to shop / recent online shopping insights (and woes)

Update: Joe Fresh pictures and a gross F21 moment added on November 22.

This might be my wordiest post to date. Today’s post is a recap of my recent online shopping at J.Crew, Madewell, Gap, Macy’s, Forever 21, Ann Taylor, Free People, Kohl’s, Anthropologie, American Eagle Outfitters, Zara, and Land’s End/Land’s End Canvas. Yes — I’ve been out of control (ooc, as my coworker and I like to call it) and I blame it on stress. Props to my roommate for putting up with me and my entourage of boxes. I really need to stop online shopping, especially since I’m going to Paris tomorrow!

In addition to carrying every single order up six flights of stairs, I had to spend a few hours this weekend trying on everything, returning them to the store, or packaging it up to return. USPS and UPS will be paying visits on Tuesday and carrying everything downstairs will be equally fun. There were more than a few orders I wish I never placed. I am somewhat efficient so for retailers that are easy to access in person, I targeted the lower Fifth Avenue area to make my returns — AEO, Free People, Ann Taylor, Madewell, and J.Crew all reside there — and dropped into the new Joe Fresh on lower Fifth Avenue, and also checked out Anthropologie. On a related note, I am also mentioning UPS’ new feature, My Choice, which I highly recommend for anyone who doesn’t have a doorman.

1) J.Crew

I’m sure I’m one of many who can’t help but look at J.Crew once in a while, especially when I really don’t need anything. It’s that time of year again… when J.Crew is nearing year-end, rolling out great promotions, and sale items aren’t final sale yet! At least not online. The best way to tell if something is final sale is by looking at your shopping cart.

I’ve been working through my love of polka dots lately and have concluded that only classic polka dot pieces are worth keeping. Ask yourself, can you see yourself wearing it in 2 years? If not, it’s not worth keeping. This silk polka-dot tee in sand dune is an expensive doppelganger of the Zara top I purchased in Barcelona, which I recently sold on eBay. I love the nude tones and polka dots, but it just didn’t fit in my wardrobe, reminded me of the 80’s, and the cut is too boxy. I couldn’t help but order the J.Crew version, free shipping and all. It may be surprising to you, but not to me, that I was able to sell the Zara top for more than what I paid for it!

Whenever there is a J.Crew sale, I always search for the J.Crew collection pieces first. Some of J.Crew’s pieces are sourced from the same factories as other major luxury designer brands. I remember taking a pair of wool slacks to my tailor in Shanghai once to repair the lining. He said the lining was made of such quality material that it was worth it to mend than replace. I picked up the Hayward trouser in pinstripe Italian wool in light grey pinstripe for close to 75% off. The wool is beautiful and rightfully so, as it is Loro Piana wool. They have a super flattering fit and I was able to size down from my usual size. The only tragedy is that this style does not come with a matching blazer.

2) Madewell

I ended up returning the both clutches I blogged about here. Clare Vivier‘s clutch quality beats them 1000x, even though it’s more expensive. I think it’s ok to go cheap for some accessories, but in this case, I rather drop $100ish for Clare Vivier. Leather isn’t created equally and in this case, Madewell didn’t do the cows justice. I also ended up returning this supercute spot dot sweater. It runs big (size down) and is in my favorite neutral colors… but the supersized polka dots are too trendy and I confirmed with a few friends that it’s not my style.

3) Gap

Gap’s leather jackets caught my eye last winter and I’ve collected two so far. I’ve been eyeing the textural leather jacket in caramel that went on sale online. I’m not sure if it went sale in stores yet, but I resisted despite the 40% off and 60% off promotions for Gap cardholders. I did some market research a while back so I have some idea what major stores in the country should have them in stock. But, I repeated to myself: I don’t need it.

My friend, Albert, asked on Facebook why it matters if these promotions are good for phone orders. You can call Gap’s 800 number and ask them to search for availability based on the item number. This is particularly useful when something expensive and/or highly coveted goes on sale. Gap leather jackets typically retail for $300 and c’mon – I don’t pay retail for Gap or anywhere close to it! Consider how the Texas market demand for leather might be lower than, e.g. NYC. The 800 number may not fully get you there. You also need to rely on the kindness of the Gaps you’re calling to do another local search for you. During the 2010 blizzard, I got bored and decided to find the “sold-out” leather motorcycle jacket. I eventually found a stash in a Chicago Gap’s backroom that was marked down $50 more than the other stores I called! At that point it was 75% off. I also used the same method to find ballet flats… If you have a Gap Silver card, shipping from the store is free.

