Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I'm curious to know, now that I've gone all "modern recycler" how y'all do this internet shopping thing.

To disclose: Until 10 minutes ago I didn't have a PayPal account and I've only ever bought bags online. Partly, this is because I live in Canada, and e-bay shopping (and the like) gets complicated here for a few reasons:
  • The shipping charge is often much higher (even though I don't think it costs that much more)
  • If the item is stopped at customs coming into Canada, duty will be charged (this tends to be exorbitant, depending on what it is)
  • The exchange rate can be miserable
  • I prefer to buy in real life (I enjoy the experience and I live in a major metropolis)
  • I'm kind of scared - will the vendor be good (reviews notwithstanding) and - major question - how do I know if that unreturnable thing is going to fit?
Which brings me to my next question. Have you online shoppers - esp. the ones who buy unreturnable things - taken all of your body measurements? Does this system really work? It all seems so, um, risky.

But I really want to branch out. Just found a really chic pair of gently-used, designer jeans that should fit (on paper) at a really good price. What do I do??

Canadians, specifically, do you online shop from the UK and US often? How would you rate the experience?

Thanks for everyone's feedback.


  1. I only shop for things I find easy to shop for in real life. So for me that's shoes and skirts. Pants, jackets and tops are hard for me so I'd never try buying them online as I need to try them on.

    Oh and I buy jewellery too.

    Is there not an ebay Canada so you don't have to pay duty?

    My advice for ebay is to read the feedback carefully. If there are negative comments, you want to see what they are and whether it's relevant or not.

  2. I've had pretty good luck with online shopping. I buy books, clothes, tools CDs occasionally and so far so good. I have never really had a problem with paypal or using my credit card online.

    Clothes are never an issue because I am an average male and sizing is usually down to one or two numbers that rarely change.

    I bought our Island mount range hood online for $680 (a third to a fourth of what it would cost locally) but I consider myself quite lucky in that it arrived, I was able to install it with only one threat of divorce, and it now works.

    Anyway, I realize this is no help.

    PayPal is a very nice service for me (the buyer). I have never used it beyond that.

  3. I mostly shop where I can return it to the store - this is more economical for me. I have successfully bought many things that are not returnable. For eBay, I will definitely check the garment measurements and find this a much better result than using ordinary websites size charts that measure your body. With the latter you have to know how much ease you need in each kind of garment.

    If you buy things that have any kind of cult following - the J Crew items - there are people on the net who make a project of posting how they look in real life and how they fit. People who shop from QVC also have forums where they discuss details of fit for all their products. So you see that measurement of the actual item gives you better luck. I also will email eBay sellers and ask for specific measurements that matter to me: I have larger upper arms and so I want the widest measurement of the upper sleeve.
    It also helps with jackets to get a good measurement of the shoulder width. Then, too, you get the length of the item, making sure you know whether they measured from the top of the shoulder down or from the center of the back neck down. Check sleeve length. For pants, check rise. I am short but have a long rise so I would never choose petite pants. I have some thigh length as well so I like to buy talls and shorten them.
    The opposite is true: if you're average to taller and have a short waist, try petites, especially if it doesn't have long sleeves where you need the length.

    The worst thing about buying online for me is I have to be happy with the color and, secondarily, the texture. I wind up sometimes enlarging the image on my screen and then stepping back from the computer trying to see how it resolves at a distance.

    Instead of relying on measurements of you, it helps to measure a pair of pants that fit you well and compare.

  4. I'm reluctant to shop for clothes online because I want to make sure stuff fits and feels right.

    My main online purchases are books because then I can return them (which I've done...often) or flights.

    Also, right now I'm addicted to stupid Value Village and they're not online... hee!

  5. Unless it's an accessory or something super cheap that's worth experimenting over, I never buy non-returnable online. Body measurements can lie, and so can vendors (lie or be mistaken).

  6. I mostly buy shoes, and this has been fairly easy for me.

    With clothing, I practice the following:
    I only buy things I have seen in the store, tried on, and like. In CA, I rarely bought in stores. I'd take note of the item, go home, and cruise eBay. Surprisingly, a lot of what I wanted showed up.

