Sunday, August 8, 2010

Where to shop online?

If you haven't already bought clothes online, now is the time to start!  Below is a list of my favorite online clothes stores. 

Zappos - The gold standard of online shopping. And the best shoe store ever. Zappos sells shoes all shoes from every brand, and recently began selling clothing. It offers items for women, men, and children.  The search function is quick and easy-to-use.   The website has "wish list" and favorites" sections where customers can add items the like, then come back later to review price changes and decide about purchases.  If you find an item that is out-of-stock or full price, Zappos will notify you via email if it comes back in stock or goes on-sale.  The customer reviews are the best of any online store, filled with input to help shoppers better pick a size (Ex: "fits true to size" or "fits a half size smaller").  Zappos offers free shipping on all orders and returns.  The return process is hassle free, requiring ~5 mouse clicks (UPS will even pick-up returns directly from your house).  The customer service is the best part.  The service team, available 24/7, goes above and beyond to help you (this includes overnight shipping for free to ensure that you have your purchase for an important event).  Zappos prices are frequently much lower than other stores.

ShopStyle - The focus of this website is everything fashionable. It  consolidates clothes, shoes, accessories, beauty products and home stuff from all major designers into a single-platform for shoppers to search. It offers items for women, men, kids, and the home.  Users are encouraged to sign-up (for free), and create "stylebooks," where they put together an entire look or pick designs from their favorite designers, to share with other users.  The search function is easy-to-use.  This website has the "wish list" and "favorites" sections where shoppers can add items they like, and come back later to review prices and decide about.  Shoppers can also sign-up to be notified when items are back in stock or going on sale.  Shoppers can also sign-up to follow other users fashion ideas (when they post a new look or stylebook, you'll be notified) And if looking like a celebrity is your thing, the website shows who's wearing what and where to purchase it (this includes items seen on celebrities which are not yet in stores).  Items are not actually sold via this website, instead you will be forwarded to the applicable online store for purchase. 

Gilt Group - This is a hidden gem in the US shopping world. When designers and up-and-coming designers need to clear out their showrooms quickly (usually to make way for new items), they send the items to the Gilt Group. The Gilt Group consolidates them, takes new pics of them, and then has a 2-3 day sale where the items are discounted 50-80% (think $500 Coach purse for $75). To participate in these sales, you need to subscribe to the Gilt Goup (click here to subscribe - membership is free). All Gilt Group subscribers are notified via email of sales 5 min before they start (or you can check on the website each week to see what sales will happen in the upcoming week). There are usually 3-4 designers on sale per week. Word to the wise: when you receive this emails, open immediately, browse, and order. With the stellar prices, items sell-out quickly.  As a bonus: some Gilt Group sales include delas on travel (like 50-80% off for amazing boutique hotels or cruises).

Asos - This is a UK website selling chic clothing at reasonable rates. Shipping is free only within the UK (however, I've heard that Asos will soon set-up in the US and will offer free shipping within the US).  It offers items for women, men, and kids.  Asos only exists as an online store.  And only Asos-brand items are sold via the Asos website (this is actually a huge inventory, especially compared to brick & mortar stores who also sell their clothes online).   Asos has a philosophy similar to Forever 21 or H&M, but produces higher quality items.  The Asos designers take ideas from the runways, change them to fit the mainstream population (and add a very "London/Euro" vibe to the items), then produce the items at lower costs. 

Ebay - No introduction should be needed for ebay.  eBay is especially great for finding items which are no longer sold at stores or are speciality clothing items.  Items are often sold here at the lowest prices you'll find (however to obtain the lower price, you'll need to participate in an auction where you risk not winning the item in the end).

Tips for online clothes shopping:
1. Sign-up for an account on each website. These are usually free and will keep a record of your preferences.
2. Add items to your "favorites" or "wish list" (to do this, you usually must be a member). This will enable to you to come back at a later point, check if the items are on sale, and order the items.
3. Wait a couple days/weeks before purchasing. There is a good chance the price will be reduced.
4. Click on "suggested items." The website tracks your preferences and will suggests other items which you might like.
5. Order 2 sizes in each item you purchase.  With free and easy returns, you can keep the size that fits and send back the other size.
6. Read the customer reviews - these will often provide a good indication of how the items fits.
7. Suggest items for friends (and ask them to do the same for you). You'll end up looking at clothes which you wouldn't normally pick, but which look great.
8. Sign-up for email notifications regarding sales of your favorite brands or to notify you if something is back in stock.

Hop on the train: online shopping

Online clothes shopping is one of my favorite hobbies.  At night, I often relax at night by shopping online.  I even for clothes & shoes my friends (although I fail miserably at accessories).

Online shopping is great for many reasons... it's quick and easy to find an endless list anything you want, including vintage items.  You can shop from anywhere.  Often online retailors provide free shipping for purchases & returns.  Online shoppers bypass the crowds and long check-out lines at malls.  Returns are much simpler online than at a store.  Online items are often cheaper than those in stores.  It's easier to do price comparisons and to be notified of sales.  If you're not sure about a purchase (or want to wait until it's cheaper), you can add it to your "wish list" or "favorites" and decide later to purchase it.  Lastly, your friends can easily send purchase suggestions to you (or you can easiy create a list of which friends can purchase items for you). 

Those against online clothes shopping state 2 reasons for not doing it: 1) the inability to feel the fabric or see the quality of the item and 2) the inability to know if the item will fit and which size to purchase.   However, both of these concerns are negligable nowadays.  All websites provide a list of body measurements and their size equivalents and they publish customer reviews stating how customer's have found the item to fit.  With free/easy shipping, a shopper can purchase 2 sizes, try both on, and send the wrong size or both items back.  There is the option to try-on the item in a brick & mortar store and then order it online (because it's cheaper).  After a while, online shoppers know the quality of their favorite brands and they know their size in the brand anway.

