The following is a guest post from Margaret, who is one of the readers of this blog. Margaret lives in New York City and is a lover of style, fashion and interior design. She describes her personal style as an eclectic mix of menswear classic, vintage feminine, and quirky relaxed creative. When not studying for school, she enjoys lifting heavy things, watching interesting TV shows, anime, ballroom dance shows, and reading.
Having grown up during the period of the internet, I have always been quite comfortable with shopping for items online. One of my very first eBay purchases was actually an antique early 1900s French-made chinoiserie wardrobe that cost me less than the price of an IKEA Pax system and is an item that I greatly treasure today for its function, craftsmanship, and beauty.
I want to begin exploring this topic by first providing some examples of advantages to shopping on eBay and shopping online in general versus shopping in brick and mortar shops. I will also provide a list of disadvantages to shopping on eBay and the ways in which I minimize those disadvantages.
Advantages of Shopping on eBay
- The ability to shop for more unique items that are not available in your local shops, that may not be currently in the shops because of the current fashion trends, or that may be from a period when clothing was better made.
- The ability to shop more environmentally consciously by purchasing items that are secondhand, but are likely more well taken care of and/or of higher quality and/or have hardly been worn (people will make the effort to sell items that they think are of higher quality and/or have greater monetary value).
- The ability to get greater value for your dollar than at the retail stores (in most cases, clothes do not retain their monetary value; once you leave the store with your purchase, the item drops in value; clothes are not wise “investments” if you’re looking from the perspective of a return on money spent).
- The ability to shop in a more controlled environment at your own pace rather than letting the retail environment overwhelm you or bring you into a less conscious and more frenzied shopping state. (Shopping in the brick and mortar stores can be a very stress-inducing experience for some people, especially for people who are easily pressured by salespeople and do not feel comfortable walking away from the store having purchased nothing. You can more easily walk away, so to speak, from an online item that you are considering.)
- The ability to shop at your convenience and to save time and money on transportation, etc.
- The ability to implement a very specific or broad shopping strategy depending on one’s needs. The eBay search tool is a very powerful tool that allows you to narrow or widen your search as much as you like.
Shopping for Clothes on eBay – Minimizing the Disadvantages
Before I discuss the disadvantages of shopping on eBay, I want to address what I find to be the most important factors for successful and conscientious shopping. In my experience, in order to be most successful at shopping on eBay and at shopping in general, you need to really have a clear picture of what your style is, what clothes you really need for your lifestyle, and what types of clothing styles, silhouettes, details, textures, materials, colors, etc. you like and also suit you as an individual. I encourage exploring these things before spending your hard-earned money.
- Inside Out Style Blog is a great reference for any style-related questions that you might have.
- Dottie, a regular commenter on this blog, has also written a guest post series on personal style, color palette, and other considerations for selecting clothes that work for your wardrobe: Part One | Part Two
Disadvantages of Shopping on eBay
- The inability to feel the fabric of the clothing item that you want to purchase (this is particularly important for people who prioritize comfort and want to assess fabric quality).
How to address this:
You really cannot get around not being able to feel the fabric. However, you should be able to determine the fabric content of the garment in question. I would recommend purchasing garments made of fabrics that you have experienced wearing or are willing to do research on the fabric in question. Ask the eBay seller for fabric details if they aren’t posted in the item description. Ask the seller for a clear close-up image of the fabric of the garment if necessary to determine the texture of the garment. This will give you an idea of how the garment will feel.
Here is a resource for finding out more information about fabrics (cotton, linen, silk, wool):
- The inability to make returns (particularly free returns for some clothing items depending on the seller’s return policy).
How to address this:
In my experience, the majority of items on eBay are returnable. There is an option on the left-hand side of the eBay website called the “returns accepted” option. If you check the box, only items that are returnable are shown. Although returnable items are common, you need to double-check that the seller does not have a “restocking fee” for item returns (check the return policy as indicated in the photo above). Restocking fees can be 15% to 20% of the value of the item, which can add up when you add that to the return shipping fee, which you the buyer are responsible for if you wish to return the item that you purchased. In order to reduce the potential monetary losses from returns, you may also choose to view items that have “free shipping” by checked the free shipping option. This way, you will not be paying for the shipping fee, return fee, and any potential restocking fees!
I want to add that eBay sellers generally cannot afford to offer free shipping and returns by marking up their prices like traditional retailers do, as they are trying to resell items that are often at prices substantially lower rather their original retail prices. Most eBay sellers are trying to sell their own clothing that they no longer need or have not really worn. From my own selling experience, I know that eBay and PayPal also take a cut of the profits from transactions. So free shipping and free returns should not be considered the expectation for buying on eBay, where profit margins are lower in general.
