I have a confession to make: I’m obsessed with free shipping and free returns. I don’t need an intervention; my obsession, unlike most, is completely rational. (According to me.)

I’ve tried to retrace my footsteps, and by my measure, it all started when I discovered ASOS in 2011. If you’re not familiar, ASOS is a UK-based web emporium full of mostly affordable, trendy clothes. It’s sort of like Zara, if Zara’s selection were bigger and it carried more sizes and brands. I was nervous to try it at first, because the company was still relatively unknown in the US, but the site promised free shipping and free returns on every order, no matter what, all the time, so I figured the risk was minimal.

Not only did I end up loving ASOS (four years later, rarely is there not at least one piece of ASOS clothing on my person at any given time), but I became completely spoiled by the company’s shipping and returns policies. Now I search out the things I want at stores with similar policies if at all possible, and thankfully, many online retailers have realized it’s a great way to entice customers–Net-a-Porter, Shopbop, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, MATCHESFASHION.COM and Barneys all offer the service on US orders. I’ve ordered from all of them.

It takes a rare occasion or great deal to get me to order something from a site that will make me pay to receive or return it, and usually I end up mad at myself for ordering in the first place. To me, it’s not a total dealbreaker, but it has a huge influence on my shopping and buying behavior.

We all have our preferences in online shopping–let’s hear yours in the comments.

P.S. Please consider supporting our small, bag-loving team by clicking our links before shopping or checking out at your favorite online retailers like Amazon, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, or any of the listed partners on our shop page. We truly appreciate your support!

Share Your Thoughts With Us

  • karu

    More selection online and for shoes on sale… online usually has my Size!
    In store, my shoe size disappears first during sales, but I can usually catch it online

  • tata

    definitely free shipping and free returns. Not only free returns but EASY returns because really, who has the time to run to the Post Office and wait in line to return anything. I also don’t like the minimums some companies put on free shipping. Like Jcrew for example. I tend to shop more from companies where I know my sizing and that their sizing is consistant throughout all the clothing. I find companies like Zara and ASOS to be slightly inconsistant in their sizing. Even if I like something, I hate guessing if it’s a size 4 or a size 6 .

  • free shipping and free returns, a video of the item and of course, reviews (i hate that neiman marcus does not allow reviews. lame)

  • T Tara Bagnista

    What a timely question. I just finished a 30 minutes conversation at Neiman Marcus about some missing Incircle points. I had redeemed my 2X points day of choosing coupon in February; however, the points were still not posted. It’s not the first time I’ve had this issue with NM. I expect free shipping/returns; however, I’m obsessed with bonus points. The easier a company makes it for me to earn points, the more I will buy.

    • Stina Sias

      I am so disappointed with Neiman Marcus, who doesn’t let you return cosmetics after they are opened?? Even Rite-Aid lets you return cosmetics!

      • In most countries in Europe (as far as I know) you aren’t allowed to return cosmetics after you opened it. If you buy something and you don’t like it, well that’s your problem and you just wasted good money. So for me it’s not that obvious that every store should accept returns on cosmetics.

      • Stina Sias

        In the USA I have never had that experience. I have never shopped at another store that doesn’t accept returns- it makes me feel like I can’t trust them as a retailer if they won’t stand behind their products. I don’t need to return them often but I think it’s shady!

      • Gina Fuller

        I have returned cosmetics at the Bobbi Brown counter at Neimans once it was opened. Maybe it was the SA that was just being difficult.

      • Stina Sias

        I have only dealt with the website ><

  • shopper

    Main reason for shopping online is organization of product. A good search engine helps me weed through products and narrow down according to my criteria (especially with house things like curtains). I mostly buy home things online. I don’t like buying clothing online because sizes vary widely by brand. I never buy shoes online. I MUST try them on first.

    Free shipping is a big plus. I rarely return anything so free return is not.

  • Lori

    I really like it when they show items on models. Especially handbags as sometimes they look small and are actually huge. And since I am only 5’3″, that is a big consideration. I agree with the rest of the posters on the other reasons such as shipping, comments and inventory. Oh and I love on-line sales. I won’t shop sales in a store because it’s usually such a mess, so this is a great way for me to get a good deal.

  • Sandy

    I live in a market that does not always carry the designer goods I am looking for so I have to order and ship most of my things. I however hate the idea of having to ship back what does not work out. Nordstrom is local so I do my best to order from them, that way I can take it back to the store.. Not waiting for a return to go through. I would love it if Nordstrom would put all of their designer goods on line…so I can look at my leisure. I want next day shipping options as well… I also want to feel very secure when shipping…order notifications…shipping updates etc…the more info the better.

  • dnfl

    ofc I look for the basics such as a good shipping and return policy. But living in Canada, duty and custom fees are a big make it or break it. So many times I find a great deal only to find that I’ve been charged with duties that amount to half of the purchased item’s price itself. really sucks lol

    • I wish that it were easier to find out what the duties and custom fees would be when shipping to Canada. I’ve never been able to get a straightforward answer that I could pass along to my Canadian customers. Clearly we need a more advantageous trade treaty between our countries!

