How To Hack Shopping Online

Even if Net-A-Porter is your homepage and the FedEx delivery person knows you by name, you might still not know all there is to know about online shopping. So, we dug deep to bring you some sneaky ways to save money and to guarantee your buys will look fabulous on you when they arrive.
Straight ahead, see the best method for jumping to the front of any customer-service queue, and learn how to make sure that tricky mid-calf trend will really work for you in real life — plus, 12 other pointers that will make you a certified shopping genius. So, click through to get the inside scoop on our trickiest tips...because only pushovers pay for shipping.
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Photo: Courtesy of ASOS.
Don’t ever pay for shipping — or returns, if you can help it.
We don't want to say that only chumps pay for shipping. But, if you can avoid it, it's the easiest way to shave $10 off your order. After all, there are sandwiches we could be spending that money on.

On our short list of favorite free-shipping sites are Barneys, Sunglass Hut, Macy’s, and Madewell. Amazon is also seriously upping its fashion selection and offers free shipping on lots of items — click here to see what's eligible.

And, here's a list of the retail all-stars that offer both free shipping and returns, with no minimum purchase (bless them): Topshop, ASOS, Neiman Marcus, Kate Spade, Nordstrom, Piperlime, FORWARD by elyse walker,, Zappos, and Shopbop. For these stores, shopping online is completely no-risk — so go ahead and order those jeans in three sizes, because you never know which pair is gonna fit.

And, keep in mind that many high-street stores like J.Crew, Gap, Zara, and Topshop offer free in-store returns. Personally, we'd much rather take a subway ride than stand in line at the post office any day.
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Photo: Courtesy of J.Crew.
Have a game plan for your buys.
A fashion buyer gave us this tip, and it's pure genius: Before you buy online, take the three-outfit challenge. It works like this: You have to think of a trio of ensembles you can create with the item you want to buy — using only items you already have in your closet. Chances are, if you can't do that now, you won't find a way to wear it later.
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Photo: Courtesy of Madewell.
Got a question? Don’t call customer service — ever.
Sure, some companies' 800 numbers have speedy answer times. But, plenty of others feature phone mazes and wait times that give us agita just thinking about them. Instead, use live chat whenever possible. We've gotten great, lightning-fast service on sites like Saks, Zappos, and Madewell with literally no wait time. (If you, for some reason, must call, look up the retailer on Get Human to skip the phone labyrinth completely.)

And, if you have a problem your customer-service rep can't (or won't) help you with? Get social: Hit the brand up on Twitter or Facebook. Most companies snap to attention when you post your question (or bone to pick) for all to see.
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Photo: Courtesy of Scoop NYC.
Take a closer look.
Okay, so we can't actually reach out and pet the fabric when we shop online (er, we're not the only ones who try to do that, right?). But, according to Heidi Hoezler, vice president of Scoop NYC, you can and should get in as close as you can. "Take advantage of the zoom and alternate-view options that most e-tailers have. It’s incredible how close you can get to the item!"

In fact, we'd go even further and say that we wouldn't buy from any site that didn't offer an extreme close-up view. If one doesn't, it may be an attempt to hide shoddy fabric or construction. We can't tell you how many times we've been tempted by a dress in the long view, only to zoom in and see fabric that puckers, looks cheap, or features uneven stitches. Total Monets.
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Photo: Courtesy of Neiman Marcus.
Shop the hive mind.
Have a hunch that the item you want is on sale somewhere? Wondering if there’s a slightly cooler iteration of the black pump you're looking to pick up? Do a quick gut check: Search for your item on Polyvore, ShopStyle, or even good, ol’ Google Shopping, then sort by price. If a better deal or version of what you’re seeking is out there, these sources will find it in a flash.
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Photo: Courtesy of H&M.
Make yourself a “payday” folder.
It's worth signing up for your favorite stores' newsletters to snag those coupon codes and sale alerts. But, if you don't do it right, they'll not only clog your inbox but also lure you into shopping more than you intended. One R29 editor's solution? The payday folder. Create a Gmail filter to send all your shopping emails into a separate folder. Then, once per week — say, when that payday shopping itch hits you — head straight to your folder to find your own, personalized deal feed.
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Photo: Courtesy of M'oda Operandi.
Put the brakes on buys you'll regret.
Online shopping is so dangerously, credit-score-damagingly easy. It helps to have a little trick that forces you to think about those purchases before you click to buy. One R29 editor swears by this: Go on a shopping spree where you add all of the things you've got your eye on to your cart — anything that catches your fancy. Then, let it sit for a day or two, and go back to edit your selections. But, here's the rub: You can only buy the things you actually remember putting in the cart. Chances are that will weed out that crop top you added in a manic moment because it looked really good on the model. But, that truly special ballet skirt you can't stop thinking about is still in.
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Photo: Courtesy of Net-A-Porter.
Get tricky about taxes.
Depending on where you live, sales tax can add up to 8% to the price of your order. So, it's worth learning how to shop around them — especially for pricey, dream-ticket buys. Here's the deal: If you buy online from a store that has a physical location in your state, you'll pay sales tax — even if you shop on a website or the goods are shipped from outside your state. So, if the boutique you're buying from online has a brick-and-mortar location near you, you'll save if you find that item somewhere else.

