With the holiday season upon, I wanted to share tips on becoming a better consumer. Being a better consumer prevents stress and unwanted items and saves you time in the long run.
My sister and I shop differently. I rarely have returns to make on my purchases. On the other hand, my sister makes returns on her purchases often, and when I ask her questions, such as did you read the description, I usually get a “no” from her. She spends much of her days off going to stores, drop-off locations, or the post office to make her returns. To me, that is not time well spent. A few minutes beforehand could have eliminated the extra work she was doing. This is surprising since our mother would often say to the two of us, “Don’t do something half-ass because you will just have to redo it again, and it’s a waste of time.”
So here are my tips that should make your holiday shopping and all of your online shopping successful.
1. Look at ALL of the pictures, not just the main one.
The main photo is usually enhanced so the consumer can see the details. The first photo is what the item would look like under the brightest light, with shadows and reflections removed. You may wonder why a company would create a picture like this; isn’t it deceiving?
Well, the reason why photos like this are used is to keep you on the website. You see, we all have been conditioned to enhancements. Television, film, and all of our media have been enhanced since the beginning of these mediums. We expect things to look perfect when we see them on media platforms.
Earlier this year, I had the not-so-bright idea of photographing all my products in my yard. Since my items are shiny, they reflect the leaves of the trees as well as my image. My photos looked like the item would look in a darker home or shaded area. Do you know what happened? My conversion rate suffered. A conversion rate is how many sales are made per 100 visitors. Most sites are between 1-2%. Anything above 2% is ideal. Anything below 1% means the company is bleeding money and most likely won’t survive. The lower the conversion rate, the higher the cost of advertising. So, the realistic photos tanked my conversion rate and increased my costs. We are used to seeing things in a pristine state, even if we are unaware of it.
This is why we should look at all the photos, including the ones in reviews (which are not taken with studio lighting.) Also, when something arrives, if you want to see how it looks in the photo, take a strong flashlight and aim it 6 inches from the item. You will see then that the lighting makes a huge difference in appearance.
2. Measure twice.
About a decade ago, there was a viral post on social media where a person bought a dining room set, and when it was delivered, it was dollhouse furniture. She did not read the measurements. The author even joked about how she should have read the description instead of looking at the photograph. Though funny, things like this happen often.
The two complaints I get most often are that the item is bigger or smaller than the person expected, even though I have measurements listed on all of my items. Measures are critical, and the cool thing about them is that it is not about perspective. For instance, if there is a model who is 5’11” and 120 pounds, a clothing item would look completely different on that person than someone who is 5’4” and 200 pounds. The perspective is completely off when you compare the two. This is why measurement is so important.
When you see a measurement listed, get your ruler, tape measurer, or whatever measurement device you own. If you don’t have a measurement device, use something standard, such as a piece of notebook paper to draw a comparison or a coin (whose measurements are listed online.) First, figure out the size and how the item would appear. This is the first measurement you should do… but there is a second one you should also do.
And that measurement is how it would look in the space that the item will reside. If it is on your body, then measure yourself. If the thing is furniture, measure the area where the item will go. It is essential to do both measurements to ensure it will work for you. Keep in mind that when you are in a store, you usually try the item on, which is a way of measurement. But if you are shopping at home, think of taking measurements as your way of trying things on yourself.
Measuring the item and the location where the thing will reside will give you the dimensions you need to ensure that the item you are thinking about will work for your intention.
3. Read the description thoroughly.
With online shopping, retailers have to think about real estate. What does that mean? Unlike a physical store, an online retailer knows that most people don’t scroll down to read everything. We are lucky if anyone scrolls at all. To help combat the lack of scrolling, retailers will use tabs or drop-downs so that all of the information is accessible on your screen. Our product page is our real estate, and we know that we must have most information in the first few inches of the screen.
When you are in a physical store, you are touching the item, flipping it over, and inspecting it before you put your merchandise into your cart. You need to do the same thing when you shop online, just differently. Read what is in the tabs and drop-downs. Scroll through the photos. If there are videos, watch them. Inspect the materials, the care guides, the policies, and other information the website provides.
There may be occasions when you have a question that is not answered on the product page. Most sites have a chat feature or a way to contact customer service. Like flagging down an employee at a physical store, these are ways to communicate with the company. Also, most companies have automated answers for the most popular questions or a FAQ (frequently asked questions) in their footer located at the bottom of the website. For my store, the most common questions have to do with shipping which is addressed in these areas, on the product page, on our top banner, during checkout, and in the confirmation email.
Most companies would rather have you ask questions because we want you to be happy with your purchase. Returns are a considerable cost to a company for various reasons, and product returns impact the environment. And we know that our customers are happiest when they have the information they need to decide and that the item they purchased met or exceeded their expectations.
