My Best Tips for Shopping Online

I’ve been hearing from our community about how challenging they find shopping online for clothes. So today, I thought I would map out some of my best tips to help you navigate the world of e-commerce, so you keep more of what you buy and save yourself trips to the post office. 

Our Current Situation

Retailers and malls were experiencing dwindling sales and low foot traffic long before the time of social distancing. Shopping, for many consumers, was getting not only frustrating but boring.

Many of the stores and shopping destinations currently on the cusp of never recovering from our economy’s freezing were in dire straits before this because they didn’t adapt to the changing world.

Now, all retailers are going to have to overhaul how they do business.

The aspects that made shopping a fun outing are largely missing. And now that we are 12 months into this mess, retailers have adjusted their plans, so you will see less and less inventory in the stores. 

Without an in-store experience, retailers will find more ways to incentivize us to shop online, like deep discounts, bonuses, and free shipping. 

But that brings along its own set of frustrations. So let’s net out how to do it well, so you save time, money, and sanity. 

My Best Tips for Shopping Online

My Best Tips for Shopping Online

Know Your Measurements

The long held belief by almost all of us that we are a certain size is pointless. I can wear anywhere from a small to a large, and a six to a 12 – all depending on the brand.

You need to take your measurements and have them on hand to compare to the size guide provided on store sites. I keep mine in the notes app on my phone. You want to have your shoulder, bust, waist, hips and inseam. 

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Use Retailers Sizing Guide

Next, you must refer to each retailers size guide before you add to cart. Every single one is different. The reason is because sizes are not regulated in the retail industry. Manufacturers can (and do) create their own size scale, with no rhyme or reason. 

Below, I captured the size charts from three of our most popular retailers: Old Navy, J.Crew and Banana Republic. 

Size Charts for J.Crew, Banana Republic, and Old Navy

Let’s say your bust measures out at 38″. You would be a large in Old Navy and a Medium in J.Crew and Banana Republic. That’s a full size difference (which hold true in real life) and these brands are all under the same ownership. 

The discrepancy is even larger with brands that target different demographics – for example, I would swim in a size 10 suit from Talbots, but be a perfect fit in Theory. 

Read Reviews

Many retailers offer customer reviews that provide both a star rating AND comments. If you see something you like with a low star rating, be sure to read the accompanying comments. Often, customers write poor reviews because of shipping issues, or matters of personal tastes that have nothing to do with the fit and quality of a product.

Check the Return Policy

As the retail landscape changes, I can guarantee return policies will become more generous, and additional conveniences will be offered, like prepaid shipping labels, pick up, etc. Just give it some time.

However, it’s still important to check.

Not long ago, I made an impulse buy off of Instagram to try a brand that kept showing up in my feed. By the time I opened the package, a few days after receiving it, I had pretty much missed the window to send it back. They had a ten-day return period with convoluted requirements for return and refunds. 

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It was so much extra work I ended up eating the order and learned a valuable lesson.

What (and Who) to Avoid

Speaking of what to avoid, proceed with caution when it comes to “social media brands.” These are brands like the above example that focus their marketing entirely on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Their shipping times tend to be so long you forget you even placed an order and have impossible return periods. More so, they’re not transparent about manufacturing practices.

This will change with time, and more legitimate, ethical businesses will have to sell on social, but the first round feel predatory.

If you see a product or brand you’d like to try, first do a quick Google search to find as much information as possible. Always read their “about” page. If they don’t have one, it doesn’t sound professional or they don’t provide key information like a customer service number or address, avoid it. 

Wear it Three Ways 

Follow the same guidelines online that we recommend for in store purchases. This is where I find online shopping incredibly helpful. It’s just you shopping! 

Before you pull the trigger on a purchase, ask yourself a few questions:

Do I LOVE it (assuming it fits the way you hope)? 

If it’s a mix and match item, can you wear it at least two, maybe three ways? 

If it’s a better basic, how frequently will you reach for it? 

Depending on the price, could you benefit from having more than one?

What’s nice about online shopping is you have no pressure. You can toggle back and forth between your Pinterest boards and your shopping cart. You can search for discount codes, or options at different stores. You can walk away for a minute without feeling bad about wasting someones time. 

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Online shopping can be incredibly efficient and fun with just a little pre-work!

Our Style Content is Inspired by Our Readers

Our readership inspires all of our posts and is not sponsored or paid for by brands or retailers. 

Recommendations are based on my experience as a personal stylist and wardrobe consultant for over a decade. I worked with busy, down-to-earth women who wanted to look chic and feel confident but were often confused by so much of retail. 

