Smart Internet Shopping for Style Lovers


I brag a lot about my ability to track down virtually any product online, and about a year ago I decided to put my prowess to reader-fueled use through the Insomniac Sale Picks series. But I’ve had a few questions about online searching and shopping techniques, so I thought I’d share some of my personal practices to see if they’re universally employed or me-specific.

Here’s where I look when I’m looking for something online:

  1. eBay – If you missed out on an item when it was being sold retail, it is likely to be somewhere on eBay. If you’re looking for something super trendy or runway reminiscent – like burgundy boots or a peplum top – eBay will sell you vintage and used for pennies on the dollar. Check vendor feedback and don’t go with anyone less than 100% if you’re super skittish (I go as low as 97% myself). Tips for shopping eBay here.
  2. Amazon – I remember when Amazon sold books, and books only. I’ve bought green tea, cosmetics, and cheese curds (for my gran) from them. And they often have amazing deals on clothing, shoes, and accessories. Check Amazon for any and everything.
  3. Google Shopping – Google Shopping used to be my secret weapon, but it’s changed. Google switched its model to favor paid entries, so many times the service points you to eBay listsings. But not always, and using Google Shopping or just plain Google can help you narrow down an online search. Especially if you’re looking for a specific, named item – like a pair of Timberland Earthkeeper boots – since even related retailers may be offering different prices for the same item. If you’re looking for a category of item, like high-waisted skinny jeans, also search. The shopping tool is limited, but will still introduce a few vendors into the mix that you’d never have thought of on your own.
  4. Etsy: I have nearly endless patience when I’m questing for something, and will pore over 65 pages of search results. Not everyone has that kind of stamina. But Etsy’s vintage offerings are amazing, handmade goods are often reasonably priced, and accessories are unbearably fun.

For those who are skittish about shopping online, here are some general tips:

  • Know thy measurements: NEVER trust a photo for fit, and don’t buy from a site that doesn’t give you specific garment measurements unless you know the brand. Even comparing your personal dimensions to those listed online can fail, especially when vendors put one big chart up for ALL garments, but better to be as informed and accurate as you can be.
  • Check the return policy: If you can’t send it back, is it really worth the risk?
  • Check the shipping rates: If you have to spend $15 to get it and another $15 to send it back if it looks like poo, is it really worth the risk?
  • Read customer reviews: Now, do this with a grain of salt, please. Some users are biased against brands, some leave negative ratings but no descriptive input, some are basing their feedback on factors that have no bearing on your own wants and needs. All that said, if a product is universally described as poorly made, strangely constructed, or some other negative criterion, take that information under advisement.
  • Look for coupon codes: Put the vendor’s name and the word “coupon” into Google. You’ll get about 70 trillion sites offering you free shipping, 15% off, and all manner of bargains. Always check for coupons before purchasing. My favorite site is Retail-me-Not.

How many of my online shopping haunts do you haunt? Any other general, looking-for-a-red-brimmed-wool-hat-with-teal-trim, find-anything type sites that you use? I know there are alternatives to eBay (like Bonanza) and Etsy (like Supermarket)- anyone a fan? Do you always check return policies and shipping before clicking, “buy”?

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

  • Jessi

    Also check out rebate sites. By far my favorite is ebates.

    Often they’ll offer a small percentage back… But I’ve gotten as much as 20% back! 4 times a year you get a check. Every little bit adds up!

  • Amy

    In addition to knowing your measurements, look at how products are styled for tell-tale signs of how the product fits the model, for an indication of how that product might fit you (this typically applies to online retailers, and not ebay or etsy). For example, as a tall person, I need longer sleeves, so if a long sleeve top is styled with the sleeves rolled or pushed up, I pass. I only purchase a long sleeve top if I can find it styled in a way that shows the sleeves down, and they completely cover the wrist of the model. Rolled or pushed up long sleeves may be done to disguise that the sleeves were too short for the model wearing the garment, too. Chunky or layered bracelets can also disguise too short sleeves on a model.

