How I Shop

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shopping online tops

I worked in retail for a decade. I was a personal shopper, retail manager, apparel visual merchandiser, salesperson racing from fitting room to denim wall to register. Because of this, I enter a mall maybe twice a year, and always at off-peak times.

I also don’t shop in malls because I find them frustrating, overwhelming, and demoralizing.

Near my office, there is an Ann Taylor, a Gap, a Nordstrom Rack, and a few other shops. Near my home on my way to the bank or Emerson’s dance class there’s a Marshall’s, a Ross, an Old Navy, a Target, and a couple smaller shops. I will occasionally shop these retailers if I have time or they are near my necessary errand locations, but otherwise I shop online.

I shop online because the selection is better.
I shop online because I have flattering lighting.
I shop online because I trust my own mirror.
I shop online because I am then never pushed to buy something by someone who doesn’t know or care about me.
I shop online so I can be sure the item works with my shoes/bra/purse.
I shop online because they have my size.
I shop online so I can take the time to sit in something, see it from behind, make sure it works with my body and movement.
I shop online so I have time.
I shop online so I don’t become a sweaty frustrated mess who wants to drink all the wine at California Pizza Kitchen and enjoy all that wine with spinach artichoke dip.
I shop online so I get what I want in a manner I deserve.

I don’t shop in person, and that includes thrift stores, because I just don’t have the time. I work over 40 hours a week and commute almost 10 hours more. I blog, I help my husband with his business, I have a child and family and friends. When I have free time I don’t want to spend it shopping, I want to spend it living. I spent too much of my past using shopping as a source of entertainment and all it gave me was a lot of debt and crowded closets. When I do go to stores I so often see bored kids in carts, whining to leave. I have limited time with Emerson, I’d rather spend it doing something we both can enjoy.

Where I mainly shop:

  • Nordstrom. They have petites and larger sizes and great reviews from fellow customers to help me choose the right size or to not buy an item. They have free shipping and free returns. Nordstrom also has surprisingly awesome prices – their sales are fabulous, and brands like Halogen and Caslon give you current trends for reasonable prices.
  • Ann Taylor. The brand fits me. Sometimes I love their stuff, sometimes I hate their stuff, but I find the quality and sizing to be relatively consistent and their style to fit my lifestyle. Oh, and they too have great sales and take returns in-store.
  • Talbots. Consistent sizing and quality, great wardrobe staples, great customer service. I swear by Talbots skirts, very flattering and classic.
  • Zappos. Extensive selection, free shipping and returns.
  • 6pm. If you know what you like, check here and you may find it cheaper. Free shipping.
  • Amazon. Same with 6pm, it’s a good place to find very specific items at a great price.
  • Gap. I like them for basics – tee shirts, summer dresses, the occasional pair of jeans. Their sizing and quality is inconsistent so I don’t shop there as much as I used to. But they have a broad range of sizes, and I can do returns in store.
  • eBay. I buy a large percentage of my wardrobe from eBay because it’s saving stuff from landfills, saving me money, and giving me variety. I like to look for last-season’s items on there (I’m the crazy person who remembers the names of different dresses and jackets).

How I shop:

