Real Life: Online or In Store?

shopping online vs in store

It’s no secret that whatever the price point, fit is the thing that matters most when you’re shopping for clothes. An expensive jacket can look awful and a very inexpensive one can look amazing, all based on the fit.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was going through my closet, looking for something to wear to a dinner date. It occurred to me that I have several items that I love, fit me perfectly, and that I’ve worn over and over again for years. Then I started looking at some other items that I like alright, but don’t fit as well. And it hit me: most of the items that fit like a glove are all things that I bought in store. The others? Things I purchased online.

I used to shop in store for clothes almost exclusively. But over the last year and a half or so, I have really moved to purchasing things online. It just became easier as my schedule got fuller, online sale codes more abundant, return policies more forgiving. And let’s be honest, there’s something so fun about having a package delivered and opening it up to reveal new goodies!

But now I’m re-evaluating my love for online shopping. For one thing, I think I’m more prone to impulse shop online. I’ll see a good deal and hit “add to cart” without even being able to try the thing on, or evaluate the materials, or whether it’s worth it, regardless of price. And I think that once I get an item, even if a return policy is simple and straightforward, I tend to convince myself that I like something or that it fits me well, whereas when I’m in a store, for whatever reason, I am far, far more critical (and this is a good thing!).

However, shopping in store — and especially in New York city — is a task that simply exhausts me. Battling crowds, going in and out of the dressing room, searching through stacks and racks of clothes for my size…ugh, it’s just not my cup of tea anymore.

So today, I have a completely frivilous question: Do you shop online, or in store? Have you noticed the same issues with impulse shopping and fit that I have? How do you ensure that every item in your closet is something you truly love, fits you perfectly, makes you feel great, and is something you’ll have for years? Share your shopping tips and tricks below!

{Image credits: Brittany Ambridge for Domino magazine, “True Colors,” Holiday 2013}

Leave a Comment


  1. 10.16.13
    Rachelle said:

    Honestly I mostly shop online, but I do shop in store are I realized that the promotions are not always the same. I live in Florida and I love ASOS so I don’t really have a choice but to buy online. But stores like Barney’s, Bloomies and Neimans it is always good to check the stores once in a while specially since I live close to a big outlet mall, just the other day at saks I saw tons of stuff on sale for Tibi, Alice + Olivia, DVF, Theory and more.

  2. 10.16.13
    Lily said:

    I’m so with you on this! I LOVE shopping in stores, but living in New Haven, CT, most of my favorite places are far away. The problem is that once I order something online, it’s such a hassle to return it that I sometimes end up with a sunk cost! I’ve gotta find a better way. Thanks for sharing — good to know it’s not just me!


  3. 10.16.13
    Lena said:

    Online, for sure. I live in a smallish town in France, and so, options are limited. But yes, I notice I am also prone to keeping things I only “like” and don’t “love” when buying online, and I wear those much less. I do have many favorites purchased online, and often at a lower price tag than store-bought items.

  4. 10.16.13
    Ame said:

    A good mix. I am on the line of plus and regular sizing and it’s slimmer pickins for plus sizing that’s cute, especially for some reason locally. I only buy things online that I can return, because I need to try it on and be sure.

  5. 10.16.13
    Vanessa said:

    I would love it if I could browse online and then go into the store, walk straight to the fitting room and have the items I’ve favorited brought to me so I can just try them on.

    Browsing is great and I can still fit that in but I would love to be able to do the bulk of by browsing online.

    So in short, I want to be able to do both! Shop online and then go into stores to try it on and pay. I also get the item immediately which is always nice.

  6. 10.16.13
    Marisa said:

    Both! I love shopping online for things that are usually more expensive but I always make sure I can return them! I usually only pull the trigger when there is free shipping and returns and there is a sale. Final sales are never purchased online unless I have tried it on in-store already. But you have to be on top of your returning game!

  7. 10.16.13
    Dana said:

    I definitely agree with you. Since moving to NYC I have started shopping more and more online as stores tend to get very frustrating. But I do think I tend to love the items I purchase in store more, due to being able to try things on etc.

  8. 10.16.13

    I tend to window shop online, so that when I make it to the store, I know exactly what I’m there to try on and why I’m buying it. I shop online mostly for accessories and tried and true classics that I’ve bought before.

  9. 10.16.13

    100% agree. I used to shop only in stores but now that I work all the time I do about 80% of my shopping online. Now I spend way too much money on clothes and most of my closet doesn’t fit me the way it should. I have been pondering the idea of totally going cold turkey with online shopping….

  10. 10.16.13

    I hate shopping in stores. I don’t like the crowds or the sales assistants or trying things on. So I do most of my shopping online, and I would love to grocery shop online if I could! And I like how I can try things on at home when I’m feeling good and I can accessorize right from my closet to see if it is a good piece for me to keep.