  • Guest

    In online shopping for handbags, pictures are king. I want pictures of the exterior, interior, and if possible, pics of the bag on a model/mannequin. In addition to that, the dimensions need to be clearly stated. I wish more companies would include the dimensions for handle drop.

    • lavinia

      I agree (for shoes too! And please add a photo of the model with the shoes on). For bags I would add the weight of the bag, this is a very important info for me. I have been using ASOS for years as they had cut out swimsuits I needed to cover a scar on my belly and I could not find them in Italy). Love their quality, price (not to mention I have exclusive model), and of course free shipping. :)

  • Mya Wilkes

    ooohhh i love asos too! I love that the model struts on a runway specially for you to see how the clothes fit and look, that addition was genius!

  • Guest123

    It depends on what I’m searching for. For example, if I’m looking for a second-hand designer bag, then guaranteed authenticity and vendor reliability are absolutely paramount. The vendor must stand 100% behind the authenticity and the reported condition of the product — there are just too many counterfeits out there.

    For a new product, then yes, a good selection, free shipping and returns are all important. Also service before and after the sale as well as a good price point.

    However, I don’t believe people should go into a retail store, take up a SA’s time trying on shoes, etc., getting lots of detailed advice, then go home and buy the same items from some other online vendor simply to save a few dollars. This is disrespectful and, IMO, a dishonest way to shop. If a “bricks and mortar” store SA is helpful and knowledgeable, then that store has earned your business and the SA has earned his/her commission. (I’m not suggesting anyone here does that, but I do see it happening more and more.)

  • Sofia

    I agree with a lot of the points made by the other guests: free shipping, seeing the bag on a model, and as many pics of the item as possible are all very important for online shopping.

    I would also like to add that requiring a signature for delivery is also important. I ordered an $1800 Fendi baguette from Neiman Marcus, and the delivery man just left it on the doorstep. I assumed that such a high end retailer like NM would require signature for delivery ????

    • T Tara Bagnista

      I’m surprised at that price point NM didn’t require a signature. It’s been my experience that over about $1K, NM will require a signature. On the flip side, I had ordered a $230 clutch from its sister store (BG) and was surprised to get hit with a signature requirement (no sales tax, though!). Fortunately, I could take the tag to Fedex and get my package. Gucci doesn’t operate like that. t received a rude awakening when I had a purchase that I had made at Gucci in NY and sent to my house. When I got the tag, I thought no big deal. I’ll just go to UPS and pick it up. After all, I had my driver’s license with the same address. Not. Gucci does not permit any rerouting of packages, even by the purchaser. Since I work during the day, I faced the prospect of UPS making an attempt to deliver every day until the package was sent back to Gucci. To get the package, I either had to stay home from work or Gucci had to call to give UPS permission to give me the package. The latter occurred and I picked up the package the next day. Unfortunately, my purchases had not fit in one box. As such, I had to go through the same process again for the second box. Anyone who knows me would know I was determined to get these items because I had to cross a bridge and it was icy that day, to get to UPS. Now, when I order from Gucci, I have it sent to my job–any signature in the mailroom meets its requirements–and It arrives in my office at about 2 pm.

  • Nar

    Another great feature is buying online and picking up in store. If you’re in a rush and don’t necessarily want bags delivered to your house, I think it’s convenient and a good tool to utilize. I’ve done this a lot at Neimans.

  • Shelly

    I agree with all of the above. Not to mention zero tax if there isn’t a store in your state. :) Free international shipping is quite awesome too. (SSENSE) One thing I love is site that will show a video of the item. Most are short and just do a 360, but it does help.

  • KMoya

    I really enjoy online shopping: no hassle, free shipping, free returns. However, I would rather go into a store to shop so I can try on the item and really get a feel for the quality of the fabric, leather, etc. And on a side note it’s my birthday!!

    • joanheminway

      Happy birthday!

    • Mya Wilkes

      Awwww happy birthday to you!!! wishing you many more happy and joyful years in good health.

  • Rashida

    I shop at ASOS a lot. I love free shipping, low prices, and free returns. If I can avoid the sales tax I am in. I appreciate fast shipping as well.

  • Scottsdale Kim

    Whenever I see something I like in a store or online, I search all sources online because different buyers pick different colors, finishes, etc. That is when shopping online beats going from store to store.

    I also try to purchase from Nordstrom whenever possible. They have a lot of items online that aren’t found in most stores. They have a great return policy and I love love love Nordstrom Notes.

  • Tina

    I buy mostly in farfetch, and local boutiques in their online shops

    • Tina

      Clothes, bags and shoes.

  • Veruca

    When Shipping duties and import taxes are paid by the company!