4) Giambattista Valli for Macy’s

This story demonstrates my recent cognitive health, or lack thereof. I ordered the top below right when GV launched on macys.com, or so I thought. I got my order and realized I accidentally ordered the skirt that was paired with it. I’m not a fan of their website but I have myself to blame too. The top and skirt weren’t even the same price point. I was sad that the short sleeve ruched mesh top I wanted was sold out and am not crazy enough about it to stop by the Herald Square flagship to see if it is sold out in stores. Luckily, I randomly checked the Macy’s website this weekend and saw that they had fully restocked GV. It has since gone out of stock again. If you wanted Karl Lagerfeld, that collection is now further discounted.

5) Forever 21

I place a crazy amount of Forever 21 orders; I am slightly embarrassed by it. I shop online because I like fresh merchandise, a cash refund (not store credit, which you get in stores!), and I don’t have to deal with the mess. If you have American Express, you can further depress yourself by filtering your American Express statement over a date range and/or keywords. Cheap purchases like Forever 21 can aggregate and get out of control because “it’s so cheap”. Reality is, it may not be so cheap if you only wear a $30 item twice, versus a $100 item 30 times. Additionally:

  • They usually update their website Monday through Friday. I check their new arrivals regularly and the good items sell out fast.
  • Learn how to read product descriptions and fabric content. Forever 21 is one of the better websites in that they provide measurements for one size of all items. I tend to stay away from modal, viscose, cotton blends, but sometimes they “work”. I wear Forever 21 to work regularly and even got complimented. You just have to learn how to differentiate what is good value, versus junk. Since whatever I want is almost always sold out by the time I get my order, I usually order 2 sizes.
  • Free shipping is available for all orders over $50 and you often get a free magazine subscription with your purchase. (A – that’s where GQ came from.) If you’re organized, you can request a cash refund for the magazine subscription.
  • I usually return multiple purchases at a time. It is pricey since I’m shipping to the other coast, but I see it as the cost of shopping. I use UPS for larger/heavier returns and USPS Priority Mail medium flat rate for the smaller returns. Just don’t forget to return it! In the past, I’ve donated and eBayed orders I forgot to return. My roommate also gets first dibs on anything I don’t want. This is another instance where saving stock photos and descriptions will help you. Once in a while, there is an item that will fetch more than retail, but I only eBay items I can no longer return.
  • I’ve been looking for a pair of casual red pants lately and after three separate Forever 21 orders, I’ve finally found the right pair with the right weight.
  • I’ve read how they use cheap labor and push them really hard for results. Gross moment — a recent top I bought had a drop of blood on the inside (it was see-through). Since they were sold out and I really wanted it, I kept it and ran it through the washer a few times…

Some recent finds below. Red pants with the right stretch and weight, a Marimekko-esque striped dress, and a Missoni-esque dress, which was very well made and I preferred it over the Missoni for Target dresses. Unfortunately it didn’t look good on me. Fortunately, the roommate loved it.

6) Ann Taylor

Ann Taylor’s style has gotten better over the last year or so. They tend to kill any trend that is out there to death though, so proceed with caution. Recently they’ve been running 40% off promotions. The following are two faves, but I’m still debating whether to keep the falling dots shirt because the tone is more yellow in real life. Usually in store prices are lower, but when I went to return the items that didn’t work, I saw that prices in stores were actually higher. Check back often as inventory fluctuates. I’ve stopped shopping at Loft because their quality isn’t that great and the prices aren’t that far from Ann Taylor.

7) Free People

I rarely shop at Free People. I saw a cape on sale and ordered it along with a few tunics. They all went back today. I’m sorry if you like them, but I find their quality icky and hard to maintain. The young salesgirl who was processing my return was sighing how a third of their sales today were returns. Also, their website was buggy when I was trying to place my order. I ended up checking out on the mobile site.

8) Kohl’s

I’ve been a huge fan of Kohl’s since my college days. They have quality products and items are almost always on sale with additional discounts! Last winter, I really wanted an Elle faux fur vest, but was sad when they sold out online. I enlisted my mother who is a fellow Kohl’s aficionada and she ended up tracking one down at the local Kohl’s, on sale of course.

This winter, Vera Wang and Elle both have faux fur vests again. Vera didn’t have my size available and the larger size was unflattering. I compared the Elle one with mine from last year. This year’s has clasps, last year’s had a zipper. The Elle one is still cuter as it is slightly cropped. Mine is softer, but I’m not sure if that happened over time. I like to layer mine over pretty much anything.

If you want a faux fur vest that doesn’t look like a dead, mangly animal, check out Kohl’s!

