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Welcome to the Racked Awards, our annual celebration of the best in fashion, beauty, shopping, and health. Below, see our nominees for the Best Online Store.
Photos: Nasty Gal, Urban Outfitters, Need Supply Co.
There are two kinds of shoppers in this world: impulse and strategic. For those in the latter category—the hunters, if you will—shopping online is a godsend. Stalking prey (IDing those boots), analyzing methods of attack (checking Google Shopping, setting ShopStyle alerts, compulsively pinning together a hit list), and finally waiting for the perfect moment (the sweet spot of sale season and your size still being in stock)—IRL shopping just doesn't work the same.
Not all online shops are created equal though. In crowning a champion of e-commerce, we took into consideration three make-or-break points. First, product: What brands do they sell, how much variety is there, how often is stock updated, and what do product images look like? Second, navigation: How easy is it to move around the site, how are the filter options, and is the selection pleasant to sort through? And last but certainly not least, shipping and returns: What's the minimum for free shipping, how fast is it, and what's the process if you don't like what you found? Read on to see who made the cut.
UK-based ASOS ships—for free—to a whopping 237 countries. Their US site was launched in 2012, and since then has quickly risen to the top of the shopping heap. Their massive selection (65,000 items!) spans from inexpensive basics to cool designer duds, includes British high street brands you haven't heard of yet, and is topped off with a killer private label that hits all the trends at easily justifiable prices. Best of all, the filter options make it possible to actually sort through all of that stuff (shoes > pumps > mid-heel > blue > under $200, done). Another way they facilitate the sort is through thoughtful, easy-to-find edits: workwear, fall trends, Halloween.
The site also has short runway videos in addition to expandable product pictures, so you can get a real feel for how the clothes look and move. And when it does come time to purchase, it only takes $25 of merch to earn you free shipping, plus all orders come with prepaid return labels. If you shop often enough, upgrading to ASOS Premier costs only $29 in exchange for a year's worth of two-day shipping, making it like Amazon Prime but for pleated midi skirts and ankle boots.
Based in Canada, this is the not-so-secret site to order designer items and avoid paying tax (sorry, Uncle Sam). They stock a hearty selection of clothes and accessories for men and women, from A.P.C. to Y-3, that still remains crisp, minimal, and forward. The site's design mimics that ethos with little clutter, hyper-clear images, and not a serif in sight. All of that less-is-more attitude can be a little frustrating when filtering, though. There's no way to sort by color, for example, or to look at more than one category at once (say, mid-length and long skirts). Well-executed, interactive editorials offer another perspective to explore the site's goods.
Product pages are gorgeous, existing completely "above the fold," meaning all of the vital information (images, description, and that crucial add-to-bag button) is available without needing to scroll. And did we mention on-model product shots can be blown up to full screen for thorough inspection? Free shipping to the US comes at the cost of a $200 minimum, which isn't hard to reach given the site's average price point (do keep an eye out for their seasonal sales, which are fantastic). Returns are at your own cost, and anything returned from the States that isn't shipped with USPS "will incur brokerage fees."
Need Supply Co.
The robust e-comm arm of a beloved Richmond, Virginia shop, Need Supply does a perfectly modern interpretation of a casual-but-not-too-casual boutique. Their mix of brands keeps the price point varied—Cheap Monday and Converse mingle with Rag & Bone and Rachel Comey—and the vibe wearable and cool, never overly precious or sexy. Whether you're dropping $75 (their minimum for free shipping) or $750, you can't really take a wrong step style-wise, and they do lookbooks that are actually interesting in both concept and execution.
Drilling down to get want you want is a little less than intuitive here. Click "denim" and you're presented with four options: skinny, straight, white, and cropped. Further options allow you to sort by price ($0 to $100, $100 to $200, but not ascending or descending like most sites), color, and size. Product pages show the item from a few angles on-model, including a styled outfit shot and closeups on details, so you can get a good idea of what the leather is like on those boots or the wool on that coat. As noted earlier, standard shipping is free on orders above $75, but returns will cost you $7.95.
Urban Outfitters is constantly tweaking the design of its site, and it just keeps getting better. The homepage offers nice clickable visuals that rotate often, getting shoppers straight to sales, departments, and trend shops. Navigation by department and into subsections (women > sweaters + cardigans) is clean and simple, a feat for a site with such an enormous and varied selection (clothing, home goods, vinyl records!). Another huge plus: the search bar pulls up suggestions with product previews and links as you type, so you can get right to what you're looking for.
Once inside a category, it's easy to browse by subcategory, color, brand, or size, and alternative colors are shown next to each product on the main landing page. An active review community is a huge plus, with actual feedback, good and bad, from real shoppers. Best of all is certainly their shipping and return policy: It only takes $50 to earn free shipping, and returns are free with a prepaid label or you can return to one of their zillion brick and mortar stores.
Like Urban, we admire that Nasty Gal's navigation and filters make it so easy to browse through a seemingly endless amount of product. The merchandise mix is made up of culty trend brands like One Teaspoon and Jeffrey Campbell, an in-house label, unheralded third-party vendors, and vintage finds, with a huge portion of the stock ringing up for under $100.
Nasty Gal knows that its lifeblood is newness and shows off fresh finds with cute, shoppable lookbooks and a tab dedicated to what's just launched. Category pages have large images, so you can get a sense of the products without clicking into their individual pages. Filters let you refine by size, color, and price, while product pages flaunt large, clear images shot on-model, with all of the essential information living above the fold. "Get the look" suggestions have a sense of humor that's right on-brand: platform heels, a red lip stain, and reusable nipple petals are suggested alongside a bodycon dress. Free shipping comes when your cart totals $75, and returns are free in exchange for store credit, but getting your cash back will cost you $5.99.
In the end, we have to give it up for Net-a-Porter, who set the gold standard for online shopping ages ago. Gorgeous designer gowns, jackets, and bags float on a white background like little works of art to scroll through. Basic category navigation (jackets, jeans) is sprinkled with fun must-haves (currently: culottes, capes) and logical, of-the-moment shops based on trend and season. Inside subcategories, it's easy to sort through the goods with a filter that allows you to tick off multiple designers, colors, and sizes.
Product pages feature items shot both on model and off, as well as a video of the piece in motion, and a runway shot if applicable (which, often, it is). Styling suggestions on product pages are always on-point, and they even have a lush e-mag to flip (well, click) through for further inspiration (how to wear a blanket coat? They've got ya). And to make the click-click-buy even easier, US orders are delivered within three business days for free, and returns are on the house too. Yes, Net-a-Porter is this year's Best Online Shop.