  • I always go to Ebates first. I have written about Ebates before, but it’s a no-strings, no-spam way to get true cash back (not points, not gift cards) on where you shop. Big fan.
  • I always make a list and try to stick to it. Very little virtual window shopping, which can be bad for the wallet.
  • I often sort items from lowest to highest price so I see the more budget-friendly options before falling for one that is more expensive.
  • If the site doesn’t have reviews, I Google the name of the item and “review” to see if I can find them elsewhere. Many blogs do product reviews these days which are super helpful when determining brand or size.
  • I don’t usually veer from brands I know unless there’s a lot of reviews letting me know about quality and fit.
  • I don’t like shopping places where the clothes aren’t on human beings. While some models are smaller than mannequins and clothes are often clipped and pinned to fit, a human model gives me a better feel of drape and fit than a mannequin or having it on a white background.
  • If an online retailers has a PITA return policy, I won’t shop there unless I know before I buy that I will not want to return (specific size and style of shoe, an accessory, etc.).
  • If I want a very specific item and the site doesn’t have my size, I will Google to see if I can find it elsewhere.
  • If I want a specific item (say a Western shirt) I will search my favorite haunts, then I will Google the item with “2013” to see what blog reviews or sites have something with that description. This saves me time and often brings to light new and interesting retailers.
  • I never check out before searching for a promo code. RetailMeNot is my favorite place. I also subscribe to emails from my favorite retailers to get promo codes.
  • I don’t rack up debt, but I do have Nordstrom and Banana Republic (which also works for Gap, Old Navy, and Athleta) credit cards and put my purchases on them. I pay them off right away, but I acquire points on purchases which earn me store credit.
  • I have a box at home where I keep all receipts and packing slips. As soon as I buy something, the receipt goes there in case I need to do a return or exchange. Also helpful if I want to replace something via eBay, I know the name and SKU.
  • I also have a box of shipping materials. In there goes all the shipping bags that deliver product, as well as any tissue paper or bubble wrap used to protect accessories. This way I have free materials for returns as well as old items I sell on eBay.

I have become a bit of an online shopping pro. I know how to find what I want with minimal time, and how to get the best price (or cash back). I know my body, I know what brands usually flatter, so it reduces my number of returns. Online shopping is like any other activity, you become more skilled with time. I have found this to be a good skill to hone because it saves me time, saves me money, and saves my confidence.

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  1. I’d like to do better about buying multiple colors of the same pants (online) when I find a great fit in the stores. I love replacing favorite things using the sku or style number. I find that the store at the mall (or shopping center) generally only has 1-2 colors of a particular pant, but there are generally other colors on-line.

    P.S. Allison, I think you and Maud may sort of know each other IRL. She’s an IRL friend so I know where she lives. (Oh dear, that sounds creepy. I don’t mean it creepy).

    1. Yep Maud and I know one another IRL, and you don’t sound creepy at all! Small world (and full of great people!). To preserve her anonymity, she can let you know how the two of us know one another 🙂

  2. I just wanted to say how great this post is. Several years ago, when I first started looking for guidance on how to dress professionally for work, this is exactly the kind of advice I was looking for– where I should shop for quality and value– and how to get the most with the least effort.

  3. Do you have any recommendations for internet retailers that list where the product is made in the description? I have looked high and low – From Nordstrom to Shopbop, Revolve, ASOS, oakNYC, ZARA, Gap, Kurt Geiger and more.

    Everywhere I want to shop just lists items as “imported,” which we all know is PR spin for “China,” “Bangladesh” or various other sweatshop-riddled countries. I want to shop online for all the reasons stated above, as I seriously have very little time with my job, but I can’t feel comfortable not knowing such a huge and important detail.

    Who wants to pay upwards of $100 dollars for something made in China, anyway? Does no one really care where there clothes are made anymore? Any suggestions would be a huge help.

    1. I’m finding that with the Bangladesh tragedy, retailers are starting to share where items are manufactured. But one thing to consider is that even clothing made in the US can be using fabric made in other countries. I think this is less about where an item is made and more about the way the workers are treated. What happened in Bangladesh is so horrible, but it is making retailers realize they can’t be so cheap and heartless and still have loyal customers.

      That being said, I like Karen Kane because their clothes are made in the US. Heck their PR person that emails me is Karen’s son! Talk about a personal feel and being made here in the States. 🙂

  4. I don’t know how would shop if it wasn’t for online. I love online shopping for my son too through the sale section and buy up sizes for when he gets bigger. I do still return the items back at the store since most stores will charge for return by mail.


  5. I shop online mostly now, too. As a mom to two small children, it’s just that much easier. I’m becoming interested in fair trade clothing and learning about where my clothes come from, and right now, that means buying from online stores I know and trust. I believe in supporting local businesses, but most of my shopping is done online these days.