    But I definitely do tend to buy a bunch online and then return it since it doesn’t fit or I hate it in person, which is annoying. And I definitely splurge more than I should online. For some reason when I am in a store and looking at something I have a million of, I can say I don’t need that and walk away.

    So, the rest of the year I am not shopping online (aside from certain Christmas presents) since I think it will cut back on my spending because I will definitely do it less.

  11. 10.16.13
    Josie said:

    I lean towards in-store shopping. For instance, after sending three pairs of booties back to Amazon (with weeks of waiting in-between for refunds and shipping), I finally went to Bloomingdales and picked out my ideal shoe in 15 minutes.

    I definitely pop into my favorite stores when I have the chance and try on a little bit of everything–mostly because it’s fun, but also to note my size in that store. That takes the anxiety away from ordering online from that store for the most part.

    If I order online, I only order from a store with a free return policy (I don’t consider it more convenient if it costs me money to try something on and return it!) and I always return an item if it’s not a “love.” Or, I take advantage of the free return and buy the better fit.

    Lastly, if I am impulse buying online because it’s a sale, I consider the cost of small alterations before I deem it worth the sale price. Just in case :) Great topic! I’ve been having the same thoughts and am making a concerted effort to be more careful with my online shopping lately.

  12. 10.16.13
    Valerie said:

    I do both but recently started struggling with the same issue when most of my online purchases needed to be returned. However with my busy schedule and the daunting crowds on the weekends, I still prefer the ease of clicking the purchase button. One of my goals this year is to better refine and define my style so I have a feeling in-store purchases will become more frequent. Thanks for sharing! Glad to know I’m not the only one.

  13. 10.16.13

    Shopping in stores really, really exhausts me – but I’m with you on fit. Most of the pieces in my closet that fit me perfectly were bought in store.

    The other side of the coin though, is online always seems to have the better selection. I’ve started ordering two sizes in some things, and being really ruthless about what I keep and what I return. Oddly, reading other blogs helps too… there are a few bloggers out there that I shop off of because I know that what looks good on them will most likely look good me to!

  14. 10.16.13

    I have actually found the opposite! My shopping tendencies have leaned more online for many years (even before great return policies, i’m embarrassed to say!) but some of my favorite pieces that fit me perfectly, were bought online. I tend to order a lot (now with great return options) and only keep a few things. I think some of it also comes with knowing your body perfectly well, even down to your dimensions :)

    Great question!

  15. 10.16.13
    Sarah said:

    I’m so with you! I love online shopping because it literally means that options are endless… and I loooove a good selection! It’s so nice to have such a huge range of things to purchase, but there are definitely downfalls. Fit is huge and can make or break an outfit, so it’s really disappointing when something shows up and doesn’t fit (or look) quite right. The biggest problem is that it’s a hassle and often costs money to make returns so you convince yourself that you can live with something because you’d rather not drag it to the post office. Darn- you’re totally right, even though I wish you weren’t! Thanks for this though, because I thought I was the only one. Lol.

  16. 10.16.13
    Ginet said:

    Though I do love receiving packages in the mail, I have to try things on because of my body type. It also helps me control my spending b/c I don’t go out shopping often (or as often as I used to). However, I do the majority of my Christmas shopping online! VERY convenient!

  17. 10.16.13
    Alecia said:

    hm I never though about this before. To be totally honest when I shop in stores I tend to not try things on anyway. Being a blogger I shop way more online than in stores though. I guess if it doesn’t fit when I receive it – I return it , and like you said it is easy to do with fast free returns.

  18. 10.16.13
    Karima said:

    I love the variety of items offered online so I tend to do most of my shopping there. Being online daily for my blog on style/fashion, I see SO MUCH that when I actually step foot in a store, I’m a little disappointed. I look forward to shopping in boutiques when I travel to find things that are not so widely available and feel a bit more exclusive. As for returning online items, I don’t think twice about it. I usually make my decision the minute I try it on…if it doesn’t work, it goes right back in the box and packaged for return.

  19. 10.16.13

    I’ve had the exact same trajectory of my shopping habits — and you’re so right, even if getting a package in the mail is fun, a good 50% of the time I end up not being satisfied with the fit… definitely worth taking the time to really decide what you need and dedicate time to find it in person!

  20. 10.16.13

    I will only shop online if I’m buying a product that I’ve used before. If I’m in the market for something new, I HAVE to go to the store and see it in person. If I’m going to spend the money on a new handbag, for example, I like to check the zippers and seams to make sure that everything works. It gives me more of a peace of mind.

  21. 10.16.13
    meg said:

    I love the ease of purchasing online, but hate that I am always heading to the store to exchange or return. :(

  22. 10.16.13
    julia said:

    I’m totally with you! I’m much more critical when I shop in-store but it can be such a hassle to do!

    xo julesinflats

  23. 10.16.13

    I am like you, and just recently (in the past year) started shopping online SO much more. I blame the high price of Australian clothes (and tendency toward free next day delivery) compared to the ridiculous shipping prices to shop online in Canada.