  • http://inediblejewelry.etsy.com Jessica

    On Etsy, to find truly quirky items, I recommend using search instead of the browse tool. Many, many, many shops and listings are not included in browse, so you’ll only see a tiny slice of what’s available, and often that slice is whatever is considered trendy by the staff that adds items to the browse feature.

    For search, definitely liberally use the negative sign (-) to filter results. For example: “handmade blue dress -baby -girls -pattern -doll”.

    I also love the feature where I can look through someone else’s favorite items (if they’ve made them public)- I personally find far more offbeat and cool pieces that way than any other.

  • anotherjen

    Amazon is under increasing fire for shady business practices (tax avoidance, abuse of warehouse staff) so anyone who is concerned about those kinds of issues should think twice and get some information before shopping there.

  • Jenn

    It helps to plan for a few duds. If you need to, add a few return fees into your budget so you’re able to take a risk. Know the return policy before you buy and record the return deadline on your calendar. Sometimes the clock starts ticking when you place the order, so check carefully. Have a set place to store things that need to go back and keep everything together. But most sites have ways for you to view your order history and print the return form. Stores with paper catalogs and a website may have two deals going at the same time so do the math to see which one gives you the better deal. I’ve turned down 20% off at Boden for 11% with free returns because there was a good chance I was going to have to return the item.

  • http://www.rubybows.com Leiah

    A lot of online sites will offer a coupon code if you sign up for their email list. Or they offer a coupon if you Like them on Facebook. Worth a try!

  • Caro

    Measurements are key. I can’t tell how something will fit me based on what it looks like on a model; I’m very petite. It drives me nuts when retailers do not provide lengths in shirts. Most pants are too long and will have to be hemmed anyway, as will most long sleeves, but I refuse to have a shirt hemmed. Describing something as “hip-length,” for example, is not particularly helpful.

    • Julie

      This petite agrees with you! Some sites (such as J. Crew) have online customer service chat features, so if I don’t see garment measurements listed, I’ll ask about that. I like Boden because the measurements are listed for every item. Out of 15 items I’ve ordered, I’ve only chosen a wrong size twice. It would be nice to see other retailers follow their lead.

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  • Sara

    Zappos.com doesn’t have the largest selection, but free shipping & free returns! For a full year! And they have videos on some products which generally do a poor job of representing the fit, but can sometimes be helpful. The prices are usually good too, particularly on shoes.

    Unless I find an ah-maaazing deal, I generally only buy things with free shipping & free returns. I’ve been burned too many times by having to PAY money to return something I don’t want.

  • http://notdeadyetstyle.blogspot.com/ Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    I am a recent convert to Amazon shopping – some terrific bargains there. And I’m an eBay-er from way back, at least ten years of browsing fun!

  • http://pricklypearcactuscandy.blogspot.com Angela

    If you don’t mind last year’s style, I love 6pm.com.
    I just bought a pair of Minnetonka boots that have been on my list for $38 (regularly $90). You can pull up your brand and search by % off for great deals.
    Also, FREE shipping.

  • http://www.abackwardsprogress.blogspot.ca Rachelle

    What a timely email for me! I just made my first foray into online clothes buying yesterday, at Simons – a Canadian store with really cute merchandise. They have free shipping over $50 and free returns (within a deadline – 30 days I think) so I felt it was worth a try! Armed with your suggestions I feel more prepared for more purchases in the future. Thanks Sally!

  • Debbie

    Has anyone had good luck with Zulily? The prices on some things are pretty great bit their no return policy makes me rather leary of ordering any apparel.

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  • http://sensetosave.com Kacie

    I need to swear off online shopping for certain things. Some things will look great online, but when I get it…ugh. And unless the return policy is really easy, I will just live with it (not good!).

    I looove shopping online but I need to get better at figuring out what works best for my body before I shop for things unless I’m quite certain about the company and have previously ordered a winner. Ya know?