Online Shopping 101

Every time the Canadian dollar is doing well I get to laugh as I watch the news detailing the trips of hundreds of families across the border for some American shopping. Laugh more than what’s appropriate most likely, because all that time spent away from home is making for a pretty crappy deal. So I’ve often wondered maybe somewhat cruelly how people can be so silly, when all they have to do is hop online to get all the selection they want without the added time and hidden expense.
The truth is, most people are a little afraid to shop online. They don’t want to buy something they’ve never seen in person, or they’re concerned about security issues. I’ve been shopping online since the day I got my first credit card (obtained solely for that purpose) at 18, and ever since then I buy virtually ALL my clothes and half of my jewelry from my living room. In the six years since then only two purchases have not turned out, so I’m confident that everybody can relax and the water’s fine. Online shopping is something the knowledge and skill of which grows very easily with a little practice once you get started. To help you get that start I’m now writing this handy little guide.
So why shop online?
A better question to ask is why NOT shop online? You get the biggest selection in the world, and it only takes minutes -up to as long as your heart desires- to see it all. You’ll undoubtedly obtain many things you just can’t get locally, which will make for a very personalized look you just can’t pick up at the mall. You also get to compare prices for everything, savings that will often cancel out the cost of shipping. If not, the rest is made up for by the aforementioned selection and convenience. Also keep in mind that since web shops instantly reach a global market, many retailers these days have completely forgone limiting brick and mortar shops. If you want to take part, you’ll have to go online. And another note about shipping: receiving packages in the mail is incredibly fun. It’s like Christmas all year round. Some would even argue that the anticipation and the excitement of getting your stuff is even better than the instant-gratification of shopping in person.
So what about that issue of not being able to see the item in person? Just like in traditional stores, online businesses want to keep you happy. They know that good products and services will result in positive word of mouth that’s better than any advertising campaign. If they scammed you, they wouldn’t be in business for long. Many even have a section where you can read honest testimonials from past customers. And if you become a happy customer yourself, definitely take the time to let them know.
Furthermore, all products will have a detailed description and photos. The photos should let you see what you’re getting from multiple angles, and the description will tell you important things such as materials used, the manufacturing process, and if sizes happen to run a little large or small. Plus they’re often just fun to read. When it comes to clothing, every site will have a size chart for each brand that they carry, so you know your item will fit. Just take your basic measurements and compare them to the chart to find your size. Of course it’s definitely an asset to know your body type and what basic clothing styles will flatter it too.
If for any reason the purchase doesn’t work out, all online stores will have a return policy that you can check out in advance, and most of them are even better than the return policies you get for shopping in person. Timeless Trends for example has a 45 day return policy that they will extend depending on circumstance. But just like traditional shopping, make sure that the item you purchased is returned in the same condition you received it. They sent you something pretty and new, and you owe them the same courtesy.
The service online is often surprisingly awesome. Because many of these companies are a lot smaller than traditional ones, you have a better chance of communicating directly with the company owner or item manufacturer, sometimes one and the same. And yes, there are very open lines of communication online, whether through email, live chat, or a phone call. I’ve once had the pleasure of communicating directly with Louise Black of Project Runway for a made-to-order item made by her. How cool is that? And I will never forget to rave about AntiSally of Goth Rosary’s awesomely friendly *hugs* in her emails.
Payment is also extremely secure, possibly even more so since there are no hacked machines on which to get skimmed. Giving your credit card information is completely safe, and if it still makes you nervous most all sites now let you use PayPal, a service so secure I was once locked out of my own account and had to make a new one. Refunds are always given out promptly where necessary. Also, when it comes to using PayPal, particularly if you’re shopping on a site such as eBay or Etsy, where items come from individuals instead of commercial stores, PayPal ensures that if you don’t receive your item in 45 days they’ll make sure you get refunded even if the refund isn’t coming from the seller themselves, which is very good to know.
Speaking of eBay, this is the biggest thrift store in the world, and then some. Not only does it have an infinite amount of used stuff, but due to its success a lot of commercial retailers are using it too. The first thing you might want to do is treat it for what it is, a huge thrift shop. This means there are tons of great finds there, you just have to be patient when looking for them. Sometimes those gems can be buried under a lot of crap. And once you’re lucky enough to find one of these gems you’ll want to pay as much attention to the photos and description as possible. If there’s anything more you need to know you can always email the seller; they usually get back to you extremely quickly.
The second thing is to make full use of the search options. The search bar works just like Google’s does, so if you want your item to absolutely have a certain word in the title, put a + in front of that word. If you don’t want to include listings with a certain word, put a – in front of it. Make sure the search keeps the same words together and in a particular order by putting quotations around them. Then narrow down your search as much as possible using all the options in the left panel. You can even select “Buy Now only” if you just want your stuff right away without fussing with the whole bidding thing. And of course never forget to check the shipping costs; it’s been known to happen for a seller to list an item for 1$ with something like 150$ shipping, so don’t be caught off guard.

But what’s my all time favorite site to shop on? Etsy! This works like Ebay in that it’s a hosting site to countless little shops run by individuals. The difference is that it’s completely focused on vintage and handmade items – nothing commercial. There’s no bidding, and you can find the most incredible, unique, amazing, ridiculous, and beautiful things. The interface is a lot friendlier than Ebay too. When you like something you “heart” it, and it goes into your wishlist for viewing later. You can even heart shops so you can go back to them easily and browse their selection. This is especially one of the greatest sites for unique and affordable wedding shopping. Jewelry, dresses, center pieces, cake toppers, invitations – they have it all, all made by extremely talented people. And I’m addicted to vintage window shopping there. I just got a gorgeous hounds tooth wool dress from the 50s. Damn, I should write a review just about Etsy!
Here’s a general little tip: When you’re not satisfied with the price or shipping of an item, Google the product code. This works except in cases where the item is 100% unique to that store, usually if it’s used or handmade. Stop Staring isn’t the only website that sells Stop Staring dresses, and Pinup Girl Clothing isn’t the only store that sells Collectif dresses or Leg Avenue shoes. You’ll find the product code either at the end of the name of the item, or at the beginning of the description. It will look something like this -> pc-lizbeth-bkgr. It most often represents the brand, the product name, and the color. Googling this code will allow you to see all the other stores carrying that exact item so that you can compare prices and shipping options in a much more specific way than typing in, say, “green and black wiggle dress.”
So now you have what you need to be a real web-savvy shopper and impress your friends with your fabulous finds. Be prepared to answer the question “where did you get that??” repeatedly, and enjoy the glory of finding exactly what you want and need with a lot more fun and convenience than effort.
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

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