Super Shopper Finds Biggest Deals Online
Everything Jersey- Saturday, July 11, 2009
Super shopper finds biggest deals online
by Venuri Siriwardane/The Star-Ledger
As the recession drags on, Manolo Blahnik minions have traded down to Zappos and Barneys New York fans are now trolling eBay boards.
As brick-and-mortar retailers suffer from thinning customer traffic and anemic first-quarter sales, online sales have stayed flat, according to a comScore survey.
The market research firm found that three-quarters of people were more likely to look online before making an offline purchase.
Shopping as we know it is on the brink of major change, said e-commerce guru Michelle Madhok, who quit a high-profile job at AOL to start SheFinds.com, a Manhattan-based shopping guide for women.
Realizing that more deals can be found online, she said women are increasingly buying clothes, shoes and bags on the web.
And even when she does walk into a store, Madhok, 38, will browse with a BlackBerry in hand, checking for cheaper prices online.
She recently told Your Business why shoppers scouring the mall should fill up their virtual carts instead.
Q: Why do you think online shopping is better than going to a brick-and-mortar store?
A: Whenever I see something I like in a store, I go home and search for it online. I'll almost always find it for a cheaper price, especially now when there are so many sales and so many deals out there.
Also, we're all so busy these days that it takes less time to do online shopping. There's more of a selection online, which allows you to compare prices more easily. And people are still buying, but they're not buying as much. They're holding out for the sale.
I did talk to a high-end retailer this week that sells really expensive luxury items. Their dresses are over $1,000, and they said their online sales have stayed strong. They think that top society doesn't want to be seen in the retail store, but still wants the merchandise. It's taboo now to be seen throwing money around when all of your friends are laid off.
Q: Shopping online doesn't allow you to try on clothes and see how they look up close, so how can women buy products online and be satisfied with what they receive in the mail?
A: Rather than going to the store twice, I'd rather have everything I like from the Gap sent to me. Then I might go in once and return something. There's always the chance that you'll have to return a product, so you should know what the return policy is.
A lot of online stores will do free shipping and free returns. Others allow you to return in the store. I definitely stick to certain brands. I also like to see something first, and I do still browse in stores, but I hardly ever buy.
I have actually sat in a store with my BlackBerry and looked up the prices online to see if they're cheaper.
Q: Any tips for finding the best deals online?
A:One thing you definitely need to do is sign up for e-mail newsletters from your favorite store. They'll send you updates on coupons and let you know when sales start.
The other really great thing that's going on right now is online sample sales. With sample sales, you usually have to go to a store and push and shove.
Now, there are limited-time sales on different websites offering designer merchandise at marked-down prices. The biggest one is called Gilt.com. Now, there's about 10 others.
Because there are so many now, the editors compile a list every week and we send out to our newsletter subscribers a list of all the sample sales. You might have to have an access code to get in.
Q: What are some of most popular items women are buying online?
A: I think shoes have been a big hit. Zappos.com is really great with its free shipping and free returns. They have an amazing feature on there where people comment on how the shoe fits, how does the leather feel, how wearable they are, and so on.
That's a great use of crowdsourcing. You can also sign up for sale alerts on sites like ShopStyle.com and Pronto.com.
Those sites send you e-mail alerts whenever your favorite brands go on sale. We all have a favorite brand. You know that it fits you and what size you are in that brand.
Q: How can shoppers safeguard their credit card information online? Are there any red-flag indicators for a disreputable website?
A: If it's a website you've never heard of, type in the name of the website and the word fraud in Google. You'll be surprised at a lot of the things that pop up.
You should look at contact information on the website and see if there's a phone number and address. If the prices are too good to be true, that's another red flag, unless it's a well-known site or it's a sample sale.
The other thing you can do is get those temporary credit card numbers. They're one-time-use credit card numbers that are generated online. So, if something happens, they don't have your actual credit card number and you don't have to cancel your card.
Q: What do you see for the future of shopping? Will brick-and-mortar stores go the way of the Commodore 64?
A: The offline retailers have become too top heavy, so they aren't as nimble as the online ones are. I know New York City department stores are suffering greatly because they have these huge stores that are filled with employees and no one's coming in.
So, these stores may still have an offline presence, but they're going to shift a massive amount of inventory online. Some retailers have even taken their special lines, like tall or plus-size lines, and put them online so they don't take up space in the store.
In retail, it's much easier to operate online than offline. You don't have to hire sales help, you don't have to find locations and pay rent and you don't have to have a physical presence. You're going to see more and more retail outlets going online.