Taking control when the shops are never closed online

Seasoned online shopper Liz Dunphy offers advice on how to get the best out of couch shopping

IF IT TAKES 10,000 hours to master something, as Malcolm Gladwell claimed in his influential book Outliers, then despite our relatively recent introduction to online shopping, many of us could teach courses in it at this stage, if not graduate with a PhD.

Online shopping is just so convenient. The shops never close and the choice is pretty much endless.

It has even made my homelife more harmonious because when my boyfriend turns on sports news or football, instead of complaining I calmly reach for the iPad and grab the opportunity to peruse the web’s varied offerings.

But be warned, the apparently benign charms of online shopping can grip you like gold fever, and shopping is becoming a recognised form of addiction.

There is even an organisation called Shopaholics Anonymous, which worryingly lists a few tell-tale signs of shopping addiction which I have on occasion recognised in myself, like slightly under-reporting how much I spent on shoes. It’s a slippery slope.

You may also have a problem if you use shopping to cheer yourself up, which I absolutely do. Shopping gives me an emotional lift like little else.

And many of my friends feel similarly. Whether it’s the perfect piece of furniture, top or dress, that new and temporarily oh-so-perfect and covetable addition to your home can instantly enhance your mood. And hopefully, once we don’t overspend or become reliant on shopping as an emotional crutch, then everyone wins.

The first thing to be aware of while shopping online is that you are using a secure website.

  • In the URL bar at the top of your webpage, check for the little lock symbol and the letters https:// before your website’s address.

Https (the ‘s’ standing for ‘secure’ being key) has authenticated the website and its associate server so you can be fairly sure that you are communicating with the legitimate organisation. HTTPS also encrypts information being sent between you and the website to protect it from spying cyber eyes.

  • Set up a PayPal account. PayPal is a reputable payment portal and it will often be given as a payment option at the checkout phase on many websites.
  • Cybercrime is rife so when shopping online it is advisable to use a credit or debit card that does not give access to vast cash reserves. If you are lucky enough to have a large bank balance, then using a card online that is linked to a more modest account is not a bad idea.
  • If there are particular labels or shopping sites that you like, then it may be worth signing up for their newsletter. These will allow retailers to alert you to sales. Many websites hold flash sales to shift stock every so often, which can be very good value. However be warned that they will send you plenty of promotional material to tempt you to visit their site so get ready to exercise a little willpower.

If you are going to invest (as I like to call it) in an expensive piece online, than it is usually worth doing your research. Ideally you will have tried it on in a physical shop beforehand, but if not there are a few things that you can check to increase your chances of success.

  • Get the exact measurements of the garment, and bear in mind what the fabric is. Some fabrics have more hold and some have more stretch which will affect the fit, and boning will give good structure and hold like a deconstructed corset.
  • Buying clothes made of largely natural fibres is often wise because you will have a reasonable guarantee of the material’s quality.
  • Always ask the retailer any questions you have before purchasing. Try to ascertain the exact colour of the item.
  • If an item is the wrong shade it can make a huge difference in how the item will look and ultimately make you feel. Google images of the item. So many people upload images to social media now that finding photos of people wearing the actual item is often easy, and the more people you see wearing something, the better idea you will have about its fit.
  • Also, the modern obsession with celebrity culture means that there will frequently be an image online of someone in the public eye wearing your potential purchase, which can give you a better idea about how it will work for you.
  • Be aware of postage costs, return policies and importation costs if buying expensive items from outside of the EU.
  • Some sites offer free postage, others do not. Postage costs can turn a ‘bargain’ into something that really is not a bargain at all.
  • Exchange rates can also alter the price significantly. Sterling is especially strong at the moment which can make buying in euros bad value.

Know what you are looking for, but if you stumble on something else that looks great then don’t be afraid to deviate, especially if it is a bargain.

And finally, although online shopping is brilliant in many ways, nothing beats going into a physical shop to try something on. And supporting our local retailers, who do such a great job sourcing treasures for us, is important if we want to keep them on the streets and not just limit them to the web.

A pick of the best fashion and beauty websites

Asos.com — Huge variety of men’s and women’s clothing

BeingContent.com — Curates premium organic cosmetics

BrandAlley.co.uk — Discounted brands, like an online TKMaxx

cultbeauty.co.uk and lookfantastic.com —Brill’ cult beauty buys.

Etsy.com — Like Ebay but for handmade items and vintage clothing

HardlyEverWornIt.com — Authentic pre-owned designer items

Lollipuff.com — Pre-screened, often good value designer goods.

Net-A-Porter.com —The ‘go to’ website for designer clothing.

TheOutnet.com — Adapts the designer outlet model to an online environment. Look out for their extra 30% off sales.


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