Do enough online shopping and this shopping cart icon will make your heart palpitate
There's no shortage of deals to be had online, but wading through the murky waters of online shopping can be tricky to the uninitiated. This starter guide covers where to shop and how to find the best deals
My interest in online shopping started out of necessity when I moved to a mid-sized Canadian city for a new job, but found there were no decent retail outlets to help me build a professional wardrobe. Having lived in large cities all around the world, I was at a loss as to how to buy clothes that weren’t: a) dreadfully boring; b) worn by every third woman in the office; and c) going to cost a fortune because Holt Renfrew was becoming my go-to shop.
My online shopping habit started with eBay, but it didn’t take long to branch out and find other online stores. Of course, it’s a different online world now, filled with items we don’t have access to in Canadian stores. But it’s also a world filled with buyer’s remorse, excessive shipping fees and duties, and occasionally lost parcels.
Key things I learned: always compare items and prices, pass on an item if you have to justify it, and don’t buy on a whim.
Your Guide to Effective Online Shopping
The following tips will help you navigate through the online retail world.
Before You Buy
- Always read online reviews. Go to a variety of sites to check their reviews to get feedback on an item. Remember, things always looks perfect in promo photos, but the reality could be drastically different. Look for comments regarding sizing (is it true to size or does it run big or small or long or wide?), quality (is it sheer, does it pill easily, are there loose threads?), wear (is it an odd cut, does it not drape well?), etc.
- Track your favourite labels online. If you have favourite items or labels you like, use an online shopping service such as ShoppingNotes, Have to Have, ShopStyle, Shop It To Me. Just enter your size, preferred pieces, favourite labels, etc, and they’ll alert you when something in your size and taste pops up.
Get the Best Discounts and Sales
- Watch the calendar, especially if you’re shopping on American websites. They love their holidays and almost any one is reason enough for a sale, so if you can wait, your wallet will benefit. And, of course, Cyber Monday is the biggest online sale season every year in the US, which is the first Monday following Black Friday (after US Thanksgiving).
- Never buy anything full price. There’s no reason to pay full price when there are coupons and codes floating out there, which you can often stack even during a sale (many sites allow you to use multiple codes to stack discounts one on top of another). To find codes and coupons, sign up for newsletters from your favourite e-tailers and always do a simple Google search like: “store name/item name promo code coupon code.”
- Using shopping carts to your advantage. Adding things to your shopping cart doesn’t commit you to buying anything, so it’s not only a fun way to go virtual window shopping, but it can help you keep track of what you’re looking at on different sites (make sure you save your searches). Also, some sites will send you e-mails reminding you of the items in your cart and will include a discount code as an incentive.
- Bookmark your favourite sites so you can check for sales often. Websites like FollowSales will list the best prices found online for a wide variety of items.
- Ask about price-matching. If you find a great price from one store but can’t buy from them for some reason, check with your favourite store to see if they’ll price-match. Many will have great customer service that’s used to handling such requests.
- Ask about first-time discounts for new customers. One of my favourite sites, Revolve, offers an unadvertised 30% discount to new customers for their first purchase, but you need to contact them directly to get it. I used this discount to buy a coat I saw and tried on in Canada, then ordered from that site instead (which had it listed for $150 less), and then used my 30% discount. Bam!
- Try online flash sales. If you love a bargain, don’t miss out on sites like Hautelook and BeyondtheRack , which are online flash sales. New items are posted every morning at generous discounts. The sale ends after a day or two, or when everything’s sold out. You can find fabulous deals here on high-end labels such as St. John, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Sam Edelman, Le Creuset, etc., but you have to get up with the early birds to get the best deals.
- Register for rebates. If you do a lot of online shopping, you’ll want to register for one or more online shopping rebate sites like Ebates. These websites refund you a percentage of your purchase in the form of a cheque each quarter.
Tips on Paying and Shipping
- Always pay with a credit card or through PayPal via credit card. This will provide a bit more of a safety net should a parcel get lost. Most large department stores and well-established e-tailers are excellent about replacing or refunding lost items. Sometimes that’s worth paying a bit more for an item, so keep that in mind.
- Always read a store’s policy on shipping fees. Chances are you’ll be looking at international fees, which vary greatly. Some sites offer free shipping or frequent codes for free shipping, so always compare the actual final cost of an item if you’re looking at multiple sites. Shipping fees often determine where I ultimately make my purchases.
- Get a US address. If you do a lot of online shopping, consider registering for a parcel pickup service just across the border. It’s free to register and it’ll allow you to avoid those dreaded brokerage fees. And most likely you’ll be waved across the border without having to pay additional taxes and duties. I use this service all the time and have never ever had to pay duties or taxes on my items.