10 Ways to Avoid the Online Shopping "Impulse Buy and Return" Cycle

Are there better things you could spend the money on? This answer is almost always yes.
Publish date:
March 16, 2016
fashion, wardrobe dilemmas, online shopping, shopping tips

For whatever reason, buying anything online is 100% more satisfying to me than standing in line to purchase something in person. Why? Buying online doesn’t seem as permanent, thanks to those hassle-free returns. If I don't like whatever I bought, I can return it without having to go face-to-face with a store employee. But all too often, I get caught in a vicious cycle of constantly buying and returning things that I never needed or really wanted in the first place.

It's all about that "first blush" appeal. My latest obsession has been short and sweet floral dresses. The weather in NYC bloomed this week, going from the expected parka-and-beanie routine to the mid 70s, so the idea of a floral dress is new and refreshing. My favorites are the ones you can throw on without over-thinking what jacket or shoes will go with it. Short sleeved with a great print — done!

So as I go on my quest for the perfect throw-on-and-go dress, here are the following questions I must ask myself before hitting the "buy" button.

Do you love it?

You might say "well DUH" to this one, but it really does require some thought. I try to consider what I buy outside the context of the website/store, because if I don't absolutely love it before I buy it, chances are slim that I’ll fall in love after it has lost that new car smell.

Will it fit?

Having my tape measure on hand is always helpful. Thoroughly researching via the comment section and brand-specific size charts can really make a difference in the end. Once said item arrives, if it doesn't fit (and can't be altered to do so) then I return it — no questions asked.

Every time I reach into my closet for that one jacket that's so tight on my shoulders I have to put it back, so I try to remind myself to not make that mistake (over and over) again.

Can you afford it?

Sure, I have $60 in my bank account for that Everlane sweater I've been eyeing, but all of those purchases really add up over time. Which brings me to my next question…

Are there better things you could spend the money on?

This answer is almost always yes. There are many reports that claim millennials prefer spending their money on experiences over things, unlike past generations. So while a new dress for a particular event is sometimes a must, if it’s that or a weekend getaway I say let’s hit the road.

Do you need it?

Fashion isn't an industry motivated by necessity, so every once in a while it's good to question yourself in that "real talk" way. Will you wear it more than once? Will it improve your wardrobe? For example, here are things I’ve “needed” for years: diamond earrings, nude pumps, and a badass grownup suit. So far, I’ve lived life just fine without these things (even though they are still on my list).

Will it make you happy?

This question is easier to answer in person than when I'm staring blank-faced at a computer. I'm just happy that certain items exist and buying them for myself would probably just add more clutter to my life. These items are: the above all-white Rihanna creepers (swoon!), see-through Cinderella shoes, dramatic evening gowns, and teeny tiny vintage handbags. I would never wear any of that and my tiny Manhattan closet is already at max capacity.

Is it in good condition?

This applies more to vintage or consignment, but it's worth mentioning. I've wanted a particular designer bag since I first saw it, but have been waiting for it to go for much less on eBay or Poshmark. The drawback on this plan is how scuffed, stained, and smushed a bag can get in just a few wears. Buying something that’s in less-than-great condition isn’t fun, even when it comes at a discount.

Do you already have one?

I don't know why, but I love buying plain white tees. I could own up to six, but I would still add them to my cart. Duplicates are just that — duplicates! More might need you don't have to do laundry as often, but it also isn't contributing anything new to my closet so I’m trying to stop.

Does it compliment your look?

Sometimes I have the urge to buy dresses that could be straight out of Mad Men, but then I ask myself how that would go with the rest of my closet. Until I can figure out how to wear sneakers with a wiggle dress, I’ll stay in my lane.

Do you already own 3 outfits that would go with this piece?

This is a great rule of thumb my friend shared with me once when we were debating over a bright blue sided jacket. It was gorgeous, but I had a hard time coming up with outfit ideas that weren't all-black, all-white, or a mix of both. For that reason we abandoned the jacket and stocked up on samples at Sephora instead. If you can’t think of a few ways to wear it while you’re hovering over the “buy” button, wait until you can. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a statement piece that never leaves the closet.

So, how do you decide? Share the questions you ask yourself, along with your decision-making tips and tricks, in the comment section below.