you’re now thinking, “wow, that’s a lot of stuff to do just to buy some clothes online”, remember that you get to do all of this while you're in your pajamas!