Today I wanted to offer you some tips and insight on how to shop online. In person and online shopping are two completely different experiences that should be approached in their own unique way. In person we get to touch, feel, try on, and return easily. Online we rely on words, pictures and reviews to guide our decisions I equate online shopping to gambling- you take a risk but the reward can either be a really great product or a hard hit to your wallet. Hopefully with a little insider information the former experience will be the only one you have.
Before you hit the buy button:
- Read the product description- every word. Read product descriptions on other retailing websites for even more information.
- Read and understand what the material it is made out of. Is is natural fibers or synthetic? Leather or PU (a synthetic plastic)? Pre-shrunk or not? (probably not.) If it doesn’t say, the price will usually indicate the material. Higher costs means natural materials, lower costs mean polyester. Wool is itchy. Canvas is stiff. Polyester doesn’t breath well. Spandex stretches. Linen wrinkles and shrinks. Silk is delicate. Cotton comes in so many qualities that it’s hard to tell the difference online (again look at price.)
- Read reviews- with a grain of salt. I like 3 and 4 star reviews for the most honesty. Bad reviews are usually from negative reviewers who only write to bad reviews. If the reviews are 5 stars and they all sound alike or are written in terrible English they are probably not real. If the site you are on does not have reviews, look at other sites.
1. Know your size backwards and forwards. Measure yourself (bust/chest), waist (natural and high). hip, arm length, hip to knee length, hip to floor, height, and shoe sizes in inches and cm. ALWAYS look for a size chart online and pick the size that matches your measurements the best. Choose up a size if you are in between. TIP: If the site is a mega site that resells different brands then the size chart will not be accurate. If you know the brand name look it up online for the brand’s produced size chart. TIP: Read reviews for indication of sizing issues such as “runs small” or “top is great for busty women” etc
2. If the retailer offers custom orders ALWAYS choose this option. Even if you think you can fit in their size chart you will be better off paying a bit more for a custom order. Currently only Milanoo, Eshakti and Beau Ties Ltd offer custom work. I have custom orders coming in from each of these and I will review them when they arrive. TIP: Even custom orders can be off a bit. Better to add an inch to your order and a few extra inches to a length, just in case. It is easier to take a garment in then to let it out. For pants and dresses, I like to order them unhemmed, so I can choose the perfect length for myself. The downside to custom orders is that they are usually not returnable.
(I used to work in shipping so I know A LOT about this.)
1. Where is the item shipped from? This plays a big part in returns (next topic) but it’s also important to know what Country and what State the item is coming from to estimate shipping speed. In the states if the item has to cross the Mississippi it will add 2-3 days time. Online shipping estimates are pretty accurate but I always like to measure the estimate against my own guess. Note : Shipping times are added onto the processing time. Just because you select overnight shipping doesn’t mean your package will arrive the next day. It could be 2 or 3 days later. Overnight USPS packages are also notorious for a day’s extra processing time caused by the postal service, not the shipper.
2. What method of shipping is used? USPS, the United States postal service, is often the cheapest although it is also one of the worst for losing packages. In January 2013, prices rose 25% higher and many first class services were eliminated forcing shippers to use Priority Mail, which is faster, trackable, and more expensive. If you select USPS make sure it is Priority mail service for a better experience. Your better options are UPS or Fedex ground for faster services. I prefer Fedex both as a shipper and customer. UPS boxes arrive covered in dirt (don’t wear white when you pick up your box.) DHL is used mostly by international shippers like China. Their service is fast and clean. TIP: Pick the best service offered not just the cheapest price. If only USPS if offered ask if they can send Fedex or UPS instead.
3. Type of shipping material. Most retailers will not tell you what materiel they ship the product in, however, I am hesitant to recommend anyone who doesn’t put the materials in a box. I understand boxes weigh more and shipping costs increase but receiving a delicate $200 dress in a plastic bag is not good service (Leluxe- we love you, but seriously?) Extra kudos to American-Duchess who not only has great shoe boxes, packaged in another sturdy box, but you also get a free button and a lollipop. Yum!
International shipping from the USA- The USPS raise in shipping rates hit International shipping very hard. Some sites have pulled international shipping altogether (especially little independent sellers on Esty and Ebay.) Don’t be mad at them. It is not their fault. It’s not only more expensive but its a major pain in the *** to ship international now. Hopefully this will change in the future.