    Jeans are always going to be the toughest item to buy without trying, or at least they would be for me and my long legs.

    A friend of mine who sells clothing takes very careful measurements and tells me that when she lists clothing she receives plenty of mail asking for additional measurements. So go ahead and ask,and make sure to read feedback (although lack of fit is not reason for negative feedback, I have seen it!).

    Most sellers are happy to provide you with any add'l info you need, and you can always relist the item if it doesn't work for you.

  7. I shop online all the time, and yes, I have my measurements (waist, hip, rise, inseam, shoulder, bust) memorized. On the chance that something doesn't fit, I simply re-sell it on eBay, sometimes at a profit since I take lots of photos and write a thorough description, so it's not too risky. And yes, unfortunately shipping to Canada is often overpriced. I charge the same for all shipping outside the U.S., but will knock the price down if a buyer from Canada asks, so you might try that.

  8. Let me start by saying I really appreciate all of these well-thought out comments!

    Imogen: Your suggestions are very smart. I realized last night - as I took my measurements - that they are completely at odds with the standard US sizing charts. According to those, I should be a size 12-14 - and I'm an average 6. I did recheck the numbers many times and my husband helped me. The whole thing is so confusing!

    Vildy: Wow, you really know your stuff! I find the measurements confusing but I'm sure it's just because I'm not very experienced with working with them yet. I'm totally going to measure a pair of pants. Great idea.

    D.: I'm glad you are happy with PayPal. My husband really likes it too. I actually would feel more comfortable buying a $$$ stove online than a pair of jeans, in some ways. It's a more knowable purchase.

    T: I say, use the VV while it's working! I like all of our TO options too, I just want to branch out occasionally and thegeneraleconomy.blogspot.com is a great place to start!

    Sal: Very sound advice.

    Suzanna: I'm thrilled to see your comment! How have you been?

    Of course, the thing I intend to buy first is jeans!?! But I did what your friend suggests and the seller has been coming back with tons of good info - excellent experience.

    Janet: If only I had a bit more experience (which I'm going to develop!) I think I would love measurements too. I haven't memorized mine but I know they're all strangely bigger than I thought they would be :-) Not that I have any accurate impression of what they should be! Excellent advice about requesting a discount for shipping to Canada (if it's a standard Intl. shipping rate).

  9. I do it on & off, but I don't buy much clothing on eBay. Just be aware of sellers that ship via UPS or anything aside from USPS. UPS, Purolator, etc. charge an arm & a leg for brokerage fees (sometimes it's more then what you pay for!) which you won't be hit with until the package arrives.

    If it's USPS and Canada Post decides to examine your package, that's $5 CAD, if they tax you, it's usually just GST & PST on the amount written on the customs form + the $5, which is reasonable.

    That being said, I've only had to pay customs on like 3 of my online purchases. Also, if I find a friend is going to visit relatives in the States I ship to them and get my friend to bring it up for me (this is mostly for those shops that charge a lot to ship to Canada, defeating the goal of saving money on the item).

    Also, I agree with Vildy -- measure your clothing, the ones that fit well or fit similar to how the piece you're eyeing fits.

    Oh, and just be diligent about keeping tabs on your PayPal account. I have a The PayPal Fiasco of '06 story.

  10. K-Line you have gotten fantastic advice thus far.. don't know if I could add anything but I know how you feel with customs and duties...I try..esp leather shoes..and pray I won't get caught... they can charge up to 30$ a pair... ERRR..

    Pay pal...been using it since it started but only actively recently with ebay.. I tend to look for the same, brand, product quality at a lower price and sort those out with shipping costs...

    For use, the US post service is VERY reasonable.

  11. excellent questions. i have bought a fair amount on ebay. i know my measurements, and still sometimes things don't "look right" once i get them and try them on. so i am trying to learn from mistakes and only buy stuff that i KNOW will fit right and look ok (based on brands that always work for me, or based on stuff i have actually already tried on at a store or something), or i try to buy from sellers that accept returns.

    and the customs thing doesn't make it easy!

    to be safe, you could just buy from fellow canadians that accept returns, but then again that limits your buying power.

    sorry for prattling on and on! i think i had too much wine tonight!