Online clothes shopping has been most quickly adopted in the UK & US (I've heard that Japan, Singapore, S. Korea, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia are close behind).  This is largely because the online shopping is so price and consumer-friendly in the UK & US, compared to other countries.  Items sold in the UK & US are usually cheaper than the same item sold in another country (i.e. "capitism vs. socialism" and also price-sensitive consumers).  Additionally, the UK & US stores can offer sales whenever they want.  Stores in other European countries can only offer sales at certain times of the year, as governed by law.    The US & UK online stores tend to offer free shipping to individuals in the UK & US.  While consumers in other countries have to pay for expensive shipping (even when shipping from a store within their country).  The UK & US charge minimal tax on shipments from another country.  Wheras other countries pay a huge tax on these if ordering from a country outside your residence.*  Lastly, customer service is usually much better at the online stores in the UK & US - it's clear that they want your repeat business. 

As I'll be visiting the US soon, I've spent the last months adding items to "favorites" list online, waiting for the price to drop, then ordering the item and shipping it to the US address.  This allows me to get many different items of good quality at good prices.  I'm looking forward to coming home and spending the first afternoon trying on items.  If you haven't already tried online shopping, I highly encourage it. 

*In Germany, this tax can be as high as 100% the price of the item.  Because of the tax, a huge item delivery service has been established at my work. When UK & US colleagues come to Germany on a business trip, they often "volunteer" (bless them) to bring over items for us which we've ordered online and had shipped to their houses. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Destination: Madrid

In early June, a friend and I travelled to Madrid.  I was very excited for the trip as I had never been to Madrid (yes I know, that's weird considering where else I've visited) and I was travelling there with an old friend (who made an excellent tour guide as he lived in the city for 1 year during undergrad).   Highlights included:

1. Taking the double-decker bus tour around the city. 
Growing up, my family would always take the double-decker bus tour when visiting new cities.  It's a great way to see the highlights of the city and figure out parts to visit later. Bonus if the bus is a hop-on, hop-off bus. This remains my favorite thing to do in new cities.  The Madrid bus tour was great, as it allowed us to see all the sites without over heating (the temperature made it miserable to be walking outside during the day). 

2. Seeing pictures on buildings. Many buildings in Madrid are covered in pictures.  Usually these are painted on the building or created from tile mosaic, however some are more unique and of wood carving, etc.  Even the street signs have pictures on them (and not graffiti).  Word to the wise: if you're not constantly looking up, it's easy to miss the pics.   

3. Visiting the Mercado de San Miguel.  
The Mercado de San Miguel is an indoors, up-scale farmer's market with small booths selling the speciality foods and drinks of Spain.  People meet here after work to snack on tapas from the different stalls and drink good wine. The few bar tables in the center of the building are always packed.  This is a good place to make Madrid friends and share a table. 

 4. Watching the Sunset on the Calle de Bailen (near the Jardins de Sabatini). 
Madrid locals make an event of the sunset viewing.  Around 8:30pm, groups of friends go to the park next to the Royal Palace, eat tapas and drink Spanish wine, enjoy the company of friends, and watch the sunset.  Madrid locals definitely know how to enjoy life.


5. Window shopping on the Calle de Claudio Coello.
The southern most part of the street is crowded with the stores of many designers. I like the the northern part of the street better which had stores of up-and-coming designers selling things at reasonable prices. This area is great for people watching. It's also interesting to see the reaction of sales people when you walk into their store (I looked very unglamourous on my afternoon visit as I spent the entire morning walking around and sweating in 100 degree temps). Madrid has great fashion.

All in all, it was a very good trip.  On my next trip, I'll stay out later.  Madrid is a town that comes alive at night and should be seen then.  Also, I'd like to go to a club where locals are dancing modern flamenco.  And I'd like to visit the Museum of the Americas, which I've heard provides a great history of Spain and showcases it's relics.

Restaurant & Hotel Review. (for all who wanted to know my thoughts on where to stay and eat)

Restaurant: El Estragon (Plaza de la Paja 10, 28005 Madrid). Great vegetarian restaurant in a non-veggie town.  Thie dishes were flavorful and contained large amounts of the essential nutrients which vegetarians have a tough time getting (protein, calcium, iron). The service & location were great - I wanted to sit there for hourse and people watch.

Restaurant: Teatriz (Hermosilla 15, 28001 Madrid). This has an amazing set-up as it's in an old theatre.  Tables are located in all audience sections, including the box seats.  On stage was a bar with huge mirrors around it.  And the food was amazing (my descriptions of food only go far). 

Hotel: Suites 33.  This was a good hotel at a good rate (I stayed here the 1st night when I was by myself).  It was located 2 min from the Plaza de Espana, but it was on a quiet street.  The hotel room & bathroom were large and clean (by American standards).  The A/C worked.  And there was free wi-fi for all guests.  The concierge was very helpful.

Hotel: Westin Palace.  Fabulous is the only way to describe the Westin (my friend and I stayed here the rest of the trip by using friequent flier points). The room, bathroom, and service was all fabulous.  The highlight was the breakfast buffet. It included every breakfast food possible, including champagne, and was served in a gorgeous atrium.  On weekends, a piano player and opera singer serenade everyone.  Bon Jovi was also staying at the hotel while we were there.  Groupies camped out 24/7 to catch a glimpse of the band.