Do’s and Don’t of Buying Clothes Online

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Innovations in online shopping have made the Internet an increasingly popular outlet for fashion. From technology that promises the perfect fit to widgets that allow you to discuss your potential purchase with friends, virtual clothes shopping is on the rise.

With e-retail spending projected to increase 62 percent by 2016, it’s no wonder this trend is on an upward trajectory. However, anyone who’s shopped for clothes online knows the defeat of getting the wrong size, or discovering a store’s version of bordeaux is actually fuschia. As a fashion-obsessed online shopper, I’ve had my share of both failure and success. That’s why I’ve compiled these do’s and don’ts to make your next online experience a positive one.

DO Know Your Budget
When shopping online, inventory from nearly any merchant is at your fingertips, presenting both an exciting and perilous opportunity. Before perusing your favorite retailers’ offerings, determine a spending threshold so you don’t tempt yourself with items priced beyond your budget. As you browse for coveted items, remember taxes and shipping fees will add to the price of your selection.

DON’T Forego Making a List
Be a proactive online shopper and take stock of your closet to determine key items you need. It’s easy to get distracted by the full-price “new arrivals” and the super-cheap “final sale” offerings, and a list will help you stay focused. Be wary of high-priced trends and spend the most money on classic pieces that transition well through the seasons. Consult Glamour.com for 10 items every woman should have in her closet, then shop (and spend) accordingly.

DO Find a Coupon Code
Before you hit up your favorite fashion sites, look for promo codes to determine which site has the best deals. Some retailers such as Kohl’s allow you to use more than one code, so make sure you know these details before checking out. You can find coupons and free shipping deals for Kohl’s and other retailers from sites such as FreeShipping.org.

DON’T Buy at First Sight
I rarely buy an item the first time I see it online. That’s because I know every “new arrival” will eventually go on sale when it becomes old news. When you find a full-price item you love, bookmark it and monitor the cost over the next few weeks. Though waiting is the hardest part, I saved $50 on a pair of wine-colored skinny jeans by holding out for a 50-percent off sale.

DO Read the Return Policy
It’s important to know the details of online return policies since you may be responsible for return shipping if the item doesn’t work out. Check here for a list of stores that offer free return shipping, and remember most retailers will cover the cost if you’re simply exchanging the item for a different size or color. Some big retailers allow you to return a garment to their local store, so know your options before you click “purchase.”

DON’T Spend More for Free Shipping
While free shipping promotions seem pretty commonplace these days, most retailers have minimum order requirements. If you don’t want to spend more than $50, adding a bunch of items to your cart to qualify for the free shipping threshold of $75 doesn’t make sense. You’re essentially paying an extra $25 for “free” shipping and loading up on items you wouldn’t otherwise buy. Bad idea!

DO Read Reviews
Online reviews aren’t just for electronics and Amazon users. Most fashion retailers enable customers to review clothes they’ve purchased, and these insights are extremely helpful for potential buyers. In some cases, reviewers will let you know if an item runs small or big, or if there are style defects that aren’t obvious on screen.

DON’T Skip the Sizing Chart
Despite the potential of TrueFit, ordering clothes online can be daunting if you’re not familiar with the retailer and their sizing standards. Study the charts offered for each garment and take the time to measure yourself as suggested by the retailer. Doing so will reduce the likelihood you’ll need to return something because it doesn’t fit.

DO Sign Up for Savings
Regardless of whether you’re shopping online or offline, it’s important to know the best time to score a good deal. Sign up for your favorite e-retailers’ newsletters and deal alerts so you know when sales are happening. Set up a separate email account for these notifications to keep your personal inbox from being inundated with marketing messages. The sense of urgency created in these notifications often inflates the value of the deal, so remember to practice restraint.

DON’T Go Crazy with Store Cards
Store credit cards can be tempting, as most of them boast free or reduced shipping costs and other perks for online orders. However, these cards carry high interest rates and can negatively impact your credit score. If you have good credit and shop at the store frequently, getting a store card might be a good savings strategy. Strict management of my Limited Couture Card enables me to enjoy the free shipping perk without racking up debt.

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Kendal Perez is a frugal fashionista and bargain shopper who helps fellow shopaholics find hassle-free ways to save money. As the marketing coordinator for Kinoli Inc., site manager for a family of money-saving websites, Kendal has the resources to be an extreme couponer but prefers a less complicated approach to staying in-budget. Kendal has been quoted in such media outlets as People StyleWatch, TIME Business & Money, FOX, NPR and Kiplinger Personal Finance. For savings tips and more information, visit HassleFreeSavings.com.

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