The Truths About Online Shopping: How to Navigate, Shop and Safely Purchase Online
As much as I loved shopping as a middle and high schooler, I now find myself spending more and more time out of the mall and at home browsing online. Malls were safe and fun places to meet friends as a teenager, and it was my favorite way to be social in lieu of going to the movies (Weird fact about me: I don't like movie theaters).
Now, shopping is a huge part of my career as opposed to a hobby. If you live in Raleigh, you'll most likely see me blazing through local shopping centers and malls looking for the perfect pieces for a client or for a fashion shoot. The more and more I shop for clients and pull for various projects, the less inclined I am to go shop for myself on a Saturday afternoon at Crabtree Valley Mall. The very thought gives me anxiety. Especially when I know I can find it online.
Don't get me wrong, I love the experience of shopping in a brick and mortar. I actually prefer it. You get *unparalleled customer service* (Sometimes. Sometimes it's the customer service that leads us to shopping online in the first place.) and human interaction that you just don't get online. You get to touch and feel the clothes, see the amazing display that the visual team labored over, and harness all 5 senses. I'll never forget what I felt, saw, smelled and touched when I walked into the Chanel at 31 rue Cambon in Paris; the location where Gabrielle Chanel opened her first clothing boutique. But the reality is that online shopping has a convenience that just can't be beat. For me, after a long work day or after an unsuccessful trip to the mall, e-commerce always saves the day. I have perfected how to indulge in online shopping for myself, as well as use it as a resource for work.
I realize that the majority of people have no idea how to begin online shopping. There's fear in giving out your credit card information, worry of items not fitting properly, and the unknown of shipping and returning if it doesn't. In today's blog post, I wanted to share some truths with you about online shopping and how to start. Don't let it intimidate you any longer!
1. Know your measurements
Before you begin to online shop, you MUST take measurements of yourself. Every store has a slightly different standard of measurements that they go by that determine what a "Small", "Medium", or "Large" looks like. Even with shoes, for example, I personally range from a 6.5 to an 8. Yes, it's annoying, but the majority of online sites have Sizing Charts for you to view. So if you really miss the mark and order the wrong size, you're kinda the one at fault. It's rare to find a site that doesn't have their sizing information listed (After I measured myself, I keep a list of them in the 'Notes' section of my phone and will even share it with family/friends around my birthday or holidays!).
In order to combat the chaos of sizing, simply take your own measurements. If you're wondering if there is a proper and improper way to take measurements, there definitely is! I've attached copies of a printable PDF for you that details simple measuring instructions as well as a printable measuring tape for you to use if you don't own one. If you would like to be sent the PDF in it's original form, sign up for my FREE newsletter and I will include it in the next edition!
2. Be thorough! Read through 'Product Details' AND reviews
Go to any online site that you're interested in shopping from and select an item that you would like to purchase. I'll be using Nordstrom as my own example. If you look at the item description to the right of and below the images, you'll get a load of important information that you don't want to miss! (I have circled all the important things to take note of in red).
Notice on the right side of the screen they have two bits of important information included for you. First, they share that this dress runs 'True to Size' which means, based on the customer reviews, previous customers believe that the size they ordered accurately reflected the size that they typically wear. You'll also see 'Free People Size Guides'. For an e-commerce site like Nordstrom, who carries hundreds of different vendors, this is the most important information that you will receive about sizing.
I clicked on 'Free People Size Guides', and a separate tab popped up, which had bust, waist and hip measurements for Free People sizing. So, if you had your friend take your measurements, all you need to do is read the chart and order the appropriate size! Easy!
Now, go back to the product page. Directly below the product images, you'll see an itemized description of the product. They may share size information again, give a description of the fabric, the silhouette, and any other important details regarding the construction of the garment. It will also give you length or inseam information in this section.
I haven't heard of a business that doesn't care about their customer's shopping experience. Every business wants you to be content so you come back and buy again! Because of the rise of e-commerce, most companies give a detailed description on all their items like Nordstrom, so that their consumers can make an informed decision on what to order. Some sites will even share what size the model is wearing, and give you the model's measurements so you can compare! However, very few of us have model bodies, so it's hard for us to relate to what the model is wearing if we're much shorter or curvier. That's when the 'Customer Review' section can come in handy. These are real people who have ordered and/or purchased the product, and they're giving their opinion on size, shape, silhouette, fit, fabric, length, etc.! Some sites even allow you to search within the 'Customer Review' section and filter the reviews based on body type/height! So, if you're petite, you can filter the reviews so that you only see what petite women had to say about the product!
3. Utilize pop-ups
Unlike what was shown above, sometimes you will come across a site that isn't as detailed, and you have some lingering questions that aren't answered within the product description.
Again, most websites have been updated to help consumers make smart buying decisions, so they have incorporated an "Ask a Stylist" or "Can we Help You?" service. Saks Fifth Avenue has a pop up at the bottom left corner of their site, so if you have a question or need assistance, a Saks employee can answer some of your questions. Other websites have a pop up that will appear in the middle of the screen and ask if you need assistance. These are people that work for the company or within the store, that can answer more detailed questions. Just like you call upon the sales associate when you're shopping in the mall, this is a virtual way for you to ask for help. Don't be so eager to immediately 'X' out of a pop up! They may help answer some of your more specific questions.