One last suggestion on the topic of returns is to set aside a portion of your clothing budget for return fees, potential alteration fees, and such. You need to factor these costs into your decision as to whether an item is worth purchasing or not.
- The inability to try on a garment before purchasing it (is the garment going to even fit or flatter me? Is it comfortable to move around in?)
How to address this:
The inability to try on a garment for fit is a major barrier for many people when it comes to online shopping. However, I have found that by comparing the clothing measurements of clothes that fit you very well to the measurements of potential clothing purchases, the likelihood of purchasing an ill-fitting garment substantially decreases. The items that you are comparing should be similar in type and fabrication. For example, when purchasing a cashmere sweater, you would need to measure another cashmere or merino wool sweater that fits you well in order to get an idea of what will fit you and what items to pass on. These garment measurements would be quite different from the measurements for your favorite silk blouse! If you do not have items that fit well, I suggest trying on items in brick and mortar stores for fit and recording the garment measurements.
This is also why internet shopping tends to be unsuccessful with many returns, especially with companies that just give you size numbers for you to go on instead of garment measurements. With eBay, you have direct access to the seller who has the item of interest and you can ask them for as many measurements as you would like before making a purchasing decision. If the seller will not provide garment measurements or is not willing to communicate with you, move on!
Here is a resource for taking garment measurements:
Another tip for success would be to either find a photo of someone wearing the garment in question through Google images (if the item is from a popular brand and is a more recent item, it is likely that there is some kind of photo of this item being worn, especially with the popularity of style blogs today) and/or request a photo from the seller of the item being worn on a person or mannequin.
- The inability to get an accurate judgment as to the color of a garment, scale of the print on a garment, etc. (this is very important, as colors may not be accurately presented on the computer screen and/or the image quality and lighting may not accurately represent the actual item).
How to address this:
As for getting an actual reading as to the color of a garment, I would suggest finding real life images of the item in question, finding if there are photos of the item from other past listings (check the completed listings option for past items recently listed on eBay), or asking the seller for a clearer photo of the item under better lighting. Natural lighting will give you the most accurate color reading in general. I find that the most important aspect of color is to determine whether the item color is cool or warm-toned. Cool colors will not flatter warm skinned people and vice-versa.
Here is a resource for determining whether you have cool or warm coloring:
Suggestions for eBay Beginners:
- If you are very nervous about shopping on eBay for the first time, I would suggest window shopping at the brick and mortar stores to determine fit and garment suitability and then searching for the item on eBay. Some companies release the same garment patterns year after year in different colors and patterns.
- You can also use eBay as a way to find exact replacements for garments that you already own but need to replace due to items being worn out, damaged, etc.
- I also would suggest starting off by shopping for brands that you are very familiar with. That way, you’ll have an idea as to the quality of the company’s garments and the company’s sizing.
Suggestions for Limiting eBay Shopping and Impulse Buying:
- New items get listed every day on eBay and the number of items for sale can be overwhelming for some. Oftentimes, it pays off to wait for items to appear for sale on eBay. For the most efficient use of your time, I would focus my search to one to two items on my shopping priorities list for 5 to 10 minutes at a time every few days or so. I would organize my search to show the most recent listings first to decrease feelings of pressure to purchase an item immediately. Items that I am considering get put on my eBay “Watch List,” which is similar to a wish list. The watch list allows you to keep track of items without having to search for them again.
- I use the eBay watch list function as a way of eliminating potential purchase options and narrowing my focus. Due to the nature of auctions, eBay makes it relatively easy to implement the “power pause” strategy in which you wait before purchasing an item. Any options that I decide to pass on immediately get deleted from my watch list.
- eBay auctions are also a bit dangerous for emotional shoppers due to the FOMO (fear of missing out) It is important to not go above your own pre-determined price limit for an item and also make sure to include any potential return and alteration fees. You can also use eBay’s automatic bid system which bids for you up to a maximum bid amount. This automated system can help prevent emotional overspending in the frenzy of a bidding war. If you lose an eBay auction, it is not the end of the world. It is likely that eventually that item or another like it will come back for sale on eBay. For more information on automatic bidding, click HERE.
Conclusion and Your Thoughts?
In conclusion, I hope these tips that I have provided will give those of you who would like to shop on eBay more confidence in doing so. It is important to remember that absolutely no shopping strategy is fool-proof. No one is perfect and there are always unforeseen shopping mistakes. We learn from them and move on!
Now it’s your time to chime in with comments and questions. Do you have any questions for Margaret on the information she presented? If so, please feel free to ask them in the comment section. Also welcomed are your thoughts on the eBay shopping experience, as well as any additional suggestions you have for eBay shopping success.