From strategies to superstitions to near-obsessive price comparisons, we all have our tricks for finding good deals online. For children's clothing, some of us buy winter coats when they go on sale in the spring, while others buy batches of discounted clothing at auction Web sites. No matter what your approach, there's always room for improvement. After all, the online shopping environment goes through changes, in the form of new stores and new sales, far more often than traditional retail stores like the big box anchor at your local mall.
The local mall (or any other brick-and-mortar store, for that matter) isn't even the No. 1 holiday shopping destination anymore. It's been usurped by an ever-evolving collection of retailers hawking their wares on the Internet. According to Deloitte's 2011 survey, half of all polled consumers planned to do their holiday shopping online.
And this shift didn't only apply to gifts -- or to the holidays. Year-round, online retailers are becoming an increasingly popular destination for those who shop for children's clothing, too. In the midst of this e-boom, there are a few key strategies that can help you get the best deals on quality clothes for your kids. We've collected five of our favorite tips -- and it all starts with refusing to pay retail. See how on the next page.
Don't Pay Retail
If you work a 40-hour week, you may be tempted to schedule shopping trips for weekends when you'll have plenty of time to walk around the mall or drive from store to store. However, making two simple changes to this habit could save you money. First, opting to shop for children's clothing online in the middle of the week will usually garner the best deals. According to a survey of more than 100 online retailers, a Wednesday is the best day to get children's clothing -- with an average discount of 40 percent. Second, shopping online eliminates the transportation costs you'd incur for in-person sprees, and you can easily use a search engine to find the stores with the lowest prices.
But you can use a search engine to avoid paying retail any day of the week. Start your search by typing the name of the store you're browsing plus a term like "promo code" or "coupon code" to find codes you can enter during the checkout process to earn additional discounts. Or sign up to receive text-message or e-mail discounts via the store's e-newsletter. Some retailers even offer discounts to shoppers who "Like" their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.
Read the Reviews
Reviews posted by other consumers, particularly those that offer feedback on the particular clothing items you're considering, can provide valuable insight. You'll especially want to know whether others believe the garment is true to size because children's clothing sizes aren't always uniform. For example, a size 4 at one retailer may be wider, slimmer, shorter or longer than a size 4 at another.
Remember, however, that a user review posted on a retail site is just one person's opinion. For the best results, you'll want to look for multiple reviews written about the same item. For the most part, you can disregard the best and the worst reviews; the truth is often in the middle. For example, if one reviewer assigned a stellar five-star value to a boy's wool sweater and one reviewer gave it a poor one-star rating but 20 reviewers found it to be of 4-star quality, trusting the majority of the reviewers should yield reliable results. You also should check out Web sites that offer professional reviews of products, as well as those that cull reviews from many different places.
Check Return Policies
There's one downside to shopping for children's clothing online: You can't have your kid try the clothes on to see how they fit. However, if you shop at online stores with terrific return policies, you'll never have to regret purchasing clothing that doesn't fit your child's size or style. Many retailers post the details of their return policies on their Web sites; otherwise, you can call for details before making a purchase.
The best online return policies don't have time limits on when you can make a return or exchange, and don't require extensive documentation. Not all retailers take a "no questions asked" approach to returns, which may leave you without recourse if you didn't keep the packing form and online receipt or failed to make the return during the acceptable time limit, which can vary by retailer.
If you live in the U.S. and have a dispute with a U.S.-based online retailer, you can lodge a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. For companies located outside the U.S., you can report an online shopping complaint at Econsumer, a division of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network that shares information between international consumer protection agencies.
Avoid Shipping Costs
You can grab great bargains online, but you'll want to make sure the shipping costs don't put you in the poorhouse. You can do this by only making purchases from retailers that offer free or low-cost shipping. Some retailers offer a flat-rate, such as $5, for shipping any number of items. Others, like Zappos, offer free shipping all the time, as well as free shipping for returns.
You also can watch for special promotions that offer free shipping for purchases over a certain dollar amount. In addition, look for free shipping codes posted on sites and forums such as RetailMeNot and Coupon Cabin.
If you're still not having any luck securing free shipping, try this workaround: Many online retailers with brick-and-mortar stores will let you order on their Web site and have items shipped to their stores for free pickup, an option that could work if you're within reasonable driving distance of a store's location or have errands to run in the area anyway.
When you buy your child's clothing from an independent retailer with an online presence, it's like shopping local. Although getting the items shipped to you may have a greater environmental impact than walking or riding a bike to a nearby shop, you can still feel good about supporting artisans and small business owners, and your efforts will be rewarded with high-quality garments backed by a high level of personalized customer service.
Web sites like Heartsy and Etsy and directories like Handmade Clothes can help you find clothing and other goods sold by independent retailers and crafters, and you can search each site's offerings to find the clothing styles and sizes that match your child's needs. As a bonus, your kid won't be dressed like every other child whose parent shops at the mall. Plus, you may have the option to get the clothes custom-made to fit your child's measurements, and they'll be constructed with better fabrics and greater care than a garment bought off the rack at a discount store -- meaning they'll last long enough for more than one kid to outgrow them.
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- Federal Trade Commission. "Comparing Products Online." (Nov. 26, 2011) http://onguardonline.gov/articles/0027-comparing-products-online
- Consumer World. "Some Retailers Naughty, Most Nice." Dec. 15, 2010. (Dec. 1, 2011) http://www.consumerworld.org/pages/returns.htm
- Fisher, Chad. "Best and Worst Retail Return Policies." Dec. 13, 2010. (Dec. 1, 2011) U.S. News and World Report. http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2010/12/13/best-and-worst-retail-return-policies
- Torabi, Farnoosh. "Cheapest Days to Shop Online." CBS MoneyWatch. Aug. 12, 2010. (Nov. 26, 2011) http://shine.yahoo.com/financially-fit/cheapest-days-to-shop-online-2301854.html