Saturday, May 10, 2014

How to Shop via Mail Order, Successfully

Roll of Shipping Tape with Dispenser and Cutter
Just buy this - it changes everything.
Within an easy 30 minute walk of where I'm sitting right now, there are at least a couple of hundred clothing stores - good, bad, and absolutely ridiculous.  But as often as not, I order new clothes over the internet and have them delivered here to the apartment.  And I find, more and more, that the things that I buy through my computer turn out to be better purchases than those that I pick up in the store.  How does this happen?

I've finally (53 years into the project) learned that there are some definite advantages to sitting in one's own home, making clothing decisions.  Trying to figure out the reasoning behind all of this lead me to some guidelines that might work well for you, too.

  1. Just buy some packing tape, with a dispenser/cutter, and assume that you're going to be doing a certain amount of repacking.  Sometimes, the mechanics of repacking seem insurmountable, but they're no more difficult than finding a parking space in a crowded mall parking lot.
  2. When you open parcels, do so carefully, save packing materials, and make mental notes about how to reconstruct what you're deconstructing.
  3. Choose your on-line retailer with an eye to both their return policies, and their shipping charges.  Many companies now offer free shipping AND free returns - that's actually LESS cost than going to a store, where you have to walk/drive/cab/bus/train to get there... (okay, it doesn't cost less than walking...)
  4. Think of the order, not as shopping, but as arranging an in-home "try-on", and order a range of sizes.  If you're not sure of your size, it's what you would do in a store, so just do it at home too.
  5. If you wear a size that's hard to find, or that sells out quickly, mail order might be the easiest way to find things to fit.
  6. Similarly, if you really love stores like Nordstrom or Uniqlo, but don't live near one, you can shop there at your leisure.
  7. Before you choose anything to order, take a look at the garment in question, and then walk over to your closet and consider how it fits in with what you already own.  This might be the single most practical aspect of shopping from home - avoiding duplicates (or orphans)  in your closet that are the result of seeing YET ANOTHER example of your favorite garment staples.  I could easily own about 50 black sweaters (v-neck, tunic-like) if I just walked around stores and purchased what caught my eye.  But when I see one on a website, and then walk over to my closet, and see TWENTY that I already own, I rein myself in a bit...
  8. Before you make a choice, walk away from your computer for a bit.  Forget the garment. Forget shopping.  You might just decide that something's really wrong, or unnecessary, for you.
  9. When you get a garment into your household, try it with all KINDS of possible combinations.  No matter how good your memory, nor how much clothing you schlep with you to the store, you can't really see how anything will integrate into your wardrobe until it's actually IN your wardrobe...
  10. And you can assess hem lengths because you'll have your full assortment of shoes at your disposal.
  11. Start with brands with which you're familiar - you'll be more confident in the quality of the construction and fabric, and you'll know what size to order.
  12. When you need to stock up on basic items (black, white and grey tee shirts, in my wardrobe), mail order is the easiest way to be able to find what you need without being distracted by things you might want. Distraction can be a problem when shopping.
The Arara Nomade, by Andre Pedrini and Ricardo Freisleben
The Arara Nomade, by Andre Pedrini and Ricardo Freisleben.  I can't find it available for purchase! But letting your clothes hang out in the light isn't ideal, anyway...

I have no illusions that we're going to all give up browsing our favorite stores, but reconsidering the role of mail order in your shopping routine might be a good idea...

NORDSTROM.com




22 comments:

  1. Living in Europe - with some very lovely clothing boutiques available! - I still find myself doing the online ordering thing when I travel to the U.S. almost every month. It's taken me a long time to figure out what brands/styles/sizes work for me in the U.S., and starting over doesn't seem worth the trouble. I've been bitten a few times by ordering from stores with less generous return policies, and deciding after returning to Europe that the item just isn't going to work for me. Lesson learned...

    Plus wondering through stores, trying to find that one perfect gray tee shirt for example, lost its appeal years ago. When I know what I'm looking for, online shopping is just more efficient. Great tips, Janice!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course, I meant "wandering" through stores, not "wondering," although...I also do some wondering while wandering...:-) !

      Delete
  2. Lots of great ideas, Janet! I've gotten almost all of my clothes thru mail order for years and years, but I still picked up lots of good ideas from this post. Thanks!

    kris

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oops! Make that Janice, not Janet! (Haven't had enough coffee.) Sorry!

    kris

    ReplyDelete
  4. Handy tips and some really good points here. I haven't done that much online shopping as I live close to lots of really good shops, but it's certainly much quicker if you're looking for something specific. It takes literally all day to just skim through all the likely shops looking for something specific and more than likely, they don't have it!

