My earliest ventures in the world of online shopping happened in high school. I spent my birthday and Christmas money on clothes and accessories that were more unique than what I’d find at the store, but it felt like a luxury at the time. I even bought a pair of vintage patent red platform shoes on eBay and I felt like an absolute boss. But that was in the mid to late ’00s when online shopping wasn’t exactly new, but it’s nothing like it is now.
Now? Oh man…the sites, the variety, the mega sales, the…everything. Online shopping is just beyond brilliant and convenient these days. Sure, I love the fun (and certainty) of shopping IRL and I always will, but who can pass up an amazing discount code or a cool item at an indie shop that you definitely won’t find at the mall? With that said, as great at online shopping can be, it can be even greater if you–frankly–know what the hell you’re doing. I’m talking ways to get better discounts, ways to preventspending more money than you need to, ways to avoid getting scammed, and ways to stop ending up with items that don’t fit. Check out these 17 online shopping secrets that nobody is telling you.
1. Two words: Student discounts.
Got a .edu email address from school? Then you need to take advantage of student discounts. More and more retailers are getting hip to the fact that students a) like to shop and b) have no effing money. What used to be a perk that was largely associated with UK stores like ASOS and Topshop are now available at American retailers like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel as well. Sure, they’re usually not all that much–most only offer 10 percent to 15 percent discounts on every order–but sometimes retailers offer student sales that can earn you at least 20 percent off.
By the way, student discounts aren’t just good for clothes. They’re also useful for buying tech as well. I was able to get a discount on my Macbook Pro in college because I was a student! You can also cop Amazon Prime for free for six months as a student. Every little bit helps.
2. Check out sites like CamelCamelCamel to check the price history of Amazon.com items.
If you’ve ever watched an item on Amazon for long enough, you might get the feeling that a price has fluctuated to some extent since the last time you checked it out. That’s not just your imagination, it happens all the time. That’s why CamelCamelCamel is a great source. You literally just copy the URL of the item you want into the site and it shows you a graph what the price of the item has been over time. This is useful because you can see if that item you’ve been eyeing is at it’s peak price point or its lowest and you can decide whether or not to buy it based on that.
And speaking of prices…
3. Look for the same item on multiple sites and buy it at the cheapest price.
You don’t just buy your school books without trying to find the cheapest price for them, right? Well, you should use that same logic with anything else you buy. Sure, you can get a cute Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera at Urban Outfitters for $100. Or, you can just cop it on Amazon for almost $40 off. Do this with any name brand item, books, or LPs so that you don’t get ripped off.
4. For overwhelming sites like ASOS, make your searches as specific as possible.
I don’t know about you, but when I first heard everybody rave about ASOS years ago, I tried to get into it but just…couldn’t. Why? Because their site was just way too overwhelming. Too many options! Well, now I buy clothes from ASOS all the time and I’ve managed to find items I’m interested in by searching for super specific items instead of just clicking pants and getting inundated by thousands of…uh, pants. Looking for a dress with a cute collar? Type in “peter pan collar” in the search bar. Mom jeans? Just type in “mom jeans” or “high waist jeans.” You get the picture. This might sound simple, but it really does cut down on the stress.
5. Know your measurements.
Listen, knowing that you’re size medium or a size six just doesn’t cut it sometimes. You should know how many inches or centimeters your bust, waist, hips and inseam (the bit from the top of your inner thigh to your ankle) are. This is basically mandatory for vintage and thrifted online purchases and it’s really helpful when you’re checking out the specs for a particular item. For example, if you’re one size in the bust and another around the hips, you can decide which size will work best for your personal preference. Also, often times if you’re buying pants online, you’ll have to know what your waist and inseam measure out to. So, yeah, if you don’t want to end up with something that just doesn’t fit right, know your measurements ahead of time!
6. Independent shops and retailers often have some of the coolest stuff, hands down.
There are massive communities of independent artists who design some seriously awesome clothes and accessories. Like, I’m not going to find cool pins at Forever 21, and I’m not going to find an amazing illustrated tampon dress at Urban Outfitters. But funky little online shops? Absolutely. Unfortunately, finding the good stuff can be tough, but some clever Etsy searches can go a long way. But do you want to know how I find some of the best independent shops? Social media. Follow an independent designer on Instagram and it won’t take long before you find them tagging other artists who also sell some seriously cool stuff. It’s not easy, but the hunt is worth it.
7. Learn how to search for cool vintage clothes without losing your mind.
If you’re into unique vintage finds, you probably already know that Etsy and eBay are the best places to shop for the widest selection. But finding what you’re looking for can be a pain in the butt. Here’s my tip: A lot of sellers aren’t great about writing thorough descriptions of the items they’re selling, so try to be as broad and use those filters. Most sites have filters for vintage clothing and price ranges, so you’re going to be better off searching “green ’60s dress” than “mint ’60s a-line shift mini dress.” Of course, you’re going to have to go through a ton of crap before you find the gem you’re looking for, but it’s worth it. And yes, I own that flat jacket and it’s as amazing as it looks.
8. Don’t get conned by fake limited edition vintage apparel.
Does some shop claim to have a rare vintage band shirt and wants to sell it for a ton of guac? Not so fast, girl! Please, do your research. First, do a thorough search and see if anybody else elsewhere on the internet is selling the same item. I almost fell for this while searching for a ’90s Beavis and Butthead shirt. An Etsy shop was selling one and claimed it was a rare vintage find, making the $40+ price tag worth it. It’s a good thing I searched for the same shirt on eBay because I found countless versions of the same top for a fraction of the price.