4. Don’t wishful think it will work when you already know the answer.
I love my sister, and she is a fantastic person. She’s kind, hardworking, and cares deeply about others. However, she is also impulsive, and sometimes she does wishful shopping. And I know I have been guilty of doing wishful shopping as well.
What is wishful shopping? That is when you make a purchase that you already know won’t work for you. For instance, you see a pair of jeans on sale that you want. You read the description, and you read the reviews. You are an actual size 16, but they are out of stock of your size. The reviews state that they run true to size or are running slim. You are curvy. Even though everything indicates that the size 14 will be too small, you order it anyway. You get the jeans and can’t pull them past your thighs. This is what is called wishful shopping. It is when you ignore all of the given information because you allow your want to override the information provided.
Now you have a pair of jeans that don’t work for you. The company asks for a review. You give the jeans 1 star, saying that they are too small. You don’t disclose that your usual size is a 16. You are unhappy with the company.
Wishful shopping doesn’t benefit anyone. It wastes your time. It costs money. It also can mislead other consumers in making their purchases. There is an environmental impact. No one is happy. However, we all succumb to this once in a while.
(By the way, the above scenario is based on something I did last year, except I didn’t give a 1-star review. I did buy a pair of jeans on the final sale that I could not return in a size smaller than what I knew would fit because I didn’t want to miss out on the deal. Luckily, there is a Buy/Sell/Trade group on Facebook for that brand, and I found someone who had bought the jeans in a larger size and needed the size I had. We made a trade. But this isn’t the usual resolution for most wishful shopping experiences.)
5. Discern the reviews.
Reviews can be a good thing. They can also lead you astray. Some people write great reviews, stating why they like a product, with details on what works or doesn’t. Some reviews are stories on why the person made the purchase, such as that the item reminded them of a person or a time in their life. The review is sentimental. Other reviews are emotional and may be due to delight, or the person did not do due diligence before purchasing. This is why it is essential to read and discern the review.
So, how does one discern a review? I went to my favorite website for jeans, Universal Standard, and I looked up a style that I knew would have some controversy. The jeans are a drawstring style that works best for a particular body type. Here is a 5-star review I copied from the site:
“The BEST jeans ever!!!!!!
Here is what you need to know about these jeans:
1. They are going to fit you. They made it foolproof. There is a button. There is a zipper. Just like all jeans, right? But there is an elastic waistband in the back. And there is a drawstring that goes all the way around. These pants won’t slide down, and they’re not going to constrict you.
2. They have pockets that actually work! I know what you’re thinking…it can’t be true because they are women’s pants. It’s true! The pockets in front work, and they are deep, so nothing is going to fall out when you sit down. And the pack pockets are trouser pockets, so you don’t see them. They’re not deep, but you can put your phone in there.
3. They are not skinny jeans. Yay! And they are not too baggy. They’re just right.
4. They are cute! And soooooooo flattering!
I love these jeans. I have hips and a small waist, so I have a difficult time finding jeans that fit my hips and aren’t gaping at the waist. This is the solution. I’m so happy with these jeans!”
There is much information in this review that may be helpful. However, there is plenty of emotion in this review. Though this review is long, there are only a few things that should be considered before making the purchase, and the main thing is the person’s description of themselves. She states, “I have hips and a small waist.” There is a likelihood that if you have a larger waist and smaller legs, you will not think that these are the best jeans ever. These jeans will not be “foolproof” if your body type is the opposite of the reviewer’s.
Same jeans; here is another review. This one was 1-star:
“Not for me
The last pair of jeans I got from Universal Standard were amazing, but these literally felt like a paper bag.”
Obviously, this person has a different body type than the first person, yet she does not mention her body type and why the jeans fit like a paper bag on her. It is why reading the description and taking measurements are so important. The jeans nor the company are the issues. These jeans will be the best jeans for some people and will be a nightmare for others. The company did its due diligence by providing information.
Reviews can be helpful; I am not saying you don’t read them. But they can be filled with information that is not needed, as in the first review, or missing critical information, as in the second review. It is best to read the details from the company, then read the reviews and then go back and fact-check the reviews with the information provided by the company. This will help you to make an informed decision and one that will result in your satisfaction with your purchase.
Hopefully, these tips will help you shop online confidently and receive items that bring you joy instead of frustration. Shopping online can be a great experience as long as you know that you will have to substitute different skills than what is used at a physical store.
About the author: Theresa Touhey owns Nature Reflections, an online jewelry store specializing in handcrafted Angel Callers and Harmony Ball Jewelry. She is also an artist, a writer, a grandmother, a caregiver to a rescued Havanese dog, and a nature lover. She has practiced various forms of meditation and yoga for over 30 years.