    I do find that sometimes things I buy online fit terribly, and if they do, I don’t hesitate to return them. Or, truthfully, sometimes I’ll get them tailored if it’s feasible (especially if I got the item on super sale!). I’ve also kind of started learning what types of styles actually do fit my body type better.

    But for impulse shopping, I usually don’t let myself buy things right away. I make a list (I actually wrote a blog post on this last week, coincidence!) for the items I like, and leave them on there for about a month. That way I can prioritise what I want over other things, and I know what stores to keep an eye on for sales, etc. It actually really works to keep my spending in check!

    • 10.16.13

      Errr I meant the high price of clothes IN STORE in Aus, and coupon codes + fast delivery = better to online shop. In Canada it’s the opposite. Oops.

  24. 10.16.13

    I shop exclusively online. I like trying on in the privacy of my home. But I get what you are saying and sometimes things I love and have bought in person are things I would never have picked online. So there is value to being there in the store. But now I live in Oklahoma (sadly lacking in shopping unlike your unbelievable NYC) so it is online only for me!

  25. 10.16.13

    You always have a way of reading my thoughts! I feel the exact same way you feel! The more time goes on, the less time and patience I have for stores and the more I have to shop online. But not knowing how things will fit is frustrating. So sometimes I will buy two sizes of everything and return what doesn’t fit. I only buy something if shipping is quick and free – both ways. Sometimes I just have to make a list and plan a day or afternoon ahead of time for shopping in the stores (that was my day today actually). Knowing that shopping is the only thing I have planned at a given time makes it easier.

  26. 10.16.13

    I’ve gotten so into online shopping in recent years-it’s just so easy to do when you’re sitting around and bored, and like you said, really fun to get a package. But then it started to feel like a full-time job with all the returning, re-ordering a different size, going to the post office, etc. So I’ve really tried to cut back. It’s like with desserts-I try to keep nothing sweet in the house, then if I’m motivated enough to actually get up and go buy something sweet, then fine, I can have it. So the same with shopping-if I’m motivated enough to actually get out and go to the store, fine. If not, then no shopping-which theoretically should help me stop shopping due to laziness :). Fighting the crowds can definitely be a big deterrent. I would NEVER go shopping anywhere near the vicinity of Times Square or really anywhere in midtown.

  27. 10.16.13
    Ciel said:

    I definitely shop in the store. While I love clothes, I hate the process of going into the store, dealing with sales assistants, questionable lighting, and of course other people. So, my tricks for shopping are to go in the middle of the week in the evening or first thing in the morning before the crowds get going. I also go when I am not looking for something specific, that way I can avoid shopping in crisis mode, that’s always a recipe for a disaster – at least in my case. I also go once every two weeks and hit my usual suspects and get a sense of the inventory and reduced prices of clothes I may have loved, but passed on because of the price point. Also, the more you go, the easier it gets to select the right clothes quickly and without having to worry about in-store returns or shipping online purchases back to the retailer.

    However, I feel for you ladies in NYC, I am pretty sure I couldn’t hack that in-store scene.

  28. 10.16.13
    Lisa said:

    Since I’m MUCH older than you, and have learned many lessons over time, I now almost never buy online unless I’ve tried it on in a store first. In fact, I’m a bit of a stalker. I go to a store (jcrew for example), try a bunch of stuff on, check out the fabrics and fit. And then I wait. And what I want, almost always goes on sale. There are times when I don’t want to/can’t wait, but if I can it almost always pays off. If I really love something that’s more than I want/can pay, I will wait and watch and if it looks like it might sell out before a sale, then I’ll purchase. This, of course makes me the definition of a shopaholic, lol, but I don’t have money to burn with two teenagers! I like nice things so I’m willing to put the effort in.:)

  29. 10.17.13
    Katie said:

    I am actually the opposite. When I find something I want in the store I am much more impulsive than having it sit in my online shopping cart. Its also nice to be able to try things on. That being said, I still love online shopping and the excitement of getting mail!

    xx Katie

  30. 10.17.13
    Keiko said:

    You’re right. I shop online because sometimes the deals are better but when I get them, I don’t really love what I bought and because some of the items were final sale, i cannot return them. I tend to shop websites with free shipping and returns which makes it a lot easier. Shopping in NY is a bit stressful especially when there’s a sale. But another thing NY offers is sample sales! HEre, you have to battle the crowds and rarely get a dressing room to try things on!

  31. 10.17.13

    I would shop online if Canada would allow free shipping and returns both ways.

    Or at least allow me to return in-store.

    Otherwise, I avoid online shopping in fear that things won’t fit or will not be what I expected.

