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A few years ago, if you were looking to purchase a new pair of shoes, you went off to a local department or shoe store. Once you were there, you looked around, tried a few pairs on and took your purchase home that day. Now more and more people are deciding not to go into town and are buying their shoes online instead.

This is partly because people have become busier and have less time to travel and browse. But mostly, it's because we now have access to brands, designers, styles and sizes that are not available to purchase in our local shoe stores. If you feel the need for a men's size 16, extra-narrow (or wide) red loafer with a 3-inch elevator heel, chances are you'll find it at one of the many online shoe stores.

However, not all online shoe stores are the same. While some will offer a great shopping experience while saving you time and money, others can lead to weeks of hassle. We have put together some advice and things to look out for when buying shoes online.

Know Your Foot Measurements Before You Shop

You can't try before you buy when shopping online for shoes, so you need to know in advance what size to get. Furthermore, shoemakers have different dimensions for their footwear. Measure each foot from top to bottom at the longest point, then measure the width at the widest point. A good online shoe store should provide a sizing chart for you to see what shoe size matches these measurements.

Shipping and Handling Charges: The Added Cost When Buying Shoes Online

Always find out what the shipping and handling (S&H) charges are before spending lots of time adding items to your online cart or shopping bag. You may think you're getting a bargain on all those shoes, but if the P&P cost is too high, you may end up paying more than anticipated. Especially when ordering from a country other than the one you live in. Lots of online shoe shops offer free P&P, which is great! But do some price comparisons before you purchase. Sometimes, you'll get a better deal at an online shoe shop that charges a reasonable price for P&P, and still save money.

Returns/Exchanges - Know the Policies in Advance

Another major factor in buying shoes online is being able to return or exchange them if there's a problem with them, they don't fit or just look and feel the way you thought they would. Most online shoe stores will have a returns policy, but do not take it for granted. Make sure before putting in those card details that you'll be able to return the unused shoes in a reasonable amount of for any reason. You'll also need to save the receipts and shipping information that come with the shoes, as these are nearly always required for returns.

If you're taking a chance on a heavily discounted pair of shoes, then you might decide to buy them without a return policy. But you still need to know what your rights for that sale are before buying. Also, find out in advance if you'll have to pay the return shipping fees if you do decide to send the shoes back.

Want Your Shoes Quick? Check Delivery Times

If it's an absolute must that you have a certain pair of shoes a certain date, I strongly advise buying them in person at an actual brick-and-mortar shoe store. Should you decide that ordering online is still a better option, order them well in advance, and make sure there are other options available if your shoes don't arrive in time.

Again, find out the delivery policy of the online shoe shop you're buying from, and make sure the shoes you're buying are actually in stock! If they are back-ordered, this could add weeks of waiting until you finally get them.

A Store's Reputation is Everything

Only shop at online shoe stores that have a verifiably good reputation. Otherwise, it's a toss-up whether your order will even arrive at all. If a store has a good score from the Better Business Bureau, Shopper Approved, Trust Pilot or other business rating service, they will often post in on their web page. You can also read customer reviews of the company to see what experiences other people have had with them.