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My Best Tips for Shopping Online

14 thoughts on “My Best Tips for Shopping Online”

  1. Wonderful insight! I’ll have to make a checklist and keep it next tu o my computer.
    For those items with the extended return dates, I add a reminder/appointment in my calendar. It is especially handy for the cosmetic items that give you 60 days satisfaction guarantee. It also reminds that I can throw away the box the item came in if I’m not going to return it.

    Reply
  2. Thanks Megan for the helpful hints for online shopping. Your post is very timely given that yesterday I was totally frustrated with Kohl’s and how they handle returns. I’m generally not a Kohl’s shopper for women’s clothes, but due to being home and numerous ads inundating my email, I decided to order some items from Kohl’s. They didn’t work out and need to send them back. Well, Kohl’s return policy is return to the store or your on your own for shipping. They don’t even give you one of those pre paid labels that they would charge a fee for like some other stores do. So, given I am not going to the post office or UPS or waiting until the store opens in a few months, I had to get a box, weigh the box, measure the box and figure out how much it would be through UPS. Then pay and print the label and finally put it out for the UPS guy to take. All that said, beware of the Kohl’s returns.

    Reply
  3. Thank you for this very helpful information especially the “Who and What to Avoid” section. There is a scam company out of China with popup ads of beautiful unique clothes. Most of their ads are stolen photos of clothing sold by reputable companies like Sundance Catalog and other specialty sites. The scam company changes its name frequently to mislead people. Beware of the popup ads of clothes with prices that look too good to be true!!!!
    Thank you for your many well thought out and informative posts. Your blog is the BEST!!!!

    Reply
  4. Great article. I agree with Rita on the scam companies out of China. I try to google the company name and find out where the item is coming from. I have had the same problem when ordering on Amazon. Try and find out where the company is located that you are buying from. Megan thank you for the great information that you are providing.

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  5. Megan – this is so thoughtful and helpful! I think you have captured our current approach to shopping and what possibly lies ahead. Love your blog! Thank you!!

    Reply
  6. Great article! I must add, the measurements aren’t correct on the charts, my waist measurements say i should wear a 6-8 in the waist of a fit and flare dress style, but 4 actually fit, in Talbots, Tommy Hilfiger, Anne Klein, Gal Meets Glam, and Boden. I also have from Target their plain white cotton shirt in both small AND medium, the measurements are exactly the same. If stores really want our business they need to actually measure the finished garments, instead of a size chart, it also addresses how tight or loose each person wants their fit to be on them. I noticed Uniglo gives garment measurements, and jeans on Nordstrom, but the “ size charts” seem outdated to me, in the world of online shopping.

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  7. Thank you Megan…very helpful! I especially like your tip to keep personal measurements in “notes” on your device. I miss the old days of social shopping but I am adjusting.

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  8. Unfortunately the fabrics never look as good in person as they do on the websites. I’m usually disappointed with online purchases.

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  9. Thanks for such an informative post! I miss regular in store shopping- it’s been such a big part of my life that doing it all online is just not as fun! BUT- I can adapt and your guidelines are so helpful. I did see Kohl’s now carries LandsEnd not sure if you can return online LandsEnd orders to Kohl’s or not.

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, you can only return Lands End items to Kohl’s if you purchased them through the Kohl’s website. Otherwise, they either have to be mailed back or returned to a Land’s End store

      Reply
  10. I do most of my shopping on line, and did so before the pandemic, because plus size options are better in cyberspace. I’ve found I buy most of my clothing from 3-4 retailers, and because I do this, I have a good idea of how the items will fit based on the pictures and reviews. I avoid retailers who charge for shipping on a return. With the original charges, that can amount to a $20 try on. Also, if you find you like a retailer, you are likely to buy enough to get free shipping, as, for example, I do on any purchase made at Macy’s. Another good tip is to sign up to be whatever the brand calls its “insider” group. That usually is free to do and can result in free shipping. Finally, if you call the bricks and mortar store, they can place your order and the shipping is free to your home. I do this often through my local Talbots.

    Reply
  11. I would add to all the above, to check for how to care for the clothing item. I’ve run into the occasional label which provides no care information online. Dry cleaning is a deal breaker for me for most things, and I won’t order items that don’t provide this information.

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  12. I order on-line and prefer it this way. I am disabled and find walking around a mall very difficult and a frustrating event. I wear women’s clothing and in-store options are few. I order from a few catalogs. I know their fabrics and fit plus I find soooo many more clothing options. I’ve made it a point to do business with businesses that meet my need and want my business!

    Reply
  13. I did purchase several items from stores that I have always found what I liked and the fit was perfect
    However my online purchases were not as successful. I don’t know why but sizes I usually fit in and arrived and were either toot small or too big. It was frustrating. I should have read the comments from others and figured out what size I should be purchasing g. Thank you for this guideline.

    Reply

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