Editor’s note: updated February 2020, with more how to shop online for clothes details below and on the IGTV video here:
Looking for advice about how to shop for clothes online – and be happy with your purchases? You’ve come to the right place.
1. I consider myself a self-proclaimed expert in the field. HAH. I’ve been an online shopper fashion since as long as stores in Australia have been offering it. I think some of my earliest purchases were in 2007 🤔
2. I’ve run my own online fashion store since 2015.
Yet. COVID got me. My track record for successful purchases has been blemished. I was one of the MANY who turned to online shopping (Australia post research reported an 80% growth during the lockdown, compared with the same period in 2019; and for the 2020 calendar online fashion shopping orders were up 37%).
Maybe I should have stuck to online clothes shopping because I’m still waiting on a retractable table tennis set ordered in April 2019. 😫
My dropping the online shopping ball was well and truly made up by my husband picking it up and embracing his new “habit”. Honestly, I’m a bit put out as it’s MY superpower. How dare he muscle in on my territory?! There we were in lockdown and parcels started arriving with his name on them. Sad times indeed.
It was, however, his rookie approach to online shopping – and the coaching I gave him – that got me thinking. It’s a long, long time since I shared my tips and views (2012 to be precise) about online shopping. So much has changed and so many improvements have been made for the online customer experience but there is still so much that online stores can do to make it easier, so that we feel more confident to shop online – particularly for clothes..
Online vs in-store
I know there are some die-hard in-store shoppers in this community. And I get it. Shopping for clothes – more than most things – is about the feel of the fabric and the way it sits on you.
But what online offers is a wider choice. It levels the field a bit for those who live regionally and remotely without access to in-store visits. It’s because I grew up in a small regional town that I get that. I’d flick through magazines, disappointed that even if I had the money to spend on the fashion on those pages, it was not available to me to buy because I didn’t live in Sydney or Melbourne.
Online shopping is a game-changer for so many. One of our fabulous customers lives in the Northern Territory – the property borders the Gulf of Carpentaria. Felicity’s mail arrives once a week (weather permitting) via a small plane. So, while it may not be “express” shipping, shopping is available to her all year round – not just when making infrequent trips into town.
The convenience of jumping online and browsing/shopping is a big factor as to why I’m a fan. I do my best “research” on my phone in front of the TV at night time, glass of wine in hand.
When my youngest was little, it saved a lot of wrangling, being able to jump online and buy what I needed. Now, I use it for better personal time management.
I can order gifts and have them sent pretty much anywhere. I can buy clothes or accessories for myself or the family, without having to carve out time during my work day or weekends.
Then the “presents” just arrive! MAGIC!
How to shop online for clothes
The below tips are by no means exhaustive and will not necessarily guarantee you a seamless online shopping experience but they should help you make better choices about where you shop and how to buy what will more likely work for you.
1. Pay attention to where your order will be shipped from. This is what has let me down in the past. I’ve been sucked in by the Facebook ads and added to cart before really understanding that it might be months before I receive my order. I’m annoyed that I was targeted by those overseas companies through their advertising but ultimately I stuffed up by not reading the fine print and really understanding that things might not be shipped … because there are fewer planes flying!
In Australia, consider if you’re buying from a store that’s on the other side of the country – or has its warehouse located outside of a capital city. Even opting for Express shipping may mean your order takes a little longer.
From our online store perspective, Styling You The Label, has a small number of loyal overseas customers who’ve taken their chances with ordering. Our Canadian customer was surprised to receive her orders so quickly. New Zealand was trickier but Australia Post has just advised that all items are now making their way across the ditch in good time.
2. Check where the clothes are made. You know I’m big on this one. If they are made overseas, under what conditions are the factories operating? Are workers looked after? Have suppliers been paid? Not only is this important from an ethical standpoint, it’s also a very good indicator as to the quality of fabrics and the fit of the garments you’re looking to buy. Spell manufactures overseas but is super transparent about its supply chain. When I see this transparency with online stores, it gives me greater confidence.
We love that our label is Australian-made. It means we can get on to the phone to our manufacturer and discuss any quality control issues to solve problems for our customers quickly and easily.
3. Is it easy to contact the store’s customer service team? It amazes me how people seem reluctant to make contact with the customer service team or person at an online store. You wouldn’t hesitate asking a question to a sales person should you be in a physical store. Online stores should be easy to contact and super responsive (in business hours). Is there a “chat” box on the site? Is there a phone number? Does someone answer DMs quickly on social media? Are emails answered in a timely manner? Try any of these things before you buy for the first time and you’ll quickly either gain trust – or get very scared – about placing your order.
4. Read the terms and conditions before adding to cart. I know in the thrill of the add to cart moment, it’s easy to skim over and avoid this bit but if it’s your first time shopping with an online store, it’s worth taking the time to read how they operate, particularly when it comes to returns, exchanges and refunds. Do the terms and conditions suit your needs? Under Australian consumer law, stores do not have to refund for a change of mind. They only need to do so if a garment is faulty.
Our store offers refunds on full-priced garments only. We do this so our customers can trust they can return an item if it’s not right for them. Yes, as a business we take a big hit on this. Some days you can refund more than you sell, but it’s important to us that we offer this.
5. Does the online store include detailed model and garment measurements? A standard size chart is no longer enough – because sizing is so inconsistent. Customers want to see the clothes they’re buying on women who look more like them (size, height and colour) and they want to be able to look at the models’ measurements and match them back with their own. Other useful details include measurements of each garment. The more information you find on a site, the better. Use it! Leina and Fleur does this very well.
We proudly showcase all our clothes on models in each size that we stock (8-18). We include each model’s measurements, including bust size, and mention if they’ve size up or down (from usual) in a style. Plus, we include video content on Facebook, Instagram and our website to show the fit and movement of each garment.
