How to Ace an Online Shop

With State of Shop's Keely Sonntag and Cathy Riddett

IMG_6087_CK-copySTATE OF SHOP is an online hub designed to sort the crap from the crème in the fashion abyss at our fingertips and in compiling their selection of the Top 100 Online Clothes Stores, co-founders Keely Sonntag and Cathy Riddett went on quite the spree.


“There were 600 stores on our initial list,” laughs Keely. “We ended up shopping at close to 200 stores and did lots of returns to check service processes – it was a long, enduring process!” What the girls realised is that, generally, our favourites are our favourites for a reason. “What the bigger stores have on their side is customer service,” says Keely, adding that where many shops fall short is on returns. “Straight off the bat, the first thing I look for when I find a new online store is a refund policy that I’m okay with.”

So, how does one run a successful shop online? Here are 10 criteria Keely says are crucial for success.


A Good range of high-quality, reputable, unique or affordable fashion.

We weren’t pretending to be fashionistas in any sense, you know? We’re not stylists. So we wanted to have a really broad range of styles and clothing for all types of different women. We also didn’t want to include stores that had cheap or poor-quality clothes.


Photos on real models, multiple images or video options for each product.

I think one of the biggest roadblocks for people buying clothes online is that they’re really unsure about fit. One of my favourite Australian stores to shop online is Seed Heritage. As yet, they don’t display their items on models, which was a bit of a bugbear for Cathy. I think they have great customer service and great clothes, but she won’t shop there.


Detailed product information on sizing, price, materials and fit.

I will always look to see what the item is made of – does it need to be dry-cleaned or is it hand-washable? Especially with international stores, a sizing or fit guide to do the conversion for you is really helpful. As for price, it’s not a deal-breaker, but I love stores that actually know where you’re shopping. Free People do that really well – you can see that you’re shopping in Australian dollars, not US.


Free or reasonable delivery charges to Australia.

Some of the bigger stores – Barneys and Bloomingdale’s and the big department stores in America – wanted to charge US$60 to send a shirt over to Australia. One time Cathy ordered a dress from the States and it was cheaper than the postage, which was a little bit obscene, so they didn’t make the grade.


Delivery within two weeks (from every corner of the globe).

The reason we spread it out to two weeks was because we wanted to include international stores. Some stores didn’t make the grade because they said it would take four to six weeks delivery, and that’s definitely not on.


Easy navigation.

If it was hard for us to find the checkout or the checkout process took too long, too many clicks or had too many confusing ways to get through then we wouldn’t include it. Some stores have a one-page checkout process – that made a big difference for us.


Returns and refunds offered with reasonable terms.

A lot of stores dropped off our list straight away because they might offer returns for an exchange or a credit note, but didn’t offer a change of mind refund. If you know that a store guarantees a refund, you know you’ll get your money back if you’re not satisfied.


Easy-to-locate terms and conditions.

If they’re a bit difficult to find, that’s a red flag. It says ‘these guys aren’t that transparent.’ Once they sell you the item they don’t really care if you want to return it or not, and people aren’t going to be helpful about returning it.


Customer service and contact details available, or easy instructions for getting assistance.

Again, bigger stores will obviously have contact details and sometimes 24-hour chat. But one of the things that knocked off a lot of stores in our initial review of the 600 was their not having an address or a phone number.


External Validation.

It was really important for us that we only included stores on our list that we had shopped at, and we could say, ‘yes we’ve shopped there, yes they are trustworthy and yes, you’ll have a great experience with them.’ We know people love recommendations from friends so whether it’s shopper testimonials, reviews or awards, make sure others are raving about you.

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