Tag Archives: online shopping

Making the Most of Online Sales

24 Jul

Ever have the feeling you have 17,000 email messages in your inbox? I actually did – I signed up to receive “marketing communications” from all my favorite online stores, and then fell behind on reading all the messages. After more than a year of neglect, I finally sat down to clear out the backlog, and was amazed at the volume of email urging me to buy, buy, buy… message after message saying “hurry” or “last day” (only to announce another sale a few weeks later).

They just keep coming...

They just keep coming… over 20 marketing messages received by 10am.

Truth is,  you don’t need to be on a store’s email list to take advantage of the best sales of the year.  They always happen twice a year: after Christmas, and right now – in late July and August, when Fall and Winter clothes begin to arrive in stores. But email marketing offers you the advantage of early access and sometimes an additional discount.

I recently needed a dress to wear to a summer wedding in Sonoma, and I was hoping to land a deal.  So when Boden (one of my favorite online stores) announced their end-of-summer sale, I jumped on the site the same day. I loaded up my cart with 10 “maybe” items, then quickly narrowed down to the best five. I gulped at the total dollar amount and then ordered all five items, knowing I’d be sending half of it back – because in a real store, you take more stuff into the dressing room than you intend to buy. I even paid $15 for express shipping to find out quickly if I had “the right dress” for the occasion. The next day, a large box was on my doorstep!   (It’s my first time using overnight shipping, and I have to say, I could get used to this.)

As it turns out, of the two dresses I ordered, one was a winner. Even with the extra shipping charges, it ended up costing less than $160 – not bad considering I never even had to leave my house. No raking through cluttered clothing racks. I could try it on at home with my own shoes and accessories. As a footnote, less than a week after ordering it, my size is already sold out – so I’m glad I acted quickly.

boden silk petal dress

A recent score from Boden’s online sale – just the dress to wear to a summer wedding.

The unexpected winner from the order was a funky 60’s print tunic – I had my doubts about the crazy retro print, but when I put it on, it felt so good that I decided to keep it. I live in tunic length tops, and the print offers a welcome pop of color.  The fit is great too – flattering neckline, not too tight around the hips, long enough to wear with leggings (or as a super-mini dress if you are feeling daring). $58 is more than I usually spend on tops, but I know it will get plenty of wear.

Boden Fab Jersey Tunic on Sale

The stretchy cotton jersey material was so soft and comfy that I ended up keeping this one.

In a nutshell, here is how I make the most of online sales:

1) Use a separate email account for online shopping. Then, ignore the account unless you’re looking to buy something.

2) Be stingy with your time. Delete all marketing emails older than a week without reading them.

3) If you do intend to buy, respond to online sales early, because popular items can go out of stock in a few days.

4) Order more items than you intend to keep. (You may need to pay for return shipping, but perhaps ordering more means you get free shipping with your order.) Order two sizes of the same item if you have trouble finding your size in a real store.  Yes, you’ll have to float the cost of the additional items until your return is processed, but you’re more likely to end up with something that you’re excited about.

5) Look for coupon codes before you check out  – it only takes a minute and may save you shipping or 20% off with very little effort. My favorite site is Retailmenot.com

6)  Be picky when trying on your clothes at home. Using the best mirror in the house, force yourself to make quick decisions based on gut-level reaction. When in doubt, send it back.

7) Bang out the logistics. To make returns easy, keep your computer connected to a printer for creating return labels, and keep a roll of packing tape in your desk for sealing your package. Fill out the paperwork for the return as soon as you can (to avoid losing it). Find the most convenient place near home or work to drop off UPS packages (using UPS.com). If your package has prepaid postage, don’t stand in line at the post office – walk up to the front of the line, make eye contact with a clerk, and he/she will tell you where to leave it.

8) Log off and get back to real life.  It’s easy to get sucked into hunting for deals online – so I give myself a time limit. If nothing clicks in the first 1 or 2 minutes on a specific site, I ditch out, knowing there will always be a next time.