    Still, whether online or in person, I need to keep on focussing on not buying (or keeping) something if it's not exactly right in colour, fabric, fit, comfort etc...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Excellent tips, Janice. Unfortunately, online shopping in Canada is abysmal. Many Canadian retailers charge for shipping and/or returns, and my favourite Canadian flash sale site seems to have just this week gone to final sales only. And it can take literally weeks to receive items from Canadian retailers. U.S. retailers charge for shipping to Canada, and many items say "Cannot be shipped internationally" or can't be returned from Canada, and if you can return them, you have to pay for the return shipping and wait to have the duties and customs fees rebated. And my favourite U.S. retailers don't even ship to Canada at all. So I have almost resigned myself to stop online shopping until conditions improve and in the meantime, my local indie boutiques, consignment stores, and thrift stores benefit from my custom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As a fellow Canadian, if you go to Airmiles.com you will find a pretty big list of online retailers that are very good at shipping to Canadians, and even give us Airmiles for our purchases. I live close to the border so I can go either way. I do have a mailbox (very inexpensive) on the U.S. side. It does open up even more possibilities.

      Delete
  6. Here's a luxe version of your idea. I was at FEDEX and spied a woman who briefly lived down the street from me. She had what looked like a refrigerator box. She told me she worked as a personal assistant to a wealthy woman who was the recipient of try-ons from her personal shopper at Neiman Marcus. She was returning $32,000 worth of clothing! I don't think returns were free, however--they were several hundred dollars.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I like shopping for my basics and favorite brands (Eileen Fisher, LLBean, Eddie Bauer, Land's End) online too. I know how items will fit and what quality to expect. I watch for markdowns online (love Nordstrom!). On my infrequent visits to malls I find myself getting distracted by the displays and crowds (and food courts!) and often return home with nothing that was on my list. I live in an area where indie stores and boutiques are few and far between so a mall trip becomes an all day excursion which brings me little pleasure and too much anxiety.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great tips. I enjoy online shopping especially when you can find free return shipping.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Love clothes, hate to shop so I'm a diehard online shopper. I order several go-to brands, primarily from Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. I often shop end-of-season sales online and have gotten great deals on beautiful staples like leather jackets. Since I'm 10 minutes from both stores ( in Chicago suburbs), I often find it easiest to return them to the store when I'm out doing errands. And I finally got wise to the idea of ordering two sizes of shoes from Zappos. I assiduously preserve all packing materials as you suggest. Joan

    ReplyDelete
  10. I like Lands' End and their size charts are really helpful. The reviews have greatly influenced my purchases and in the end I have only ever had to return one thing and it was because I didn't like the feel of the fabric. Now that I have retired though I have more time to actually browse in shops and have rediscovered the thrift shops!
    I must add that I would rather buy my Hermes scarves from their shop rather than online....it is much more fun being served in person!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I like Lands' End and their size charts are really helpful. The reviews have greatly influenced my purchases and in the end I have only ever had to return one thing and it was because I didn't like the feel of the fabric. Now that I have retired though I have more time to actually browse in shops and have rediscovered the thrift shops!
    I must add that I would rather buy my Hermes scarves from their shop rather than online....it is much more fun being served in person!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lands' End has recently added a section called Item Dimensions in addition to the regular size chart. It lists actual measurements of the garment itself.

      Delete
  12. I still lived near Houston with its plethora of wonderful retail stores and came to pick my favorite brands. Now that I live in the sticks I rely completely on Nordstrom on for all my purchases. It helps that I was never a consummate shopper, but do want to look nice. I usually shop a couple times a year, spend money like there is no tomorrow, and then I'm done. Weekly shopping trips would be a form of punishment for me. :))

    ReplyDelete
  13. Excellent tips. Yes to #5. Online shopping can be particularly great if you aren't a standard size. Shopping IRL for pants with a very short inseam is always depressing, but some great ankle length styles can be found at my fingertips online. One small one to add, read the starred reviews. If more than one say the same thing (runs large, faded with washing) take that into consideration. Check online coupon sites for the stores before ordering.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am SO with you, Janice! Living far from lots of good clothing stores, I am saved by Nordstrom, Zappos, any store with free returns by mail, or those, like Talbots, that will allow you to return to their stores. Selections are usually much greater online and you can grab things that might not make it to your local "market" for whatever reason. It all works! (Although my husband's a bit worried at the number of times the UPS guy is here :-)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I agree so much with all your points about online shopping. What I would like to know now, Janice, is what are your favourite online outlets - where do you find you do most of your online shopping.
    Margaret

    ReplyDelete
  16. These suggestions are very good. I can agonize for hours over which size to buy.
    Being in Hong Kong, I order from Marks and Spencer as they are really experienced with online shopping but you have to know their brands. Autograph is a high quality brand and great for the basics Janice suggests as a wardrobe foundation. But anything coloured is a gamble as online photos are quite misleading.
    Thank you for these tips.
    Kate in Hong Kong

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'm a fringe size, both in clothing and shoes, so it's particularly distressing to see all the lovelies on the racks that will never ever work for me. Same for thrifting; it's a time-sucking hunt that rarely results in success, except for accessories. I have come to prefer shopping online, even with the drawback of not being able to fully determine color and drape. And returns have gotten that much easier now that I can drop off my USPS and pre-paid UPS returns at my local Staples - 7 days a week. I love your blog, Janice!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Pre-kid I enjoyed IRL shopping as an activity, but towing around a baby and toddler will suck the joy out of that faster than a credit card swipe. Once won over by the convenience of online shopping, I'm a true believer. I can shop for shoes as my kids do their homework, or late at night after everyone is in bed (and all the stores are closed).

    ReplyDelete