There’s something special about successfully buying an outfit online.
It’s a little victory filled with excitement and hope, all achieved while you’re lying in bed, sitting on the bus, or distracting yourself at work.
The convenience factor alone is enough to make you wonder why anybody would bother with shopping centre crowds.
But for all the ease and pleasure online shopping offers, sometimes it feels like there’s an endless maze of choice and marketing standing between you and what you really want — whether that’s a parcel on your doorstep, or nothing at all.
Buying clothes online doesn’t have to be an overwhelming and confusing experience, though.
There are some simple ways to avoid getting lost in a rabbit warren of websites, thumbnails, ads, recommendations and items you weren’t even there for in the first place.
1. Think about why you’re shopping at all
“Shopping online can be a pastime for some people and can become a habit that fills up people’s wardrobes with things they don’t need or even want,” says Alarna Hope, a stylist specialising in personal services.
Being mindful about what’s driving the desire to buy new items will help you to make a call on whether it’s necessary to venture into the online wilds.
Style personality guide
Whether you hate shopping or just want to get more out of it, knowing your style personality can help you become a better shopper.
“The feelings that you’re having when you’re shopping online seem logical, but you’re actually having an emotional response,” says Dr Paul Harrison, researcher in consumer behaviour at the Deakin Business School.
“People should ask questions like ‘How happy did buying the last product make me? How does it fit into my world?'” he says.
Dr Harrison recommends journalling all the online purchases you’ve made over the past couple of months. This is a useful way to understand how what you’ve bought has added to your life.
Ms Hope says casting an eye over your wardrobe is also a good starting point to avoid buying mindlessly.
“If you look through your wardrobe and see that you’ve got a lot of printed items, you could consider buying some plain items so you can start wearing your printed items more often,” she says.
2. Be aware of how online marketing could be influencing you
It’s no secret that if you so much as breathe near your phone or computer you’ll be bombarded with ads that are tailored to you via mysterious algorithms.
These can appear in the obvious form of sponsored social media posts, or ads served by cookies.
They can also subtly weave their way onto your screen as personalised recommendations on retailers’ websites or paid and unpaid posts by influencers — all of which can pop up when you’re not even intending to shop.
“Online marketing presents you with a problem that you didn’t think you had,” Dr Harrison says.
“And the process moves you through to [a purchasing] decision as quickly as possible so you don’t have time to sit back and think about whether you need what you’re buying.”
This is exactly how you can be nudged into buying things you don’t want in a matter of three or four clicks.
“Humans are trying to constantly understand how they can have a happier life, and marketing is very clever at saying ‘this is how you have a happier life by buying these things’,” Dr Harrison says.
He says if you know you’re easily distracted by these ads, instead research the product and talk to someone about it in real life, giving yourself some time to sleep on it.
Another way to put the brakes on could be to add to your wish list or cart for later — that way you can sleep on it and figure out whether you want the item at all.
3. Have a game plan before heading online
Ms Hope suggests doing some planning if you want to shop for clothes online.
“It’s like going into the supermarket. If you don’t have a shopping list, you’ll probably come home with random stuff,” she says.
Once you’ve got a good idea of what items you’re after, you can use tools such as filters to narrow down your search and avoid going down a rabbit hole.
A good e-commerce site should have easy-to-use filters and categories that make sense, according to Kim Nutt, online fashion merchandising teacher at RMIT.
Keeping your search terms specific is also effective, explains Ms Nutt.
“If you were to type in ‘little black dress’ you’ll probably get an overwhelming amount of results, so refining your search to ‘midi black dress’, for example, will help you find what you want,” she says, referring to the length of the dress.
Ms Hope also recommends choosing to shop at websites that stock brands that you already own or have tried on before.
4. Choose websites with high-quality imagery
One of the benefits of shopping online is that you can see everything at a glance, unlike when you go to a store in person.
“Most of the time, the front of the garment is facing away from you because it’s on a rack, and you need to spend time search through those racks,” Ms Hope says.
But what is presented to you should reflect what you’re going to get.
Ms Hope says the best websites have a mix of photos of people in the garments, video of people moving in the garments and ghost imagery — which is where you see the garment in the shape of someone’s body but there’s no actual body.
“It helps you see some of the smaller details such as seam lines, fastenings and zips that you wouldn’t normally see if it was on the person,” she says.
Using the zoom tool for photos is also something that will help give you a better sense of what the product will look and feel like in real life.
5. Shop at sites that have comprehensive product descriptions
“It something that many online retailers don’t do well,” Ms Nutt says.
A good online fashion shop should have descriptive information about the garment, sizing guides with measurements, and detail on the fabrics and materials used.
“It’s hard to tell sometimes. Something that you think looks like leather might turn out to be polyurethane, or something that you thought was cotton turns out to be rayon.”
Sizing can vary significantly from brand to brand, so a good website should never have a universal sizing guide if it stocks multiple labels.
“It needs to list specific measurements for each brand so you can get the best possible fit, especially if you’re buying what you consider an investment piece or if you’re buying something from overseas,” Ms Hope says.
6. Steer clear from some items
There are only a couple of items that you should buy IRL, according to Ms Hope.
Shoes and bras can often be a disappointment because sizing varies so much and making the wrong choice can leave you in complete discomfort.
“With bras, you could look at five different bra brands and have five different sizes.”
And the same goes for shoes.
“Some shoe brands have difference collections made in different countries, so it’s really important to get fitted properly, particularly if you’ve got any issues with your feet,” Ms Hope says.
She also says suits and sunglasses are items that you should tread carefully with before adding to your cart.
“Suiting is risky if you don’t know what you’re doing in terms of fit, or if you don’t get fitted first. And with sunglasses, you should only opt for shapes that you know suit your face.”
Shopping online is fast, easy, convenient and even fun, but being led astray by what seems like never-ending options or personalised marketing can throw everything out of whack.
Avoiding this comes down to practising some mindfulness before you get started, being pragmatic and strategic, and shopping at retailers who give you as much information as possible.