9. Check out sites like RetailMeNot to find discounts you might not know about.
This is probably the best site to use if you’re really desperate for a discount, big or small. You can even see if users deemed a particular discount code a total dud or out of date so that you don’t end up disappointed when you try to use it at check out.
10. Let your favorite retailers spam you.
Seriously. I know, we hate spam, but unless you plan to check out your favorite shop’s site every single day, this is the best way to find out about sales. Filter them into a separate folder in your inbox if you need to, but you’re going to kick yourself for missing out on that Sephora sale after the fact, only to discover that there was an ignored email about that sale in your inbox.
11. Sign up for special memberships for your favorite stores. It’ll pay off, trust.
For some retailers, all you need is an email address to obtain “exclusive” perks. Signing up for American Apparel’s Le Club and Urban Outfitters’ UO Exclusive can give you extra discounts and even let you shop sales before everyone else. If you shop at ASOS pretty regularly, spending $19.99 a year for ASOS Premiere also offers you early access to sales, two day shipping, and free returns. If you love Sephora but aren’t a Beauty Insider member, what is your life? What are your choices? You’re missing out on a chance to get free samples and access to some great sales (and most of us know that Sephora doesn’t really do sales all that often). Don’t miss out on some serious perks.
12. Beware of buying from Asia based retailers.
You know how all those fashion bloggers and vloggers get a ton of their clothes from shops like Romwe and Choies? And you might have even heard of wholesale retailer AliExpress. The appeal is simple: The clothes are cute and cheap AF. The catch? While some have good luck with these sites, others have had nightmarish experiences. I’m talking six week shipping, inconsistent sizing, defect items, and questionable customer service. You’ve got to ask yourself whether that’s worth getting a dirt cheap and possibly cheaply made top with a popsicle print.
13. Use a mixture of reviews, model stats, user submitted photos, and even video to make sure you’re making a good purchasing decision.
This might sound like doing the most, but if you’re interested in saving money and buying something that’s actually right for you, it’s worth it.
Reviews: Yes, actually read the reviews, even if the item has a great score. Finding out that a great mini dress was super short on a girl claiming to be 5’3 doesn’t make my 5’9 self confident that my butt is going to be covered. Clothing sites like American Apparel and Mod Cloth and most dedicated shoe retailers usually include some sort of chart that lets reviewers determine whether or not an item was on the small side, the larger side, or fit to size. This can help you determine whether or not you might want to size up, down, or skip buying the item all together. Of course, this is also mandatory for non-clothing purchases like tech.
Model stats: A lot of sites let you know what size the model wearing your desired item is. You probably ignore it 90 percent of the time, but it really can let you know a little something about the length and fit of a particular item.
User submitted photos: Speaking of models, I kind of like to see what my clothes look like on a person who isn’t, well, a model. A lot of sites let you have a look at what their items look like on their customers, so you can get a better understanding of what it might look like IRL.
Video: Not many sites have this, but ASOS does, and I think it’s brilliant. Not only do their catwalk videos get me a better idea of the actual color of the item I’m trying to buy, it also shows me how it looks in motion. Seeing how a dress clings to the body, noticing how the material moves, etc. These are all things you take into consideration when you’re trying on clothes IRL, so it’s not over the top to take it into consideration when you’re shopping online either!
14. If you want to save money, ignore bad sales.
You might be thinking, “Uh, what the hell is a bad sale? Every sale is a good sale!” Uh, no. I don’t know about you, but I’m borderline insulted when a retailer tries to make a 15 percent off sale look appealing. At best, that’s taking off a shipping charge and maybe some tax. Unless you can tack that onto your student discount, it’s not worth wasting your money on. Be patient and wait for a sale that is really going to be worth your while. From my own personal experience, aside from holidays, the best sales happen during seasonal shifts. Fall coming up? All that summer stuff is going to be discounted. Spring? Get a discount on some sweaters. Expect discounts upwards of 20 percent!
And remember, never buy something on sale if you never would have bought it for full price.
15. Know the return policy, especially if you don’t buy many items from that retailer.
This might not seem like a secret, but it’s also something that most people just don’t bother doing. Some stores will give you your money back, others will only give you store credit. Some retailers, especially ones selling vintage merchandise, won’t accept returns at all. By the way, if you bought an item from a shop that you normally wouldn’t buy anything from, be really careful. If you can only get your money back in store credit but you don’t even like anything else at that shop, you’re going to be in a bit of a pickle.
16. If you buy an item on Amazon that was discounted within seven days of purchasing it, Amazon owes you the difference!
So this is pretty cool. Let’s say that cell phone charger you bought is suddenly $10 cheaper, like, two days after you buy it. Well, Amazon owes you $10. Just contact them and they should sort you out. This is only the case if you buy your item from an Amazon retailer, however! Not others selling new or used items through Amazon.
(Psst, I know for a fact that Urban Outfitters also honors this!)
17. Follow your favorite retailers on social media.
Your favorite shops are using the hell out of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc to promo sales and special discounts. This is especially useful if you follow a smaller indie shop that doesn’t let its customers know about sales via email. So make sure you’re following them so that you don’t miss out on a great sale!
What other online shopping tips work for you? Do you like online shopping or do you prefer to do your shopping IRL? Tell us in the comments!