  32. 10.17.13
    Christine B. said:

    I completely agree with this post. There really is something fun about buying online and then getting it in the mail a few days later. I like the double whammy of the experience. But I also find that without trying things on, I’m generally not thrilled with how they fit or the material. Very few times have I been pleasantly surprised by what arrives. I recently gave away a skirt that I never wore but bought online. It was a CRAZY deal! But it never would’ve looked right on me, no matter how long I let it simmer in my closet. The in-person shopping experience always provides me with better results, but it’s hard to get into a mall or store after a long day at work and I prefer to be outside on my weekends, not inside shopping. The dilemma continues…

  33. 10.17.13

    I’ve been reluctantly buying online for the same busyness and avoiding the crowds and parking reasons… and find that buying shoes is the worst. Although zappos is good about having reviews that get at if the sizing runs big or small, there’s just too many factors that go into a fit with shoes that i think i’ve given up trying. And yes I was suckered by a sale. – Despite this, I’ve given a try. I’ve always wanted someone to just suggest the “3 must haves” for each month and I’m curious to see where this experiement nets out. – I think the safest way to shop online, is to have previous experience with a brand/style/sizing IN store – and then go online to find a better price. My best luck online is with accessories and bags. Know what i want and then find the best prices out there.

  34. 10.17.13

    I feel the exact same way Victoria. I tend to purchase more online these days becuase I just do not see how people find the time to shop. I actually was planning to discuss a similar concept on our blog next week. Regardless, my purchases are not as smart online and I too am less critical which isn’t a good thing.

  35. 10.17.13
    Maryn said:

    I love the convenience of shopping online…I’ve had so much “practice” shopping in-stores, that I generally know what will work for me.

    • 10.20.13
      Marcee said:

      Ohh … for sure I agree. Throughout these years, you know what stores are best suited for family, your life. Then there are clothes for children. Wow such great deals. I love shopping online! Saves time, frustration and so many other things when going to mall stores, etc.

  36. 10.17.13

    For me, it totally depends on convenience. There is a Zara, Gap, Nordstrom Rack, and a Loft within a few blocks of my office so I am way more apt to walk over– and impulse buy– on my lunch break at those stores. With Banana and J. Crew being just a little further away, I almost always shop their online stores instead.

  37. 10.18.13
    Kodi said:

    I shop almost exclusively in store for clothing — and I live in the middle of WISCONSIN. The closest Zara is four hours away. Other gems I have to travel for? J.Crew, H&M, Urban Outfitters, TopShop Anthropologie, Nordstrom(& Rack)…to name a few. So my closet is mostly Express and GAP, with filler pieces from the other stores when I’m able to get to them, but just like you said, everything FITS. I just can’t get myself to buy much without knowing it fits — so I lament about where I live and the cost of return shipping, plan a biannual trip to a bigger shopping area(complete with a list of things I’ve seen online that I want to try on!) and head to my local mall!
    grey et al

  38. 10.18.13

    I totally agree with the impulse online buys – sometimes it gets out of hand! But I have gotten a lot of great pieces online that I wouldn’t have otherwise because I don’t have time/patience to go to the mall. Not to mention, some great deals online you can’t find in stores. I only shop online at stores that I frequent so I know how the clothes fit. I’ve never had much luck with online boutiques or stores where I’m not familiar with the fit.

  39. 10.20.13

    LOVE THIS POST:) your blog is so cool

    Im now following on pinterest and I hope you follow me back.

    Check out my Monday post..Before-after pics of a cute beach cottage:)

    have a fab week dear

    LOVE Maria at inredningsvis – inredning it’s, Swedish for decor :)

  40. 10.21.13
    Rose said:

    I feel the SAME way! Shopping in a store here can be so incredibly exhausting-you’re usually already carrying a bag or two of your own stuff around, there are long lines, too many people, and you’re so wrapped up in layers that taking them off to try one or two things on feels like too much work. You also have to plan where you’re going to go and when and if you have to return something how you’d get back there. I do find I hold on to things I bought online even if I shouldn’t, though-but I’m trying to get better about that! Returning nearly everything from my Target/Phillip Lim purchase, and I recently returned about half of an Express order, too. Trying to be much more selective all around-because really, do I NEED more clothes? Haha. Thanks for sharing this, though-I hadn’t really thought about it!

  41. 10.27.13
    Susan said:

    I have the perfect solution for you that is the most annoying solution for the stores. Ship to Store. Buy online and ship it to the store. When they arrive you can do a little tour of all your favorite stores, pick up your package, try everything on, then return what doesn’t fit at the register immediately. Best of both worlds. And don’t tell anyone I recommended that!

    • 10.27.13
      Victoria McGinley said:

      Hi Susan! I’ve definitely tried that with retailers who offer it, but I found that a lot of them don’t. What are your favorite retailers that offer this service?