Online shopping is a wonderous phenomenon; gone are the days of making trips to the mall, having to try on clothes in poorly lit changing rooms, or going into stores only to find that they do not have what you wanted to buy. It is no wonder that online shopping is becoming increasingly popular – for the first time, almost anything in the world that can be bought is just a click away. But for those who are unfamiliar with the world of e-commerce, the abundance of choices can seem daunting. While I am by no means an expert, I have spent more time than I care to admit trawling fashion websites for things to buy. Here is a list of tips and tricks I like to use that may be a helpful reference for you the next time you are online shopping!
1. Specific vs. browsing
Do you have something specific you are looking for or are you just browsing? In most cases, I find that having some idea of what I am looking for makes online shopping far easier and faster than if I were to scroll aimlessly through hundreds of webpages looking for anything that appealed to me. When I am not looking for anything specific, I limit my casual browsing to the ‘New In’ sections of most websites, to avoid spending too much time. Before you begin the shopping process, identify which type of shopping you will do and tackle it accordingly.
2. Use aggregate sites
The world of online shopping can seem overwhelming – there is so much stuff available, but who has the time to scour hundreds of websites to find the thing you want? The good news, though, is that there are websites that can do this on your behalf. Shopstyle, Polyvore, and the ilk of what I like to call aggregate sites, take into account the products available on a wide variety of individual websites; when you search for an item, it combines results from the various sites into one comprehensive list. Aggregate sites operate on the surface like any other online shopping website: you can type in a category of clothing, or a specific brand, or the exact item you want, and the site returns hundreds of results that relate to your search. Alternatively, you can browse through thousands of products by selecting a category that you are interested in (women’s clothing, shoes, accessories, and so on). The difference is that these sites do not actually have any inventory; when you click on an item you wish to purchase, they will redirect you to another website that does stock the item, where you can place an order. These sites are great if you have at least a rough idea of what you want – it could be as vague as knowing you want a black turtleneck, or as specific as knowing you want a black 100%-cashmere turtleneck from Joseph that costs under $300. After you have entered your search, you can filter through the numerous options by colour, size, price, brand, and sort them by relevance, ascending/ descending price, popularity etc.
If you create an account with the site, you can even mark your favourite items by pressing the heart icon in the bottom left-hand corner of each item, which means you will be alerted by email when they go on sale; discounted favourites can also be viewed in the ‘My Sales’ section of the website. To get alerts for all of the items in your search results, you can click the blue ‘Save this search’ button.
3. Put items you like onto a wishlist
If you see an item on any website that is out of stock, or if you would like to wait for a sale to purchase it, then add the item to your wishlist. Most sites offer this option – you can create an account and add the items to your wishlist, which will be saved, and you will be notified by email when the item comes back in stock or if it goes on sale. This might be a wise thing to do if there are multiple items on one site that you want to put on your wishlist. However, if there are several sites on each of which there is just one item you want, or if the thought of having to create individual accounts on multiple websites is too cumbersome, then consider using Shoptagr. An extension that you can download onto your computer, it allows you to add items on different websites to a wishlist, which you can view by going onto the Shoptagr site and logging in to your account. By saving an item, you can choose to be notified via email when an item either comes back into stock, or decreases in price. You can create different lists to place your saved items into categories of your choice, such as clothes, shoes, and bags.
4. Compare, Compare, Compare
If you find something you like on a website, do not buy it immediately. Check to see if it is available on any other website for a better price, because it often will be. Only when you have confirmed that you have found the site on which your item is cheapest should you make your purchase.
5. Use Google
How can you find out which websites a product is available on? Google it. When you search for an item, the Google Shopping bar pops up at the top of the page with a series of suggested products, which are worth taking a look at – you may even find websites that you had not heard of before that stock the item you want!
6. Shop On International Websites
European designer brands often place a sizeable markup on their items that are sold in the US, which, along with LA tax, makes luxury goods all the more expensive. Enter international websites (see a list of my favourite at the end of the post): that they are based outside of the US means they will likely be able to offer lower prices for the same products, either because the RRP in non-US countries is lower, or because items shipped outside of the country are eligible for tax and VAT exclusions. Shopping internationally has saved me so much money – I almost never purchase luxury items on US websites anymore!