  6. I’m a huge eBay junkie ~ I’ve also joined a few “Yard Sale” sites in my area on Facebook. There tend to be a lot of newer former corporate women who are now SAHM’s looking to part with their former career wardrobes. For example – I picked up 3 very nice lined lace tops (all XL, in cream, brown and black) for $20 for the lot. 🙂

  7. I love this. Online shopping is one of my favorite things. I prefer it to real life shopping any day. I too use but some other tricks I keep in mind are when shopping at stores that have a minimum shipping requirement (ahem, Macy’s) I always spend the minimum and then return items I don’t want in the store. I even purposely have bought ugly items so I make sure to return them and not overspend. I know it is breaking the rules, but I really hate paying for shipping on a cheap dress/ scarf/ etc.

  8. I don’t have small children so I have time to go shopping, which I enjoy. I’ll often go into a shop and try things I think I might like on. If it’s not available in my size or length I’ll order it online.
    Housewares are a different story. I order stuff from Target, Home Depot, Pottery Barn, Kohl’s – for my home. I recently repaired my dryer and the only way to get the part I needed, without paying hundreds of dollars for a repairman, was to buy online.

  9. I’m not a big online shopper. I find it very difficult to know about sizing.

    Also since I am in Canada returns are not easy ( if offered at all ) and we are often paying extra duty and taxes as well as huge shipping fees. It is way more hassle than it it worth.


  10. I love online shopping as well, but often I find the same item much cheaper in store. I guess one has to determine if going to the store is worth the cheaper price

  11. I too am an online shopper. The past 4 holiday shopping sessions have all been conducted from the comfort of my laptop. I prefer to shop online for my clothing as well. It’s much easier to return an item via the mail than it is in person and. My husband constantly jokes that all my online stores are going to blacklist me for returning so much. I did not realize Ebates so I am definitely going to start there next time!!

  12. I’m all for online shopping. The very first thing I do when I find myself viewing an online store is sort the items from ‘Lowest to Highest’. Always. I tend to favor online stores that offer free shipping and in some cases, free returns (ex. ASOS). There are a few online stores that offer the ‘pick up at store’ option to avoid shipping fees (ex. JCPenney, Lane Bryant). That warms me heart.

  13. I buy clothes online for my kids (love Lands End clearance) and shoes for myself (because I’m a 6w and I know what brands fit and are comfortable) but for my own clothes I enjoy running away for an afternoon and hitting the mall by myself. I like to take lots of things into the changing room because you never know what’s going to look better on, or when you’ll need a different size.

    One thing I found interesting last time I went shopping was to take a look at some online stores whose clothes I like (but are out of my budget) the night before – Anthropologie, Boden, that sort of thing. I was amazed how many of the trends I saw there were repeated at a cheaper price in H&M and other places. Since I feel pretty out of the loop fashionwise, this was a great way to figure out what’s a current look.

    1. I buy almost all E’s clothes online since she’s still young enough to pretty much fit the size of her age. When ON/Gap have their 30% off or Children’s Place/Gymboree have their F&F I stock up on sale stuff usually in the next size. That is a great idea on how to figure out current trends!!

  14. I’ve been doing a bit more online shopping since I’ve been in England because there are easier and cheaper returns here than in New Zealand. I like the ‘present’ aspect of getting things in the mail. I’ve gotten a couple of good things lately inclding trousers that fit!

    That said, it’s still a faff and a bother having to return things when they don’t work and it is pretty much a crap shoot with sizing and fabrics.

    BTW – you’ve got the funniest links from “Around the web” at the moment – ‘How to lose body fat by drinking vinegar’, ‘Selena Gomez is spending all her time in a bikini these days’…



  15. I’m an online shopper too. One thing I do is keep a list of the things I want on a notepad in my purse–a pair of shoes I’ve seen on a blog, a simple sheath dress that I want for work–and when a sale email comes out, I see if any of my choices are affected (I generally like a sale price with an additional % off and am very unlikely to buy if I don’t get that). It doesn’t take long to check the websites, and I never end up paying retail. And I just don’t buy unless it is on the list.

  16. I’m an online shopper, too. One thing I do that you didn’t mention, and may not be necessary for you, is buy more than I want. This is especially true with shoes from Zappos or similar. I know I’m only going to get a good fit from maybe one in five pairs, so I go ahead and order five pairs, knowing I’ll be sending four of them back. It’s not the world’s most efficient thing, but it works.

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