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Style lies in the e-tails: Cashless times call for digital retail therapy

But how do you shop online without getting addicted? Here’s help...

brunch Updated: Nov 19, 2016 20:27 IST
Rachel Lopez
retail therapy,online stores,deals
On the male model: Jeans from; shirt, tie, cardigan and shoes from On the female model: Jeans, shoes, jumper from; necklace: Thrifted from Khan market

Cashless times call for digital retail therapy. But how do you shop online without getting addicted? Here’s help...

As our banknotes turned worthless overnight last week, more and more of us are now taking the e-tail route for our fashion fix. Online stores are reporting sharp spikes in revenue, and many new customers are discovering that virtual shopping is convenient and fun.

Ad executive Karan Shrikent knows that it can be dangerously addictive too. “I’ve shopped online on my phone when I’ve been out with friends, on a drive, in the bathroom, and on holiday,” he admits. He’s blown up `16,000 in one go on clothes and shoes because he “couldn’t stop adding items” to his cart. A few months ago, he ended up spending another `10,000 online. “I felt so guilty about it that every time the delivery man reached my office, I’d lie and say I wasn’t in, in the hope that the site would eventually cancel my order.”

Shrikent, like many, falls for discounts and deals. When one site began its sale last year, he stayed up in bed to shop the moment the discounts went live at midnight. “I logged on at 12.02,” he recalls. “The app had so much traffic that my waiting time was 30 minutes. It made me feel terrible. I could see all these deals with wings on them, flying away from me.”

That’s where the problems start. A 2015 study by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience suggests that 4.7 per cent women and 3.5 per cent men admit to being addicted to online shopping. As you go from cash to cards, will your cart have riches or regrets? Here’s help in a fast-refreshing world:

Flirty in pink: Dress, shoes from (Photo by Rawky Ksh )

Starting point

Vanessa Patrick, a marketing professor and researcher at the University of Houston, finds that online shopping is driven by the same interplay of impulse and self-control as the real world. Only, it’s far more pervasive. “In a regular store, a typical impulse buy is something small like gum or chips when you are at the cash counter,” she says. “Online, you’re a click away from just about every product in the world. Everything is up for thoughtless purchase.”

Bhavya Chawla, chief stylist at, says the 24/7 nature of e-shopping means “you’re far more likely to browse when you’re distracted or tired, and it’s much easier to buy what you didn’t intend to”. So how to fight the urge? Patrick suggests setting boundaries – how much time and money you are comfortable spending – before you begin. Then, make a mental note of what you’re visiting a site for, a specific need, rather than letting yourself be swayed by what looks good.

Cut through the clutter and temptation further by using search filters, says Chawla. Look specifically for what you want, a little black dress, evening shirt, animal print, sheer saris or types of sleeve and cut.

Online, you can’t touch, feel or try. All you have are pictures, so make them count. “Zoom-in on zips, pockets and fabric,” says Gurpreet Singh, whose company Browntape Technologies helps sellers showcase their goods on sites like Amazon and Flipkart. “Good brands will ensure their items will be well-styled and shot, so you’re not confused.”

A dream check: Jeans from; shoes from; jumper and shirt from (Photo by Rawky Ksh )

Sifting smart

“Indian men use the most filters,” says Singh. Women, on the other hand, prefer to see all their options. Singh was recently wondering why one particular blouse, manufactured by a seller in Jaipur, was selling well even though it never ranked high on the top of any list of filters. “We tried ‘top’, ‘printed top’, ‘Jaipur top’, even the brand name, but it remained buried on page 10 and still sold well,” he recalls. “I asked women how long they scrolled before they got fed up. They said they browse to infinity. Women take four-five metro rides of scrolling before buying a `500 top!”

So if you’re not strapped for time, it makes sense to spread out your browsing over several hours or even days before you pick what you like and have time to rethink your decision before you buy.

On the woman: dress, clutch from; and heels from On the man: Jeans, jacket, t-shirt and shoes from (Photo by Rawky Ksh )

Size it right

You’re likely a Small in one brand, a Medium in another, a 10 on one label and a 19 in another. International brands also have different cuts for petites, plus sizes and tall frames. The only way to get an unseen garment to fit is to know your own measurements: chest, shoulders, waist, hips, legs, and use them against the site’s size chart.

“Asian brands run shorter, to fit a woman who is 5’4”. Their XL is usually the Indian size M,” says Chawla. Be wary of labels like “standard size” or “free size”. “Even if you’re buying material for a kurta, the site should specify a size range.”

For women’s wear, most international brands follow the “misses” sizing – they’re even-numbered like 6, 8, 10 and they have more room on the bust and hips. “Juniors” sizing, on the other hand, comes in odd numbers and suit boyish frames best. Keep a three-inch buffer between your measurements and a garment’s.

E-tail heads promise that sizing will be easier in the future. Expect the size guides of popular brands like Mango as a reference point for conversions.

Manish Chopra, the creative head of, agrees that standard sizing is a problem. “How can seven billion humans fit into 12 sizes?” he asks. “No body is perfect,” points out Chawla. “Men with an inverted-triangle frame (wide chest, slim hip) won’t look good in styles to flatter a rounder body,” she says.

A good way to win the online size-guide guessing game? Take the advice of shopping addict Shrikent: “Try in-store, buy online. I’ve spent an hour at the mall trying out things from different brands to know how their sizes fit me, so I could buy them online later.”

Ethnic chic: Top from; jeans from and stilettos from (Photo by Rawky Ksh )

Final decisions

Found something you like? Let the research begin! Zoom in to all the photos again – what if the armholes are too tiny, the pleats unflattering or the waistline oddly high? Read every detail. “Check the kind of collar, sleeve, fabric, lining, front pocket, print,” says Singh. If the site mentions the model’s measurements, use that as a guide. Caucasians are typically taller, what falls mid-thigh on them may demurely skim your knee.

“If you like something, put it on hold, perhaps in a site’s wishlist, and come back to it later to check if it still seems desirable,” says Patrick. “Delayed gratification techniques are a good way to deal with impulses.” Singh recommends comparison shopping – not just for price but for information: “Another site may stock the same garment at a higher price, but take a look at it. It may have more photos and details about the product, so you can get more information”.

Green envy: Jeans, shoes from; and shirt from (Photo by Rawky Ksh )

Many happy returns

Most big marketplaces let you return unused items for free and refund you in store credit. Many will also refund to your bank account, taking the sting out of buyer’s remorse. At India’s top sites, about 20 per cent of the transactions are returns – one in five items comes back. In Europe, customers buy 4-5 items together, with the intention of returns. In India it’s only 1 or 2. So don’t feel bad about returning what didn’t fit, didn’t fit right or didn’t fit the description.

All experts recommend buying your chosen item in more than one size, and returning the one that doesn’t fit, to buffer against sizing as well as stock. You can also use your own purchase history as your guide. The sites you’ve used will record your previous buys – they’re a good indication of the sizes or styles you have liked and the ones you tend to return.

If, like Shrikent, you give in to unnecessary (but un-missable) online deals, here’s help. Patrick’s studies with goal-directed behaviour indicate that small pleasures, a blip of joy as minuscule as a cup of tea or a funny GIF at a weak moment, can steel you against impulses. It’s better than hiding from the delivery man.

Stylist: Mia; Hair and make up: Sitara Singh

Art Direction: Amit Malik & Satarupa Paul; Models: Sitara Singh, Raghu Katal

From HT Brunch, November 20, 2016

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First Published: Nov 19, 2016 20:08 IST