7. Be Careful With Shipping
The caveat to 6) is that shipping costs on most reputable international sites is expensive. International shipping, although tracked and highly efficient, can cost between $25 and $50, or more. As such, it may be better to wait until there are multiple items you want to purchase before placing an order, or to shop internationally only when the item you are buying is of a considerable cost ($40 for shipping is quite dear when your item is $150, but less so when you are making a $1000 purchase).
Some items you buy internationally may incur US Customs duties. This depends on the website you shop on, and the value of the items you buy; some sites will include all of the customs fees in their prices, while others will state that they are not included, and that the buyer may have to pay duties upon the package’s arrival. In my experience, purchases under $800 will not be charged a customs fee, although this threshold may differ between websites. Make sure you are aware of the duties, if there are any you must pay, so that your package will not be held up upon arrival in the US.
9. Buyer Beware
This may seem like a matter of common sense, but I will labour the point: beware of scam sites. For all the legitimate international sites that offer good discounts, there are certainly many other sites that are scams. If you come across one that you are unfamiliar with, always do a quick Google search to see if it is trustworthy. Deals that are too good to be true may sometimes (but not always) be a warning sign: a classic handbag that originally retails for $2500, for instance, is unlikely to be marked down to $250. Even if a site is legitimate, finding lots of negative comments about its shipping times or customer service is a sign that you should avoid shopping on it.
10. Try On Items In-Store First
While many sites now offer free shipping and free returns or exchanges, some, and in particular those based outside the US, charge for shipping, and will charge the shipping cost a second time for returns; there is often no option to exchange items. To minimise the chance of you having to make a return because you ordered something in the wrong size or colour, or decided you did not like it, make an effort to try the item on in person. Many department store websites and some standalone for stores will show you which branch your item is available at; alternatively, you could call the store to make sure that they have the item. This is perhaps more applicable to luxury purchases, or other items that you can get at a considerable discount online, because it requires extra time and effort – if the prices in store and online are too similar, you may just choose to purchase in store rather than wait to buy it online.
11. Buy Items In Multiple Sizes And Colors
If, however, it is not possible for you to try an item on in store, and you are unsure of its sizing or colour, the next best option is to order it in multiple variations. This way, you can return the ones you do not like and simply pay one extra time for shipping, instead of ordering just one size or colour, having to return it if it is not right and order it again, which would cost you more money (or, if the item was in demand, it may have gone out of stock before you could place a second order).
12. Sign-Up For Emails
Many websites offer 10% (or, in some cases, 15% to 25%) off your first purchase if you register your email for promotions. Some of these discounts can even be used in conjunction with other ongoing sales on the sites. My advice is to create a separate email account specifically for this purpose, so that you do not overwhelm your school or work accounts with promotional emails.
13. Sign-Up For Rewards
Many department stores, such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdales, offer rewards programmes for customers, who get points for every dollar spent. Once you have accumulated enough points, you receive a monetary credit that you can spend in store or online. If you regularly shop at one of these establishments, you may wish to sign up for rewards, so that you can take full advantage of all the benefits of shopping there.
14. Get Cash Back
Wouldn’t it be great if you were paid to shop? Well, the good news is that you can be! Sites like Ebates offer shoppers certain percentages of cash back when they buy things online. All you need to do is create an account, link it to your PayPal account (or, if you prefer, you can choose to be paid with gift cards instead), and download the Ebates button for your browser. If the site you are shopping on is eligible for cash back, the Ebates notification will pop up in the upper right-hand corner letting you know how much cash back you will get.
Click the button to claim your cash, and shop on the site as usual. The money will accumulate in your account and be transferred to your PayPal account every three months, provided that you have earned at least $5 during that period. Ebates offers first-time members a $10 cash bonus, and during sales events such as Black Friday, increases cash back percentages for some stores. It is so easy to sign up for and use, and you get free money – what is not to love?
15. My Website Recommendations
Europe- and UK-based sites: (that offer cheaper prices, the same prices without tax, or without VAT): mytheresa.com, luisaviaroma.com, farfetch.com, harrods.com, selfridges.com, monnierfreres.com, forzieri.com, flannels.com, italist.com
US-based sites that have good sales: net-a-porter.com, modaoperandi.com, saksfifthavenue.com, neimanmarcus.com, bergdorfgoodman.com (you do not have to pay LA tax when ordering on this site), shopbop.com