Cents & sensibility: Online shopping

Shopping for clothes is a necessity and a pleasure but savvy internet purchases will fill your wardrobe for much less

Katie Byrne

When it comes to clothes shopping, online is a convenient option.

There's no need to navigate car parks, no lengthy queues for changing rooms and no rifling through rails -- just a few neat clicks and a couple of days later your purchase is delivered straight to your door.

Saving time isn't the only boon of online shopping, though. Shoppers are saving money, too. A recent survey by Visa revealed that half of Irish shoppers believe that they save up to 30pc by shopping online in comparison to the high street. And guess what? They're right.

The attractive sterling conversion rate, coupled with online incentives, makes the web the most affordable place to buy fashion right now. The savvier the shopper; the better the savings. Here are our tips for finding the best online deals.

(Prices and conversion rates are correct at time of going to print.)

Rule 1: Always compare high street and online prices

Many British high street retailers have been slow to change over to the current sterling/euro conversion rate, which means their online stores offer better value. Likewise, during sales, some items are further discounted online. We visited Dundrum Town Centre to compare high street and online prices.

The conversion rate varied widely, with some stores selling at hugely inflated prices in comparison to their websites. In French Connection, the best-selling 'Wendy' ruffle dress (Heidi Range of the Sugababes is said to be a fan) has been reduced to €135. It costs £92 (about €110) on the brand's online store. The 'Fruitful' maxi dress has been reduced to €100 in the shop, but is selling for £45 (about €54) on the site.

Of the new A/W range, the 'Rushes & Reeds' ruffle dress (pictured above right) costs £190 (about €227) on the site and €275 in the store.

In Office, the aqua-coloured 'Amy' frill flats have been reduced to €37. The same pair costs £18 (about €21.50) on the Office online store. Of the new range, the 'Between Your Teeth' zip-front, peep-toes (pictured below left) cost €120 in store and £80 (about €95) online.

At La Senza, the 'China Blues' matching shorts and vest sleep set costs £18 (€21.50) online and €25 in the store, while the Ultimate Uplift Bra costs £22 (about €26) online and €30 in the shop.

Over at Harvey Nichols, the cult Toy Watch costs €175. We sourced the same watch priced at £125 (about €150), at www.endclothing.co.uk.

Rule 2: Source discount codes

In a bid to incentivise online shoppers, most e-tailers release promotional codes. The codes, which are entered at the virtual check-out, offer everything from percentage discounts to free delivery. Always search for a discount code before you buy anything online. Simply enter the name of the store and the words 'discount code' into a search engine.

We found a promotional code offering a staggering 25pc off at the American Apparel online store at website www.retailmenot.com. Other brands provide shoppers with promotional codes when they sign up to the website. Sign up to the American Apparel newsletter to receive a 10pc discount code for their online store. (Other promotional code websites include www.myvouchercodes.ie and www.promotionalcodes.ie.)

Rule 3: Stay in the loop

Many Irish websites and bloggers keep Irish shoppers updated with news on sample sales and discounted websites. The Savvy Shopper (www.thesavvy shopper.ie) is currently running details of the upcoming D4 sample sale this weekend. Expect discounts of up to 75pc on labels such as Helen James, Tim Ryan, Mo Muse, Malene Birger, Tara Jarmon, Manoush, N&C Kilkenny, Heather Finn and Kate & Ava.

Further afield, Fashion Confidential (www.fashion confidential.co.uk), gives readers the inside scoop on sample sales in the UK. Enter your email address in the 'Sample Sale Diary' section and they'll keep you informed of insider-shopping events in London and beyond.

Rule 4: Use clearance websites

Customers don't have to travel to bricks and mortar designer outlet centres as there are plenty trading online.

ASOS (www.asos.com) has an outlet section which offers up to 70pc off brands such as Kenneth Jay Lane, Puma and Twenty8Twelve by Sienna Miller. Jeans by cult label, Superfine, are currently priced at £22/about €26 (RRP£145/about €174).

The Outnet (www.theoutnet.com) is the sister site to designer portal Net-a-Porter, one of Victoria Beckam's favourite fashion websites. The high-end fashion outlet offers discounts of up to 70pc as well as regular 'Pop Up' and 'Going, Going Gone' sales designed to get the heart all-a-flutter. Pick up Chloe sunglasses, originally priced at €416, for €125.

Figleaves, the largest online seller of branded intimate apparel, also has an outlet site at www.figleavesclearance.co.uk where you will find the Elle Macpherson 'Virtuo' contour bra priced at £17.50/about €21 (RRP: £35/about €42).

Rule 5: Look for free delivery

Choose online stores which offer free delivery, or at least free delivery on orders over a certain amount. Karen Millen offers free deliveries on all orders to the Republic of Ireland. Amazon offers free delivery on orders over £25 (about €30) and American Apparel offers free delivery on orders over €100.

Footwear store, Schuh, will deliver to any branch of Schuh in the Republic of Ireland free of charge.