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How to Avoid an Online Shopping Fail

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Photo: Kaspars Grinvalds (Shutterstock)

Ever opened up a package only to find that the sturdy, beautiful item you ordered is tissue-paper-thin, or far larger (or smaller) than it looked online? We have a few tips to help you make sure that what you receive isn’t going to be a disappointment—whether you’re buying it as a gift or for yourself.

Look at a lighter color

This excellent tip comes from Reddit, where one smart shopper advises that you shop for dark-colored shoes, bags, and clothing by looking at the lighter colorways.

Stitching, texture, material, and other details may not always show up well in photos of black, brown, dark gray, or navy items. But if the same backpack, say, is available in a light gray or beige, the photo there may offer more clues about how it’s made.

This is where you realize that part of the bag is cloth where you thought it was leather, or that it only has a one-way zipper where you were expecting the kind with two zipper pulls. On clothing, you’ll be able to notice seams in weird places, or that it doesn’t have pockets where you expect.

Take measurements and check specs

Clothing shopping for someone else can be dicey if it requires you to know the specific size and fit of the item. But if you do have those measurements, or if you can compare to yourself or a family member of similar size, definitely make use of the size chart.

This applies to non-clothing items, too. Especially if you think you’re getting a good deal on something, measure to make sure it’s the dimensions you expect. We’ve all seen those photos from people who didn’t realize they were buying dollhouse furniture, but it can happen with other items, too. For example, I once shopped for very small weight plates to put on an Olympic bar, and then fell into a comparison-shopping rabbit hole. I didn’t realize until the package arrived that the plates had a 1″ instead of a 2″ hole, and didn’t fit my barbell.

So, double check the dimensions before you check out. If you’re buying doll clothes, for example, there’s a big difference between clothes for 18″ dolls and clothes for 14″ dolls. For some items, you may even want to trace out the measurements onto a piece of paper or cardboard to see if it’s a good size. (I’ve done this when shopping for phones.)

Look at resale websites to see how it wears

The photos on a shopping website give you the best view of the object. Someone has chosen the most flattering angles, and possibly stuffed or smoothed its shape. If it’s an item that can be worn, the model’s body type might also skew your sense of how it will look in real life.

Fortunately, there are other ways to see what the item really looks like. Some shopping sites allow customers to upload photos or videos with a review, but these still tend to be newer items, just unboxed.

For a more honest look, check out places where people sell gently used items, like Poshmark. If something fades, wears, or scuffs easily, you’ll see evidence of that. This can also help you to make a considered decision about whether you actually want to buy this item, rather than being dazzled by the way it’s packaged or photographed.

A redditor in r/MakeupRehab posted that they check out used listings of expensive makeup to see whether they still like it after seeing it mussed up. “I rarely am excited to buy it after,” they note. If you’re tempted to buy things for yourself while gift shopping, this could be a good way to temper that excitement.

   

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