With mobile technology revolutionising the way we shop, here are some tips on how to grab the best fashion items from reliable online sources.
In five minutes on her iPhone, my 20-year-old daughter says she browses enough trendy products to fill a department store. In one hour I learn more about shopping online from her than I would have in a year had I tried to do it myself.
Armed with their iPhones and laptops, Fran and her friends are a revolutionary force. No longer do they cruise shopping malls looking for the perfect dress or jeans. Their laptops and iPhone apps do the walking for them. They'll also browse on Facebook.
Having found what they want, the girls only go to the store to buy the selected item. "Online variety is bigger. You're sitting on your phone but you see as much as a whole department store in five minutes," Fran tells me."It's made me more aware of different brands, and made me more choosy. I don't have to settle for anything I don't really want."
Westfield has its own iPhone app which allows users to access store directories, locate a store on a shopping centre map, shop online and receive regular updates on special offers. There's five malls included in the app with more on the way.
The strong Australian dollar makes online shopping on overseas sites a bargain bonanza. Fran and her 20-something friends don't pay GST on what they buy online overseas because every item is priced under $1000.
Australia's National Retail Association has warned this tax exemption will result in job losses, payroll tax revenue reductions and business failures. It says retail job numbers have declined since November 2007. Local retailers don't profit from GST sales, but merely pass the revenue on to the government.
Such predictions of doom don't even register with the online fashionistas' radar. Fran will buy from northern hemisphere online stores because she says when their summer stock goes on sale, it's perfect timing for us because we're just moving into summer.
Fashion trends for 2011 that she and her friends like are soft unstructured tailoring, neutral suits all one colour, multi-length hemlines, sarong pants and geisha wedges. They also like hot pastels in street fashion and black tape detailing. Fran will buy from Britain's Top Shop or the European brand Zara because "their sizing is spot on and they have a reliable returns policy".
Many people prefer to shop for shoes the old-fashioned way - it's one item that is hard to buy without trying it on for comfort, but Fran says she'll shop online for shoes if it's a brand she already knows fits her feet well. "Once you've bought a couple of items and they are a success, you have more confidence and you'll buy more."
For the latest footwear, she looks at Stylebop, located in Germany, which has 6.5 million visitors annually. Fran also likes the fashism.com iPhone app, the ultimate public advice forum. If you're brave enough you can post a picture of yourself wearing new clothes or makeup, or your hair done in a new style and then ask people to vote and comment on whether they like it or not.Be prepared for withering criticism.
Fran will regularly check the British site Trendstop which specialises in forecasting fashion, modern art, graphic design, colours, new fabrics, street style and accessories."We don't need fashion shows to learn what's coming up because Trendstop is years ahead of the catwalk," Fran says.
Trendstop boss Jaana Jatyri, 36, predicts it will be the norm to have our credit card details, colour preferences and clothing and footwear sizes stored on our phones. "As we browse (online) ... we'll be able to scan the tags of items we wish to buy," Jaytri recently told Wallpaper Magazine. "These items will then be charged directly to our mobile devices and packaged, ready to be collected at the exit."
Even Tiffany's in Australia has its own app, so you can unromantically browse on your handset for a selection of 44 different engagement rings including one priced at $66,000. For recycled items the online army shops at The Wardrobe Store in Sydney, which has a physical location as well as online presence.
The Wardrobe Store sells vintage couture, almost new Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo shoes, Chanel and Dior bags, and much more. It will also send "butlers" to your home to help you sort out what to sell - as long as the item was originally over $300 when bought new.
Other preferred websites for the younger generation include covetish.com, which at any one time will have thousands of items from labels such as Alex Perry, Zimmerman, Bec and Bridge and Cooper St.
"This is the mother of all fashion websites. There's so much it's overwhelming and it takes time to find something you want," Fran says."Revolveclothing.com also has a gazillion designers, similar to Covetish. I would rather go to the website of a brand that I like. It's faster to narrow a choice down that way."
The downside to this plethora of choice is endless temptation to buy too much and the possibility you might not get what you pay for.
My online shopping revolutionary bought me a Louis Vuitton bag on eBay for $400, which I had "un-authenticated" at LV's Elizabeth St store in Sydney. I felt embarrassed, knowing I had carried an imposter into the store, and an assistant manager said unfortunately it happens all the time.
Fran bought a dress for $160 which never arrived. A request for a refund was ignored. She threatened to complain to the Department of Fair Trading. Weeks later, after many excuses, Fran got her refund. "It put me off that website and I shop now only with widely-known reliable sites," she says.
When I comment on how much she buys, she smiles. "I know," she says brightly. "It's a passion." But she's fast running out of wardrobe space.
FRAN'S ONLINE FASHION SHOPPING CHEAT SHEET
* Buy from chain or department stores such as Britain's Top Shop or the multi-national Zara, because they are more likely to ship overseas and have good returns policies.
* The American site Shopstyle has an app which includes clothes, shoes, accessories for men, women, children, and home and living items. It alerts you when things go on sale, which are called push notifications. Products are from the US, UK, France Japan and The Netherlands.
* The global internet retail phenomenon Net-a-porter.com has its own iPhone app for luxury labels such as Valentino, Gucci, Burberry and Chloe.
* The Australian fashion blog Breakfast with Audrey - copying the style of Audrey Hepburn in the classic 1960s film Breakfast At Tiffany's - has the latest news on sales, fashion and celebrity trends.
* Stylebop was started in 2007 by ex-Yahoo engineers Pasha Sadri, Jianing Hu and GuanGwei Yuan. Based in Germany, items are priced in euros. Cool stuff for those who have deep pockets and looking for the newest A to Z designer gear from top to toe.