We are a nation of online shoppers. Be it the commute to work, al desko lunchbreaks or Sunday-night sofa-slouching, if there are card details and wi-fi to hand we can turn it into a bona fide shopping opportunity. Between 2015 and 2016, the average online weekly spend grew 22 per cent, while this year it is predicted that 1.61 million of us globally will use e-commerce, with it taking just six minutes to place an online order.
I’d categorise myself as a 4pm browser. Come tea time, when my attention span begins to disintegrate, I start clicking around the “new in” sections. Ten minutes later and I’ve compiled my wish list for the imaginary holiday to Lake Como that I’m definitely not going on, and found new placemats (these from Etsy – nice, eh?). How productive.
There is no doubt in my mind that online shopping is a wonderful thing, not only for its utility (anything that facilitates the acquisition of new stuff without having to leave the house is saintly), but for its cheering abilities. Who hasn’t found solace on Zara’s sandal page during a particularly crappy day? But what happens when it all goes wrong?
Earlier this month, Dee Lewis caused a Facebook meltdown when she posted pictures of the dress her daughter had ordered online for her prom. What was undoubtedly supposed to be an elegant creation of the Beyoncé 2015 Met Gala ilk turned out to be a badly fitting see-through body stocking with what looked like tissue paper stuck on the bum and a curtain stapled to the hem. Needles to say, it was not as advertised.
Who hasn’t found solace on Zara’s sandal page during a particularly crappy day? But what happens when it all goes wrong?
Lewis’ shoddy prom dress is just one of many #onlineshoppingfails that have recently been doing the rounds on social media. Fancy a swimming costume four sizes too big (when you ordered a bikini)? How about a netted puffball skirt that was supposed to be a tulle fishtail? No? Be careful what you click for.
But while these mishaps undoubtedly have a funny side (when I asked The Pool team, someone owned up to mistakenly buying children's trainers: “I thought the price was too good”), online shopping mistakes are incredibly annoying, not to mention expensive. “I once bought nine dresses and two skirts in an online sale in the size of a dress I already had from said company. When they arrived, all but one of the dresses was too small and their returns policy was so crap I couldn't even return them for a refund,” The Pool’s video producer, Amy Jones, told me.
So, in the interests of saving us all time, money and sanity, I’ve rounded up the best online shoppers I know and got their tips for not getting caught out.
Hannah Rochell: Don’t buy anything unless it’s photographed on a person
I don’t buy anything I can’t see on a model. Even though the model is nowhere near my size or height, it still gives a better idea of size, fit and proportion than something that is shot flat or on a mannequin. This rule even applies to bags.
Lucy Dunn: Beware of surprise extras
Watch out for hidden, unnecessary details. A "V" in a trouser hem that actually turns out to be a split up to your thigh. A cut-out detail in the back of a dress or jumpsuit that’s so low you can't wear a bra. Or, worse, a random tie detail under an armpit that shows not just side boob but side roll.
I also have a theory that when models are shot skipping around in a piece of clothing, it's because said piece only looks good in a very particular angle. Beware: voluminous trousers – they may billow out prettily in shot, but will they IRL? Similarly: blousy tops and dresses.
Kat Farmer: Do the Zara maths
When shopping online (or indeed in a shop), do not buy anything that you're going to slim into. You won't. And even if you do, you'll have looked at it too many times and will want something new. Also, if something is expensive, ask yourself: would you want it if you saw it for half that price in Zara?
Lauren Bravo: Watch the videos
I always watch the videos on sites like ASOS, Gap and Matches to get a better idea of how the fabric moves, real-life colour and how something sits on the body. Usually, if I'm dithering over the photos, the video makes my mind up for me.
Laura Craik: Consider buying in bulk
My tip when shopping online is always over-buy. Try things on at home, fart about with your own sandal/handbag combos, then ruthlessly send back everything that doesn't make the grade. I'm currently coveting a straw hat, but have no plans to go and stand in front of a mirror, trying hats on in a sweaty high-street store, so instead I'm ordering five very similar ones. I will keep the one that looks least heinous on me and send the other four back.
Katherine Ormerod: Choose the cheapest delivery option
Read the terms and conditions and only ever buy things that you can return and get your money back on if it doesn’t work. Always go for the cheapest delivery option – if you’ve already spent £20 getting it to you, it can be tempting to think, “I might as well keep it,” even if it’s not right (if something doesn’t fit, send it back before you even think twice). Also, don’t be influenced by tags that say things like “selling out soon”. These are lies that sites use to push you into making a purchase.
Kerry Potter: Stay sober
Do not do drink ’n' shop in the evenings. The last time I did that, I bought some yellow culottes which were God-awful in the cold light of day.
Got it? Great. Time to put that all into action.
This piece was originally published on 21 June 2018