For stores that sell online only, check the shipping or tax page to figure out which states are charged sales tax. For example, Net-A-Porter only charges sales tax on orders delivered to New York or New Jersey.

Better yet, have friends or family in Oregon, New Hampshire, Alaska, Delaware, Montana, or New Hampshire? Have your order shipped to them to skip the taxes completely. It's worth it for spendy buys — skipping the tax on the purse above can save you up to $150.
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Photo: Courtesy of Scoop NYC.
Know when to refresh your favorite sites.
The Zaras of the e-tail world never seem to run out of anything. But, for smaller boutiques that sell through their stock more quickly, it pays to know when new products arrive. Scoop NYC brings in new stock every day, while Need Supply refreshes every Thursday. You can contact customer service for the lowdown on your favorite shop — and you'll thank us when you can find your size in that summer dress every single time.
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Photo: Courtesy of Free People.
Streamline your obsessions.
Lots of sites now let you create wish lists to let you save the items you like and view all your loves in one place. Look for the "save items" link or, more adorably, just tap the little heart icons on sites like Free People and Scoop.

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Photo: Courtesy of Intermix.
Use a shopping editor.
To save your faves from multiple sites — and to let everyone know what amazing taste you have — sign up for Keep. It's like a shoppable, shareable Pinterest board for the things you might buy. Or, things you really want for your birthday — just send your list to the gifter of your choice.

If social shopping's not your bag, try Hukkster. It lets you save items you love, sends you relevant coupon codes and sale alerts, and it's totally private, so no one will know about those discount undies you're stalking.
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Photo: Courtesy of Net-A-Porter.
Streamline the small stuff.
Yes, you will feel like a complete nerd when you download a password manager for the first time. But, let’s not forget what a royal pain it is when you can't keep your Amazon and ASOS log-ins straight. Try KeePass or LastPass, and a forgotten password will never again keep you from those killer pumps.
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Photo: Courtesy of Shopbop.
There's money in the fine print.
Getting stuck with those not-so-hot-in-person shorts can really harsh your online-shopping buzz — so always read the return policy before you buy. That way, you'll know you only have 14 days to decide whether to keep that brocade skirt from Topshop — and if you do decide to return it, it better have the tags attached. Or, you'll remember that Forever 21 only accepts returns for store credit, so go easy with the "try on at home" spree-shopping.

We know reading the returns policy sounds like the most boring thing on earth, but every so often, they contain some little bonuses. For example, did you know that some stores — including Shopbop — will pay for your returns if they're made in the first 15 days? Good incentive to help you make up your mind quickly...

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Photo: Courtesy of Topshop.
Try on tricky trends in person first.
It's one thing to buy basics like your favorite brand of jeans or tees online. But, if a trend or silhouette is new to you, it really pays to try it on in a brick-and-mortar store and think it over before you pull the trigger online. Say you like the look of this midi-skirt, but maybe you don't have a Topshop in your town. Just trying on something similar from another store will give you a sense of whether or not the shape works on you, and it can save you the heartache of returning three different "not quites" by mail.

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