4. Purchase from reputable sources
Now for a first time online shopper, this is possibly the best advice I can give you. Real talk guys: the world is crazy. You know it and I know it. People cheat, people steal, people lie. That's our reality. Criminals can be smart, but let's be smarter. ORDER ITEMS FROM REPUTABLE, WELL-KNOWN SOURCES. People DO make fake accounts and falsify information on the internet. If you have never heard of a brand or website before, don't order from it! Take advantage of social media and ask your followers/friends if they have ever purchased from that vendor. See what people say! If no one has ever heard of it, or they have bad reviews, then you have your answer. Time to start looking some place else.
Here is a list of items that I look for if I am unfamiliar with a website/brand:
- Do you recognize the name of the website or brand? If you don't, do you know someone who does? What did they have to say about it?
- Look under their 'Contact' page. Read their 'About Us' page. Here you may learn the history of the company, or a little about their philanthropy. If it's still iffy - check in to the organizations that they have donated to or partnered with. Do they exist?
- Is there a valid address? Is there a phone number to reach customer service? Businesses must be reachable, so if you can't find any sort of information on how to contact them, that probably means they don't exist.
- Are there reviews of the products on the website? If you look at the product page and see no reviews on any of the products, they may be hiding something.
- Look again at what Nordstrom or Saks Fifth Avenue or J. Crew includes on their product pages. Do they look similar to these reputable, well-known sites?
- Familiarize yourself with their social media accounts. Do they have social media? Do they have a large or small following? Do people comment on their Instagram photos? What are they saying?
- Google it! Type the brand name into Google and see what pops up! Addresses, phone numbers, perhaps even news articles...
- Do your homework. When you Google the business what are they known for? Are they in the news a lot? Was there a scandal? Even if the business exists, is the brand ethical or authentic? Is it a company that you want to give your money to?
5. Free shipping and free returns
Online shopping is already a huge convenience, but what's even better is when the company offers free shipping AND free returns. Many sites do this, and a few of them require a certain dollar amount to be reached before the free shipping is offered. If you're unsure if the item will work, see if they offer free shipping! If they offer free shipping/returns, it takes the pressure off having to pay for shipping on something you returned! Be careful though - read the 'Shipping & Returns' page (usually located at the very bottom of the page) before you purchase. Some sites will deduct the amount for the return label from your purchase, so be mindful of that.
Keep in mind that some companies are going paperless, and are emailing you the return slip for you to print out in case you need to return or exchange. It's crazy to think that people live without printers in their home (I use mine multiple times a day!), but people seem to manage without them! If you're making a return/exchange, some businesses require you to print off pre-paid shipping labels. You may want to have easy access to a printer.
Another helpful tip for free shipping is to order in store. Businesses lack foot-traffic because of the rise of e-commerce. As incentive to get you physically shopping, the majority of businesses offer free shipping if you order in store. Did you know that? For example, say you're browsing Anthropologie.com and find something you want to order. Anthropologie has a $150 amount for you to spend before you're eligible for free shipping. Write down the name of the dress, as well as the product number/SKU, and go to your nearest Anthropologie to order it. You'll make the sales associate's day so much brighter by already having the needed information written down, and you may find something in the store that's similar for you to try on so you can definitively decide what size to order! Most retailers offer free shipping straight to your home if you order in the store. Now that's great customer service.
6. Read the 'Return Policies'
Now that you know what you'll owe (or not owe) if you decide to return your item, you need to familiarize yourself with the return policy. While on the home page, scroll all the way down to the footer. You'll usually see a 'Returns' or 'Shipping & Returns' link. You may have to hunt for it, but most companies have it easily accessible. Each brand is different and requires different instructions in case you return. Some companies allow you to make a return years after a purchase if you still have the receipt, and some allow only 14 days. That's a HUGE difference! Don't assume that you have more time than you do. Read up on each return policy so you're not blind sighted. Again, if they're giving you all the information you need to know, then you're at fault when you miss the deadline. Here are some examples. Notice they are all labeled/accessed differently.
7. Take Two
Now that we've learned about how to find the 'Return Policies' page, here comes another quick trick I like to tell my clients. Follow this scenario: You're the maid of honor for your best friend's wedding and for years she's been trying to set you up with the best man. After a full year of engagement parties, showers and events, you and Mr. Right have really hit it off! You've been eyeing a dress online that you want to wear to the wedding rehearsal, but you've been so busy being your friend's right-hand-woman that you've completely forgotten to order it until tonight. If you order tonight, the dress should get here in time, but what if it doesn't fit?! You neeeeeeed this dress!
Order two sizes and return the one that doesn't fit! You now have the knowledge to look up a company's return policy, so you know exactly how much time to allot to return the one that didn't work. Better to be safe than sorry! What if he is 'the one'?!
8. Check out!
I understand that there is real fear in entering your credit card number online. By this time you've done your homework on the business, you know that they're legitimate, but you still can't seem to click the 'Buy' button. I personally do not get anxious while shopping online (Probably a bad thing.. I'm always a little too eager to click 'Buy'!), but I know that the anxiety and worry is real! My suggestion for those of you who are hesitant to order online because of fraud and hackers is to try out Paypal. Real talk #2: if hackers can hack into your account on Nordstrom.com, it's likely that they can also hack into your Paypal account. But - for some people it's all the reassurance that they need. Technology is advancing, and there are real ways to feel reassured about safety in online shopping. Companies have caught on to fraudulent websites and scams, so many of them even post a badge of their security in the footer or during check-out. If anything, browse online and remember you can always physically walk in the store and order from their register!
Now you are fully equipped with everything you need to know about being a successful online shopper! Keep these 8 truths at the forefront of your online shopping, and you'll be sure to have some success! If you have more questions or comments, please leave them below and I'll answer them! Whatever information or tips you may have must also be shared!