The Ultimate Guide to Online Shopping: From Budget Tips to Editor Secrets

Michelle Nick
The Ultimate Guide to Online Shopping: From Budget Tips to Editor Secrets
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In the span of a single generation, shopping as evolved from an activity one accomplished in brick-and-mortar stores to a feat one can achieve with the press of a button on a smartphone. As increasing numbers of consumers are doing more and more shopping online, we thought we’d compile some of our best tips for navigating the (sometimes complex) world of online commerce.

Whether you’ve never shopped online before or you have packages arriving to your front door daily there is always something new to learn about the online shopping landscape. You’ll be a pro at snapping up high-fashion pieces for a steal — and safely! — online in no time.

Above, we’ve curated a gallery of some of our favorite e-commerce sites — be warned, you’ll find more than a few things you like — and below, you’ll find some of our top tips when it comes to finding the best products online.

Table of Contents

How to Stay Safe When You Shop Online

Even more than finding a great deal, the biggest victory when shopping online is accomplishing it safely. It’s easier than ever to product your identity and your financial information online, provided you follow these simple steps.

1. Use trusted sites: It’s always best to shop from websites that you have heard of or that someone has vouched for. If you don’t have this luxury but you really, really want to buy something then lucky Google is always there to save the day. By typing in the name of the online store or a question about it into the Google search bar you will usually find hundreds if not thousands of reviews from other Internet users. If you are suspicious that a site may not be trustworthy it’s probably not worth the risk.

2. When you check out, make sure that the connection is secure: Always use sites with secure checkout as you don’t want anyone else fraudulently shopping online with your hard-earned money. You can tell if a website is secure by the presence of a highlighted link at the top of the pages with the ‘secure page’ symbol (usually a lock).

3. Double-check your personal details: Check your personal information is correct and complete before you confirm the order and make sure never to refresh or redirect your browser while it is processing.

4. Keep track of your purchases: Always, always stay on top of your bank statements to make sure you have been billed correctly and that no extra money has been charged to your account. Also, save the purchase details that are sent to you from e-commerce sites just in case you should need to prove a discrepancy in the billing or a mistake in the order.

5. Don’t ever give out your passwords: Always keep your passwords safe and don’t make the mistake of having identical passwords for all of your banking and shopping accounts.

6. Report Scams: If you suspect you have been the victim of a scam contact the police and your bank immediately and get to the bottom of it.

Refund Policies and Restocking Fees

One of the great things about shopping online is there are usually very lenient terms when it comes to returning items and getting a refund — you don’t get to try these things on in person, after all, until you make the purchase.

That said, policies vary greatly between different states and companies so make sure you check the policy information before you spend money on something you might be stuck with. If you can’t find a product information page that lists the specific terms of return or refund, find the contact details and call to clarify.

Keep in mind that there’s usually a short window of opportunity to return stock, so if you are not happy with your purchase, don’t procrastinate; send it back as soon as you can. Most stores will send a return shipping label in the package itself, so don’t throw it away! It will make your life a lot easier when it comes to returning purchased items.

When you do decide to return a product, be aware that a company may hand out a restocking fee. This fee varies depending upon the store and the state.

Tricks for Getting Discounts

Just like a regular store, websites typically have sections devoted to items on sale. The best part about an online sale section is that you don’t have to get stuck searching aimlessly through piles and piles of unorganized stock — you can easily see if a store has your size or the exact item you’re looking for.

1. Join Store, Membership and Deals Newsletters: It can sometimes be a bit of a nuisance to receive an email every five minutes from an online store with their latest offer, but if it means avoiding missing out on discounts on your favorite brands, it’s well worth it.

Online stores often e-mail offers for everything from free shipping to discounts of up to 20 percent on new arrivals (don’t even get us started on first looks at holiday sale items), so it’s worth getting involved. In addition, a fleet of deals-focused newsletter have cropped up in the past few years, which organize their own exclusive discounts for their readers. Some of our picks: Groupon, Google Offers, Refinery29 Shops, DailyCandy Deals.

Outside of those newsletters, there are also a wide variety of membership-based shopping services that offer exclusive discounts on luxury items, like GiltRue La La, and Ideeli. Other sites like ShoeDazzle require you to sign up but once you do you have access to shoes for as little as $39.95.

2. Let Search Engines Do the Work For You: The good news about shopping online is that you can compare options (and prices) far more easily than you can by hitting the pavement. Find something you like in a magazine or in a store? We’d recommend hitting the Web before you buy to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Search engines like Google and Bing are increasingly getting into commerce, making it easy for you to sift through all the available options online for something you’re searching for. In addition to the big search engines, tools like ShopStyle offer the chance to find a more curated variety of options — from animal-print pumps to peplum-waist dresses.