Do you have another tip to share? Leave it in the comments section below!

Shopping while sitting in a parked car

2 Jan Shopping at Gilt Groupe on the iPhone

I recently read that shopping from the mobile phone is rising fast.  Makes sense – when do we moms ever have time to sit at the computer? We barely have time to sit down for five minutes and eat our own lunch.   However, here and there, I do find myself with a few minutes of downtime with just my mobile phone, like when my daughter is napping in the back seat of the car.  It’s a great time to catch up on email (or at least make a dent in the inbox – we are never really caught up, are we?).  I recently tried browsing online stores on my 2 year old Blackberry, but it’s impossible – the experience stinks.  Product images are smaller than a postage stamp, page layout is all scrambled, and there are major user interface problems (navigational links disappearing, no way to choose sizes or colors from drop-down menus). I have to scroll down, down, down so much that my little track ball gets tired after a while and decides to quit, leaving me to rest my sore scrolling thumb.  Even if I know what I am buying, I can’t seem to complete a transaction – the checkout process doesn’t work either.  I have yet to make mobile shopping work for me, but millions of people have somehow managed it, according to this article in the San Jose Mercury News–  so I am suddenly very intrigued. I must be missing something.

Online shopping from my computer saved me this season – after the kids went to bed, I went online and purchased the vast majority of my presents that way. It’s a convenient way to ship presents to recipients in other cities, or to save a trip to the store.  When the cardboard boxes from Amazon started piling up in my front hallway, I told my 5 year old son that daddy had ordered a lot of tools for his workshop, and he was not the least bit suspicious. At least this year, he is still a willing believer in Santa Claus. Not sure what will happen next year when he is one year older and more skeptical…maybe I’ll have them delivered to my neighbor’s house. But I digress.

Despite recent online shopping failures, I still love shopping online, and cling to the belief it’s a great way to bring the store to me when I can’t get to the store.  Now I need to figure what mobile device offers the best shopping platform. It seems the two contenders are the iPhone and a bunch of different phones running Google’s Android operating system. Is it possible to browse a web site as is, or do I need to download a shopping app from the store I want to browse? Which platform has better shopping apps? Here is a screen shot from Apple’s web site of one retailer who has developed an app just for this purpose, the Gilt Groupe, an online department store.

Shopping at Gilt Groupe on the iPhone

Shopping on the mobile phone promises the freedom to shop online from anywhere, but so far, online retailers are slow to offer a good user experience browsing a regular web page on the mobile phone. In response, larger web stores have begun to develop custom shopping applications that run on the mobile phone. Here are two screen shots of The Gilt Groupe's app for the iPhone.

I am not especially partial to this web site, it just happens to be the example on Apple’s web site – but it’s interesting to imagine how much shopping online could be improved  if the experience catered to my personal preferences, such as the sizes I shop for, my target price range, or items I have purchased in the past.

Smartphones on Verizon network

The smartphone promises to make it possible to comfortably shop anywhere, anytime. Can it deliver on that promise?

I can’t wait to replace my not-so-smartphone; I am secretly waiting for the sticky scrolling mechanism to finally quit so I have a good excuse to spend $200 on a new phone. I don’t care about battery life or fitting the phone in my pocket – but web browsing must be great. The screen of the iPhone is still too small for my taste – not to mention the fact that AT&T, the only cell phone carrier at the moment, has lousy reception at my house. Does a better alternative exist?  If you are successfully shopping on your device, please share how and where.

Meanwhile, I will be following the headlines from CES 2011 in hopes that the mobile phone manufacturers have some breakthrough to announce. My ideal device would have a really large screen and a web browser that lets me shop online comforably, from at any site, without needing to download an app every time. It still doesn’t solve the problem of what I would order, since I am still searching for What to Wear After Kids – but at least my daughter could peacefully finish her nap in the parking lot of Target while I order her next box of diapers online.

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