Safe, stylish online shopping

Shopping via the Internet is booming, and for good reason.

Purchasing from home at any time, without battling crowds, parking, and limited availability of bricks-and-mortar stores, and having it delivered to your door is uber-convenient. 

However, shopping for fashion online can be a bit more complicated. There is something about seeing and touching the fabric, and feeling how it fits on you that makes in-person clothing shopping preferable for some.

But with a few tips, you can enjoy the world-wide marketplace to build the closet of your dreams.

Safety First 

How do you ensure you are dealing with a reputable online retailer?

Most international fashion juggernauts have their own online stores — The Gap, H&M, Zara, J Crew, etc — as well as department stores such as The Bay, Nordstroms, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. 

But what if you are seeking something unique and stumble across an unknown website? Do some serious investigating before entering any credit card information.

  • Google if there are positive independent reviews on the company.
  • Do they have contact information listed on their website that you can verify?
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau and fashion forums such at The Purse Forum to see if the company is listed as a credible retailer. 

The Canadian Conundrum 

You find a great dress online for $80. However, by the time it reaches your door, you’ve paid twice that much with shipping, currency conversion, taxes and duties.

How to avoid such surprises? 

First, ensure you are searching on the Canadian site. Most major retailers based in the U.S. and Europe have country-specific sites. Look for a flag at the top of the page or “.ca” in the URL. 

Before clicking the “Purchase” button, read the small print to verify what is included in the price. Some retailers include duties, taxes and shipping all in Canadian dollars while some just show U.S. dollars with shipping.

If there is any confusion, email or chat with the retailer for clarity. 

Also, the item you want may be available at a Canada-based retailer. Popular international brands have shops in Vancouver or are carried at Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom’s — just find the product code online and phone the store to see if they have any in-stock.

These stores may offer pay via phone service with local shipping, therefore no duties or currency conversion to worry about. 

Is Luxury for Less Real? 

Google “Louis Vuitton Handbags” and you will get millions of links, some of them offering bags at incredibly low prices. Too good to be true? Usually the case is yes. 

The Internet has spawned a massive industry in luxury counterfeits, and while it may be tempting to get a copy of your dream item at a fraction of the cost, you need to be aware. 

Most importantly, counterfeits of trademarked brands are illegal.

Let me say this again. Anything stamped with a brand’s logo or name that is not produced by that actual company and sold through its official channels is illegal.

Therefore ordering anything from such counterfeit sites could be subject to seizure. The retailer could even be shut down before they fulfill your order. It is simply not worth it. 

If your heart is set on a high-ticket item, either save up for it or find a similar “inspired-by” style. Or consider buying gently-used through Canadian authentic reseller sites such as MyLuxuryCloset.comThe-Upside.ca, and LabConsignment.com

You might also try eBay, but ensuring you are buying real items from reputable sellers on auction sites is a whole other topic that requires its own column.

What about Size and Fit? 

Online retailers know this is the biggest roadblock for stylish shoppers and are increasingly taking measures to reduce your hesitation. 

Common brands have fairly consistent sizing, so if you usually take a size 10 in Gap jeans, you can be confident about ordering that size in any of their, or affiliate brands Old Navy and Banana Republic, bottoms. 

If you have never tried on items from the company you’re considering buying from, carefully check their fit and fabric information. They should include details such as a size guide, measurements of the item, and measurements of the model with size she is wearing. 

If you have a similar item in your closet, measure it and compare with the online item. Scrutinize the fabric composition and care instructions to ensure it’s what you’re expecting; something that looks like silk may be polyester. 

Finally, check the company’s return policy before ordering. Some retailers include a pre-paid envelope with your shipment to make returns easy.

Taking Online Advantage

Points programs, promo codes and flash sales...online shopping can save you a bundle if it's done right. Many retailers will offer a discount on your first order if you sign up for their newsletter, which you can unsubscribe from at any time. 

If you love a particular company’s products, stay signed up and they will send notices of upcoming sales and further discount codes to keep you as a loyal customer. 

Most retailers offer free shipping when your cart reaches a certain price point. If you are close to that figure, consider ordering two of a favourite item or a low-cost accessory, or a gift for your family in order to qualify. 

When In-Person Shopping is Best 

Sometimes, you just have to see the item in person. For example, if it’s for a special occasion and/or is very form-fitting, you’ll want to see how the item looks on you. Bodycon dresses, bridal wear and fitted jeans are such cases. 

Also if the item is every expensive, such as premier designer leather shoes or handbag, you’ll want to check it out in-person first to ensure it’s worth the investment. 

Once you’d decided, you can still check online to see if you can find the exact item at a better price. 

Some of My Favourite Fashion Sites: 

Net-a-Porter.com — This U.S.-based e-store carries the most haute of haute couture and most items are way out of an affordable price range. However, the site makes for great eye candy and is the place for the latest fashion trends and inspiration. Their sister site, TheOutnet.com, carries designer discounts, and Ssense.com is a Canada-based luxury retailer.

Shopstyle.ca — Enter the name of an item you are searching for and this site will find every online retailer carrying it for easy price comparisons. 

Everlane.com — This fashion disrupter produces a limited selection of sustainably-made, premier-quality basics such as silk Ts and Italian leather loafers at affordable prices. 

Etsy.com — The online crafter’s marketplace is a great source for unique jewelry and accessories. 

PurseBlog.com — This site started by a New York couple features everything you could possibly want to know about designer handbags, including sales alerts and new brands.

Its forum section is a worldwide community with hundreds of thousands of members and features threads on major labels plus jewellery, clothing and more. Includes discussions on authentication and reputable sellers of designer goods.

Warning: totally addictive! 


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About the Author

Marla is best known for her 19-year career in the local charitable sector as a fund development and marketing manager with the Okanagan Regional Library, United Way, UBC Okanagan, and Kelowna Community Resources. 

In 2014, Marla and her husband decided to take a break from the work world, and, four years, later they are still enjoying Okanagan summers, winters in Mexico, and extensive travel. 

Marla has had a life-long passion for fashion, designing her own graduation dress and formal gown for the 1990 Miss Interior competition before age 20.

In 2014, she was named one of nine Style Ambassadors for a year-long marketing campaign at Orchard Park Mall. Her motto is “Life is short...you might as well go through it looking good."

If you have a style question or topic you’d like Marla to cover in this column, contact her at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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