9) Anthropologie

I have nothing much to add, other than the sale section on the website isn’t complete. If you like something, you are better bookmarking or adding it to your wishlist for a true view of their inventory, which also fluctuates all the time. I love reading reviews before I buy. Returns are easy and there is no time limit. Great for procrastinators like me.

10) American Eagle Outfitters

If you were looking for blue or red jeggings, they have a ton. Unfortunately, they weren’t the right fabric weight for me. They also had a great Rachel Comey-esque boot that I was stalking. Unfortunately, it sold out online and AEO does not do mail orders from stores :(

11) Zara

I stalk their new arrivals section regularly as well, but I think their new arrivals section is incomplete. They’ve had a few fantastic lace tops lately, but they are cut way too slim. I work a block from a Zara so returns are relatively easy and I can also check out sizing for items I see online. The pumps are so uncomfortable.

12) Land’s End/Land’s End Canvas

Land’s End Canvas reminds me of really vintage J.Crew or Gap. Shipping is $$$ without a promotion. The best source of promotions is their Facebook page. Land’s End is much friendlier with discounts and you can share shopping carts, so you’re better off checking out through LE when LEC has no promotion.

I’ve never tried LE clothing in recent years and I placed an order for some Steven Alan-esque shirts. Ugh, their cut and fabric is horrible. LEC is much better, but not as dirt cheap as LE, most of the time. Here’s a recent favorite acquisition: chambray + polka dots!

Also note that LE/LEC has fabulous customer service. LEC recently had an anniversary sale and another polka dot shirt I wanted to try disappeared from their website. I found out that it did actually exist, thanks to Google cache. I emailed customer service and they told me it was backordered until December. I was able to place a backorder with the LEC promotion and free shipping :) Returns are easy through Sears. Unfortunately I have to mail in returns because Sears is too far away!

13) Joe Fresh

Joe Fresh is a recent import from Canada, from the same founder as Club Monaco and a supermarket chain. Two stores have opened in NYC and a third is scheduled to open near my office. The prices are H&M and the quality is more H&M than Uniqlo. They have a promotion on $20 silk shirts and $50 cashmere sweaters but I am in the market for neither and if I was, I would probably go to Ann Taylor/J.Crew’s sale racks and Uniqlo, respectively. I did find one cute t-shirt with polka dots made of sequins for only $24 but the black t-shirt material was not black enough and attracted lint. The last thing I need is another high maintenance shirt.

14) UPS My Choice

I don’t have a doorman, but my apartment is pretty secure. I run into one of my UPS deliverymen once in a while, enough that they know what my door code is. UPS recently rolled out a program called UPS My Choice. I love the delivery alerts. It is similar to some Fedex feature I’m signed up for and don’t know how to update or get rid of. I always know what is about to get delivered and when it is delivered. I have had no reason to upgrade to the paid program yet. Sign up here!

Image sources: manufacturer/retailer.

15 thoughts on “to shop / recent online shopping insights (and woes)”

  1. Great article!

    I ended up using the Gap 60% to get $23 jeans and $3 argyle socks. Both were regular price but it’s hard to find halfway decent sale merch at Gap now. After my Gapcard rewards cert and tax, it was $18 total. Too bad they didn’t let me use my free $25 in Swagg giftcards, so I had to charge to Gapcard.

    Great tip about shipping from store. I don’t have Silver, but it’ll be good to know moving forth.

    Lands End has really boxy shirts, but their no-iron wrinkle free is Brooks Brothers quality and you can get returned monogrammed shirts for super cheap at the clearance racks in the Outlet store.

    FYI, your second bullet has an incomplete thought, think you meant to say something more

    1. Without Silver, I think it’s $6.95, which is still acceptable if you find something you reaaaaallly want. I’m not even sure if there is a way for them to verify.

      So, you wear someone else’s monogram? That is so Asian.

      Thanks — I completed the thought.

  2. OMG I LOVE THIS POST!! Ok … I love that Ann Taylor top and the Zara lacy top (sexy!!!). Too bad I don’t have cash to shop right now :( But I just signed up for the UPS membership too, which is totally awesome since we live in a townhouse with no doorman. THANK YOU! And btw- I’ve memorized your website url. God I’m a dork.

    1. Nothing beyond what is posted on their website. Their discounts usually go live early hours of the morning. Currently it’s 25% off everything. No more $10 sweater coat secret sales.

  3. Can you please tell me how the Macy’s GV top fit…. true to size, ran small or large? I have been looking for this exact top for several months and I have found one… but it’s unreturnable, so I really want to be sure it will fit. I usually wear about a 4 or so on top. Thanks!!!

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