  • Quigs

    I only shop online with stores that offer free shipping and free returns. The only exception is Saks that only offers free shipping to card holders. I live near a Saks so I am able to make returns at my local store. I also refuse to buy from any site that is “final sale” with no returns or exchanges allowed. This means that I will never shop at Barney’s Warehouse or purchase anything from Saks.com when they have “final sale”. I also won’t purchase anything from a website that does have a customer service toll free telephone number. I prefer to talk directly to a human and not to have to email cs. I also dislike sites, I’m looking at you, Neiman’s Last Call & Saks Off Fifth, that send discount coupons but have increased and keep changing the “original price”. It becomes too much of a hassle to keep track of the “original” price so I usually avoid patronizing these sites.

    • Quigs

      Correction – should read:

      I also won’t purchase anything from a website that does not have a customer service toll free telephone number

  • FashionableLena

    I don’t like online shopping. I’m an instant gratification person and not a visual person. I need to see it and try it on. I hate returnin things. With that being said, I did buy something online from Beautylish about a month ago. I really liked the fast shipping. I ordered on a Saturday night and received it on Tuesday.

  • GoBears95

    Other than more pictures from different angles, inside and on a model, I like it when sites list all dimensions and weight for handbags. If I am looking for an everyday bag, I don’t want it to be heavy. For clothes, I like them being modeled. You can’t really tell if a tailoring would make you look chunky until it is being worn. I can compare the different styles on the same model.

  • Livo

    I love shopping online. I have been doing it since 2009 and I just used the return service once. I have not looked back. I like my quite and cosy home for looking through clothes and more clothes and buy.

  • Riham

    Thanks Amanda for this piece! As a shopper, I always love the word “free shipping”. But now that I am actually opening my own online store, it’s such a dilemma. Free shipping for a start-up can be a deal-breaker too. But in the future, if couriers were able to give companies serious shipping offers, I know for sure it would be a way up!

    • I’m in the same boat! I opened my own online shop last year. We really want to offer “free shipping” and “free returns”, but it would mean raising our prices 15-25%. Of course every retailer does this, but it’s more difficult when you’re a small shop because you can’t get the high-volume discounts on product that a big shop can.

      That said, we do offer flat-rate shipping that is below market-rate and we just eat the difference.

  • Ountrumpas

    < col Hiiiiiii Friends… purseblog…. ++metalsucks+ + SEE FULL INFO

    ~~~~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~ ~~

  • Lab Consignment

    I own an online designer resale store and have been shopping online since 2000. I’ve been very aware of pros and cons to online shopping, and have talked to lots of women about this. The tricky part is duties, shipping, and landing costs. I’m based in Canada and when an item is landed here at retail it costs the retailer 18% just to get it to Canada. The US is much much lower, thus why things cost less. I find these days everyone wants everything for free, which we try to give lots of discounts and shipping offers, alas it gets extremely costly.
    We offer no returns on handbags, shoes, accessories, or sale items as 80% of our stock is used. I know of so many stories of women wearing an item our and returning it, I just won’t stand for that.
    We have a 100% money back guarantee if you find an inauthentic item (has never been utilized in 6 years ;)
    We offer local Try Before You Buy

    I really enjoyed reading these responses!

  • Vicky

    If they put on the details of the stuff on for me to see, the more the details available, the more likelihood of me buying.

    For clothes, like how width it is in different area, chest, shoulders, waist, hip, thigh. These all are my problematic areas. Calves for boots. Most sites don’t offer these. I’m not picky about clothing, but if you go to the store, even though you know your size, you still have to try it on.

    For bags, the measurement and dimension of the bags, the photo of the inside, how long is the strap drop,the weight of the bag, and photo of the average people trying it on. If the model try it on, there should be details like how tall the model is and what size she’s wearing. Otherwise, what’s the point of looking at the modeling photo of a 5’9″ and size 2 when I’m only 5’4″ and size 10?

  • Blueberryfats

    Asos was the gateway to my addiction as well! lol

  • fawzana

    free shipping and free returns but i never return anything. i usually email customer service to ask further details of an item.
    i also would buy shoes from those who list out the cm length of soles from toe to heels. french sizing shoes are difficult to figure out..

  • hheh

    For someone living in Canada, in a city that is 3 hours away from Toronto, I need free shipping or even free duty/customs. I know, a girl can dream, right? It’s so hard to get a designer bag around here without driving 3 hours or spending an extra $300-400. It’s insanity.

  • Casey

    I love ASOS and I buy a ton from there because it’s so convenient but sizes and fits can vary so much, I end up returning or exchanging quite a bit more than I’d like to. Matches is my favorite luxury website, they have the quickest shipping, the best prices, the best packaging, and an amazing selection of brands. They know how to develop customer loyalty. Ssense also has an amazing selection but I will only buy from them if I know my exact size because one time I bought a shirt that didn’t fit and I didn’t want to pay the $30 to return it back to Canada.