L.L. Bean, Zappos, and Lands' End Standouts in Consumer Reports' Online Clothing Shopping Survey

L.L. Bean, Zappos, and Lands' End were among the top rated e-tailers in Consumer Reports' survey of more than 25,000 subscribers of their online clothes shopping experiences at 39 online stores.
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YONKERS, N.Y.-- L.L. Bean, Zappos, and Lands' End were among the top rated e-tailers in Consumer Reports' survey of more than 25,000 subscribers of their online clothes shopping experiences at 39 online stores.

Those retailers, which scored 92, 91, and 89 respectively, tended to provide superior clothing quality, more accurate descriptions and sizing information, an informative Web site, and an easy way to order and return items. Other retailers that did well for value, quality, fit, and selection included Duluth Trading, and Cabela's.

Ratings reflect subscriber experiences with up to two clothing purchases from January 2007 to June 2008. A score of 100 would mean all respondents were fully satisfied, 80 means very satisfied, on average; 60, fairly well satisfied. Differences of less than 5 points aren't meaningful.

The survey revealed that 85 percent of respondents were very or completely satisfied with their online clothes-shopping experiences.

That's a higher satisfaction score than for most other services CR has recently measured. Only 3 percent of respondents expressed any dissatisfaction. People over age 40 were generally more satisfied than younger respondents. Shoppers encountered relatively few problems, and most of those were resolved quickly.

None of the 39 online clothing stores rated by Consumer Reports fared poorly, but readers gave worse marks in areas including quality, Web site, ordering, and fit for Chadwick's (75), Haband (72), and Newport News (71).

Most people still buy clothes in actual stores, but the tide might be turning. Last year, Americans ordered more apparel, accessories, and shoes online -- almost $23 billion worth -- than any other category of merchandise.

"Consumers will save gas and avoid crowds by shopping online," said Tod Marks, senior project editor, Consumer Reports. "They shouldn't be nervous about the outcome since CR's ratings include a wide range of stores with high marks across the board."

The full online clothing store ratings are featured in the December issue of Consumer Reports, on sale November 4 and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

Here's what else CR learned about online clothing shopping:

A Big Name is No Guarantee. At Old Navy, readers called the quality of clothing "Excellent" for only 32 percent of purchases; at Sears, just 29 percent. Victoria's Secret, the Gap, JCPenney, and Kohl's fared about the same.

Clothes fit, usually. Overall, clothes proved too big or too small just 7 percent of the time. There were more problems with size accuracy at Sears, Woman Within, Chadwick's, Haband, and Newport News.

There were many happy returns. Respondents sought a refund or exchange for one in four purchases. They were unhappy with the result only 3 percent of the time, though 15 percent said the cost of returning items was high. One site stood out as excellent: Zappos, which focuses on shoes and offers free delivery and free return shipping.

5 Tips for Shopping Online

Sign up for bargains. If you sign up for e-mail alerts from your favorite e-tailers, you'll hear about exclusive online specials.

Consider a company credit card. CR is not encouraging shoppers to take on debt, but if you're a frequent shopper at one store, a dedicated charge card often provides perks. A no-annual-fee L.L. Bean card, for example, entitles users to free shipping and returns, free monogramming, and the ability to earn coupons.

Buy what you know. Respondents who had previously bought the same item were more apt to be completely satisfied than first time buyers (52 percent compared with 44 percent.)

Look for generous return policies. Lands' End for example, touts this guarantee: "If you're not satisfied with any item, simply return it to us at any time for an exchange or refund of its purchase price. Whatever. Whenever. Always."

See whether you can return locally. Some online companies make you ship returns, even if they operate walk-in stores, but others let you drop off merchandise at any store.

(C) Consumers Union 2008. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports(R) is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants. http://www.consumerreports.org/