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5 online shopping tips you need to know

Clicking your way to shopping steals and deals has never been easier. Here are five expert tips when delving into the world of online shopping.
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Elyse Goody, October 23, 2013 3:00:46 PM

When the World Wide Web first made the concept of online shopping possible, the cliché was such that you could now ‘shop in your pajamas.’ Although technically still true, the real benefit of buying clothes online is not only the convenience, but the access we now have to products and price points, expanding our options and fashion horizons.

However, for those of you who feel that buying something online is daunting and intimidating, we’re here to set you straight. To help demystify the intricacies of this fashion frontier, we asked Toronto-based fashion stylist and online-shopping expert, Fiona Green, for her top five insider tips and tricks when clicking your way through the online retail scape.

Navigating the best e-stores
Online shopping is ideal for scoring rare labels and items that are difficult to find in stores. It’s best to check several sources, just as you would normally shop around at various retail store locations until you find exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t discount sources like eBay where you’ll be getting items that are likely gently used. But if you’re already a vintage shopper, there’s no difference in buying your item online vs. swiping your credit card in-store – just be careful to read through a seller’s page comments to help ensure credibility.

When buying from retail sites, remember it’s best to buy brands and labels that you’re familiar with so the fit won’t come as a surprise. Green suggests looking for detailed descriptions of the item’s fit and always look carefully at pictures of pricier purchases, especially when they’re coming to you second-hand.

Pay attention to shipping and customs
Once you’ve found your coveted item online, you’ve got to make sure you’re not going to be paying a premium just to get it delivered to your doorstep. Green suggests getting friendly with a site’s customer service reps and emailing them to request a cheaper shipping method or rate, especially when purchasing something lightweight or compact. “I’ve been successful several times,” says Green. “That’s one of my biggest tips: when in doubt email customer service and see what they can do for you.”

When considering a purchase from an international company, customs duties can be the biggest deterrent. Green says you must check to see if your total includes COD (Collect on Delivery) charges, which are determined by the value of the goods being purchased. If they haven’t been automatically included by the e-commerce site, you can estimate the additional cost by using a duty calculator.

Another consideration is what currency your purchase is being charged in and whether or not VAT (Value Added Tax) is included in the total. But if you’re a patient and stealthy shopper, you can often keep your eye on a treasured item and take advantage of a retailer’s free shipping promos, which can help balance the overall cost.

Returning items
Even if you were completely in love with your purchase when you clicked the ‘Buy’ button, it may not be exactly what you thought you were getting when it arrived at your door. In cases where you know you’re taking a bit of a gamble, Green says there are three major things to look for before hitting the e-check out:

1. Make sure you fully understand the return policy specific to your item. If you’re purchasing sale items, lingerie/hosiery or using a promo code, you might not be able to return the item for a full refund.

2. Check to see if there is a restocking fee incurred with the return of the item.

3. Check to see when the returns must be received back by the retailer; some return periods can be as short as two weeks from the date of delivery. If you’re buying from an international retailer, you’ll want to factor in any national holidays that might delay your return shipment, but going back to the golden rule, by simply contacting customer service you can be granted more time. When your purchase arrives, make sure you keep all the packaging and paperwork that comes with it. A great e-commerce retailer will include all the shipping documents and labels required for returns within the parcel, which takes the brainwork out of the return. And remember to keep the tags on! Green says this is “super important,” as many retailers will attach an individual tag that is purely related to returns, which must remain attached to the item in order to be eligible for return.

Image: Thinkstock

How to find coupon codes or extra discounts
It pays to be an avid shopper, and one way to cash-in is to register with retailers and create your account with accurate and specific information. Green recommends taking the time to fill out the retailer’s online questionnaire, and list the email address you check daily, the designers and items you want to be notified about upon coming into stock, and the frequency with which you want to be emailed about promos.

If you are purchasing products with a registered account, the retailer can see you’re a repeat customer and may offer you exclusive promos and other incentives. A site like is an example of a retailer that frequently gives promos to its registered users, called “private sales.” As well,  magazines often team up with a retailer and offer a promo code for featured items or limited time periods, so have a close look at the ‘shopping’ pages in your favourite publications.

How to determine if an online retailer is legitimate
Get familiar with the retailer before committing to a purchase or entering any personal information. Green says it’s important to check out the site’s Help/Security/Payment/Contact sections, which are usually located at the bottom of the webpage; there should be detailed information about the payment process and numerous ways to contact the retailer. As well, when you check out, make sure the site is marked as ‘secure’ by your web browser (look for a tiny padlock symbol in URL window bar) so that all of your private data is safe.

When paying by credit card, some retailers offer additional verification methods (ie. Visa ‘Verified by Visa’) to confirm that the purchase is being made by the cardholder. Going through PayPal is another reliable method, which Green says isn’t always an option but is a great way to safeguard the transactions you do online.

Do you have any tips or advice about shopping online? Share them below!


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