Other options are Price GrabberShopWikiShopzilla, and The Find.com. Like Google these sites are simple to use and help speed up an online shopping expedition.

Coupons, Discounted Gift Cards, and Free Shipping

Bargain hunting has become so popular that there are entire companies dedicated to coupons now, and these aren’t your grandmother’s coupons!  Coupon CabinCoupon Winner and RetailMeNot are great sites that help you save on everyday necessities from gasoline to toothpaste.

The latest trend in discounts is a number of companies offering gift cards to purchase at a discounted price. On Plastic Jungle, for example, you can sell a gift card you won’t use or buy a gift certificate directly from a company for cheaper than its value. Gift Granny is a similar site that allows you to search for companies you would like to purchase discounted gift cards from.

To save money on your shipping head to FreeShipping, which uses promotions from stores to allow you free shipping, and sometimes on a good day even discounted goods. Sometimes the savings may not seem like much at the time but added together over a long period of time you will have cash left over for even more shopping online.

Tips from The StyleCaster Editors

1. Make online wish lists: Sites like Svpply, The Cools, and  Wantful are not only fun ways to lose three hours of your time perusing dazzling shoes, they’re also great ways to organize your wish lists from season to season. We’ve saved a lot of money just by putting all our favorite pieces in one place and then making smarter decisions about what’s actually worth investing in. (Better yet, you can circulate these to your family members around the holidays!)

2. Use person-to-person commerce platforms like eBay and Threadflip to make some amazing vintage finds. What’s more, you can then turn around and sell some of the goods you don’t want anymore on the same platform!

3. Get Recommendations from Friends: In the same way we ask our friends for recommendations on where to eat, we also ask for recommendations on the best products to buy and where to buy them. Now, “social commerce” is quickly becoming the next big evolution in online commerce, with fashion brands selling products exclusively on Facebook and websites like Extole and 8thBridge are cropping up to make commerce more social. Want to get in on the trend? See what brand pages your friends on Facebook are “liking,” and see what brands your friends follow on Twitter. You’d be surprised how many exclusive deals and product offers you’ll get through your social networks! Alternatively, social platforms like our very own StyleCaster.com are a great place to ask questions and discover new products.

4. Save Your Shopping Cart: After spending hours perusing online and filling your basket with goodies, you might not necessarily want to be forced into buying every item you were looking at. A lot of online stores offer a great way to buy yourself time to mull over your purchases by creating an account and saving items in your shopping basket — even after you’ve left their site and moved on to a different e-shop. It usually doesn’t guarantee that the item won’t be sold to someone else but at least you won’t have to spend the time searching through the entire site to try and find that special something again.

Share Your Best Tricks! We’d love it if you’d let us in on your great tips for shopping online. Click here to leave a comment and share your best secrets!

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Net-a-porter 

When it comes to designer goods online no one does it quite like Net-a-Porter.

Opening Ceremony 

Clothing and great shoes with a number of exclusive items designed by big names like Alexander Wang and Keds. 

Ten Over Six 

With everything from art to music and some very cute shoes, this site will keep you busy perusing for hours.

La Garconne 

Purveyor of a great range of designers including 3.1 Phillip Lim and Helmut Lang

Farfetch 

A site allowing you to purchase items from boutiques everywhere.

Zara 

All the best of Zara minus the fitting room lines.

Luisaviaroma 

Gotta love free shipping to the US.

Shop Bird 

Another great one to check out if you love to shop designer with some lesser known names mixed in amongst the big names.

The Outnet 

Designer clothing sometimes up to 70% off. Definitely worth a look.

ASOS 

Loads of brands with something for every budget. Oh, and free shipping thrown in.

Creatures of Comfort

Perfect for laid back, simple, yet effortlessly classy styles.

Nasty Gal 

Great pieces at even better prices.

Top Shop 

Affordable fashion staples

Gilt 

Great sales on designer goods. Make sure you check the email alerts they send you.

Karma Loop 

A huge range of trendy clothing and accessories from brands including Free People, Adidas and Cheap Monday. 

Patricia Field 

If you have a fascination with sequins and a little bit of punk in you this is the place for you!

Pixie Market 

Affordable apparel, shoes and accessories that are fun and right on trend. 

Mod Cloth 

Vintage inspired fashion that won't break the bank.

Urban Outfitters 

All the latest looks at very reasonable prices.

Colette 

A fantastic range of goods from sneakers to music.

Svpply 

All the best products and stores curated in one place.

Shopbop 

Stocking goods from almost every designer you could think of including Stella McCartney, Missoni and Gucci just to name a few.

Ebay 

Find everything from cameras to Britney Spears paraphenalia but be careful it's highly addictive. 

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