  12. I don't normally buy clothes online...only from stores that I have been to and tried on and know what size I am there.

  13. Since it's jeans you want, let me tell you one more thing about measuring. Once you know where you want the jeans to come up/down to on your "waist" - that's the rise. 1. Ask the seller to measure from the middle of the crotch seam to the top of the waistband. 2. Then also, figure out where you are the widest in the hips and how many inches that is from the waistband top. Ask the seller to measure across the jeans N number of inches from the waistband top.
    3. if you wear your jeans high enough you might want the high hip measurement because a lot of people are pretty wide here but never think about that. This is about where your hip bone is. If you have a large high hip measurement and the jeans don't, you'll feel stuffed.

  14. when it comes to ebay i tend to stick to brands that im familiar with their sizing & quality. otherwise i base measurements on the measurements of clothing that i already have.

    i tend to shop online a lot, and i always like to make sure there's a return/exchange policy, esp. if it's a brand that im not familiar with.

  15. Yulanda: Very good advice - and local. Thank you so much. I may talk more with you about this...

    GJ: You all have terrific advice. I don't know that I'm bold enough to buy shoes without trying - never mind the duty...

    Vildy: You have truly been a font of knowledge! Thank you. And the seller made me aware of the rise (fortunately). The one on these jeans is 8". I measured and that seems good on me - though I wouldn't want to go lower... I really appreciate your comments.

    ~h: I think in general, that's what I'm going to do too...

  16. I do work by my measurements, but I've found that new, commercial sellers sizing charts just never seem to work out this way. So that is an expensive exchange I just can't be bothered with. Mostly I shop vintage or second hand through eBay and Etsy, which means I can ask the seller to measure specific parts of the garments for me. This way I have never gone wrong. That is unless my enthusiasm gets the better of me and i don't measure at all, taking the Australian mentality of "she'll be right." In those cases she rarely is!
    At the moment with exchange and shipping rates, it is rarely worth me buying new items online from and international source. Shoes are the exception to this rule, but also the most risky. I take and educated gamble on size, but should they not be right I'll on sell them on eBay to recover the costs.

  17. I haven't taken all my body measurements. . . however I just know usually what will work and what won't. I try and suss out which brands run smaller than others. . . trousers especially! Usually when I buy something off eBay, I've already tried it on in a retail store and have just found it for a cheaper price. (That's how I get most of my jeans).

    Although I must say, beware of french sizing. I just got a deeply discounted Les Prairies Des Paris dress online (no returns) and it's suppose to be an american size 10. Size 10 my arse, the thing fits like a size 6. I'm generally an 8 so I thought since the french make things small, this should fit fine. It just BARELY fits! And that's a close call because the dress was really too costly for eff ups.

  18. SKM: Thank you for your "international" perspective. I am all "she'll be right" by nature, but this is not the time! :-)

    Aja: You see, this is exactly what freaks me out. Those French people are crazy small with their sizes though. And the bras - ha!

  19. I work in the ecommerce industry - (advise and help merchants set up their online stores/websites) - so of course, I'm big into shopping online. I hate the mall. I'll sometimes go to Anthropologie for the shopping experience. But I hate to shop where I currently live. I used to live in Sydney (and worked in the CBD), so had brilliant shopping at my fingertips. However, here there are a lot of online deals to be had.

    Shopping online is the best though. There are many retailers with great policies. I'm big into customer reviews (checking those out), and looking at the general policies to get a feel of their customer service. If they charge a bunch for shipping and take too long to process returns - I don't shop there. I don't want online shopping to be a headache.

    As for non-returnable items - I''ll buy tops and skirts (going by the measurements). However I wouldn't buy non-returnable dresses or shoes. Dresses entirely depend upon your body type, and you just never know.

  20. Tea Lady: Great to hear an insider perspective! I think access to great shopping in your 'hood makes all the difference to the e-shopping equation. Because I have such good stuff around me, I haven't explored the online commerce world as much as I otherwise might have. But, I'm starting to engage...