*** Canada customers. You are considered international not domestic. Your rates will he higher but not as high as off continent countries. Some shippers have stopped shipping to Canada due to a lot of problems with packages getting stopped at Canada’s customs for weeks. I don’t know what’s going on but until it’s resolved your package may be delayed. This is not the shippers fault.
International shipping to the USA – Rates from the UK and AU tend to be very high while rates from China, Mexico and other up and coming countries are cheaper. Your bill may include import taxes added on. Retailers can’t estimate these very well so often they will be added to your bill a few days after shipment.
Returns are the one area of online shopping that makes the angriest customers. ALWAYS read the return and exchange policy. Are returns allowed or exchanges only or is it a final sale? How long do you have to return? How much paperwork will you need to fill out? Is it automated or do you have to reach a person first?
A few sites (very few) pay for you to return ship a product (Zappos and Shoebuy- we love you for it!) Most sites make you pay shipping on a return. Depending on the cost of the item this could make it not worth returning. Your cost for return shipping will always be higher than what you paid to receive the item (big shippers get good rates that we regular folk don’t get.) Estimate your return cost and figure out if it’s worth it for you BEFORE you click the buy button. This is part of the gambling analogy. I pretty much never count on returning an item I buy online while others feel ok with it.
Return shipping to another country? Your shipping rate will be VERY VERY EXPENSIVE! Products from China are shipped to you cheaply but shipping back will be starting at $40. Some sites don’t make it very clear what country an item is coming from (Chicstar, Lightinthebox, Milanoo- I’m looking at you.) So do your best to find out where and decide if you are OK with not returning the item, for whatever reason- even if it is their fault. International customer service is not the same standard as the USA. Some countries are better but in my experience many are not.
PLAN B – Have a plan B if your product is not worth returning. Give it away? Sell it on ebay? Donate it? Re-purpose it? Cry? I have a closet full of stuff I plan to someday sell on ebay : ) One recent purchase for my husband came in a size way too small but what do you know, it fits me ok, so it’s now part of my steampunk costume collection. Another item was made of a pretty fabric but again didn’t fit well so I reused the fabric for a craft project. Having a plan ahead of time with what you are going to with an ill fitting product will keep you from getting too upset about the experience.
If you loved your product leave a nice review on the website, on their Facebook page, Twitter, etc. Positive feedback makes a HUGE difference to retailers (who are real people behind your screen) and to bloggers (like me) who help you find great stuff. They need to know what you love and don’t love so they can give you even better products. Include a picture of yourself and the product in your review if you can.
If you must leave a negative review do so with a balanced perspective. Just because you don’t like the material, or fit, or customer service doesn’t mean someone else won’t have the opposite experience. Every product is right to someone. Try to figure out who that might be in your review and write to them. Giving 3 stars is better than 1 star and will likely keep your review on the site rather than get deleted. Also don’t argue with other reviewers. Your review should be about your experiences not what you think of someone else’s review.
Do you have your coupon or discount code handy before you buy? Yes, great! No? Here are a few ways to get one last minute.
1. Sign up for their newsletter or like their Facebook page. Often there is a coupon for first time shoppers.
2. Review current promotions- probably visible on the homepage although some sites like to make you hunt for it.
3. Search for “<store name> coupon” and you will probably get a bunch of sites that give you the latest coupon codes. I get free shipping and sometimes percentage off discounts too. Write down the coupon code without clicking on the coupon site’s link to the retail site. This will save you from reentering your order.
4. You can always email me too. I get notices of specials and exclusive coupons that I can share with you but try #3 first. It’s what I do almost every time.
What We Do at VintageDancer
As an aggregate for the entire web of vintage inspired clothing online we work with over 100 different retailers. I do my best to buy at least one item from every retailer we work with- however that quickly eats my budget so I also rely on website reviews, fancy data my husband pulls for me, and feedback from YOU my shoppers. If at any time you have a positive or negative experience with one of the retailers we work with on VintageDancer I want to know about it. I also want to SEE you in it via the Gents and Dames Vintage Style Parade.
I have taken products down because of your reviews and removed entire merchants when I receive too many complaints. I also do extra promotion for the items you love the most. I do listen to you and appreciate hearing your balanced reviews. Thank you for being a part of VintageDancer!