6. Get out your tape measure! Having all the measurement information in the world will mean nothing if you don’t use it. Measure your height, bust, waist and hips and keep this information in a note on your phone. That way it’s handy for you if you’re looking at a garment to buy where those model measurements are included. Keep that tape measure handy to measure against garment measurements if they are supplied. Isle of Summer does a great job of explaining this.
7. Think of the shapes of clothes you already own. What works for you? What doesn’t? This is so key for me when buying from new brands and also ones I’m familiar with. Get clear on the shapes that you know suit your body shape. Even if you need to use all the powers of your imagination because they’re shown to you on a model who doesn’t look like you, the shape factor is key. What dress styles work best for you? What tops? What pants? Skirts? Get clear on this and stick to these shapes if you can’t try on in store.
8. Read product and site reviews. Brands that foster a community and generate verified reviews of their clothes and accessories offer up gold if you’re prepared to scroll through and read any reviews on the products you’re looking at. Look for tips on sizing (did they size up or down?); how the fabric feels; how it feels when wearing the garment. Birdsnest does this very well. Pay it forward when you make a purchase and write a considered and constructive review – it just might help a Style Sister out.
9. Follow women using the #everydaystyle hashtag on Instagram and Facebook. I started this online Instagram community back in 2013 to showcase a diverse range of women of all different shapes, sizes, ethnic backgrounds and ages. Originally it was just Australian and New Zealand women posting their daily outfits but it’s since grown and been adopted as a hashtag around the world. Follow it to find women whose style you relate to. If they’re wearing brands that you’re interested in (some are gifted/paid to represent those brands), DM them for more information about how they found the fit and sizing before adding to cart. I know they’d only be too happy to help.
10. Follow your fave brands on Instagram and/or Facebook. Make your phone scrolling count. Be discerning with which brands you follow. Does the brand reflect your values? Do the images and videos help you to better make a shopping decision? Also check the tagged photos on a brand’s account. This may show a diverse range of customers wearing the brand’s clothes, styling up pieces with other items from their wardrobe.
11. Request to join the store’s Facebook group. Yes, you might follow a brand or store on Facebook or Instagram (and clever brands will create content that helps you select the right clothes for you) but many brands now host Facebook groups to offer a community space where customers can ask questions, talk to each other and get style advice. I highly recommend joining to get an even wider support network to help you make choices about what you’re looking to buy. If you’re unsure if a brand you love has a Facebook group, go to their Facebook page and click the “groups” tab on that page. You might also find buy, swap and sell Facebook groups for brands you love are a great source of size and style inspiration.
12. Sign up for a brand or store’s email newsletters. I know that some days your inbox can seem like it’s inundated with brands or stores “shouting” at you to buy but the clever retailers seem to not only get the frequency right, they serve up emails that offer you inbox value. This is also the way that many stores/brands will notify their customers of any new releases, re-stocks and special subscriber-only offers. A good way to manage store emails is to set up email filters through your email platform and have them automatically go to a designated folder – you can then check them once a day/week – rather than have them blocking other emails during a work day. Alternatively, you could sign up to all store emails using an email address that you only reserve for store accounts. I finally did this this year and it’s so, so soothing! If you have existing store accounts, you may be able to update this information online, otherwise contact the store direct.
Other emails that are useful to sign up for are the notifications for a re-stock or return of an out-of-stock product or size. We use this function on our online store and it means that customers who may have missed out are able to be notified immediately if their wanted style/size is back in stock.
13. Does the store or brand do launches of collections? If you’re following on social media and/or subscribed to their emails, you might get an early heads up to what’s coming. Use the time to do your research so you make considered purchasing decisions, not decisions made under pressure. Some stores (our own included) preview new releases with videos and photos before launch so that customers have a chance to ask questions and get clear on sizing. We also add the products on our site as previews, so customers can get clear on their measurements and create their wishlist, which can be converted to their cart for checkout at launch time. When items are in demand, this allows the customer to quickly checkout and have a greater chance in securing what they’re looking for.
On some sites, it works more efficiently for launches to have your debit or credit card details pre-loaded in your account, so you’re not leaving the store site to go to PayPal or AfterPay, only to come back again to the store to finalise the order.
14. Does the store have a loyalty program? This might not be a motivator for every online shopper but I’ve learned that the stores that reward their customers for their loyalty do seem to have a closer connection to their customers. It doesn’t always equate with greater care factor but it says to me that they want me to come back and shop with them again.
15. Track your purchases. When shopping online, you should receive an automated email when your order is placed and confirmed, another when it’s shipped that includes a tracking number. File these emails in a folder that makes it easy to go back and check the tracking, so you know when it’s expected to be delivered.
Many online stores are hosted on the Shopify platform. When you buy from those stores, you can opt to also track the order through the Shop app. You can follow all your favourite stores in the app and all your tracking (for purchases from Shopify stores) is all in one place.
Mostly orders should be delivered promptly and within an expected timeframe. If you find that’s not the case, follow up with the store and/or Australia Post.
16. Return unwanted items quickly. This is just good online shopping etiquette. If you’re buying from a store that does offer returns for a refund and/or store credit, try to be timely with that return. A garment might not be right for you but by returning it promptly to the store you bought from, that store has more chance of re-selling the item and finding its forever home. Also, take care with the garments when trying on. You may not qualify for a full refund if they are damaged to marked in any way. Treat them with care so they can be re-sold. When an item is in demand, you’ll make someone’s day by sending it back with care and making it re-available for sale.
So, tell me … how much online clothes shopping have you been doing of late? Which stores make it easy for you? What features do you like about shopping with them? What tips do you have to share?