Consumer

Cheapism: Best shoe sites for budget shoppers

July 22, 2014 at 1:29 PM ET

When you shop for shoes online, choose your vendor, and your shoes, wisely.
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When you shop for shoes online, choose your vendor, and your shoes, wisely.

Why is it that we love shoes so much? There’s something about a pair of shoes that lifts our spirits (and sometimes our height) when we need it most. If the shoe fits, it always fits, regardless how much weight we gain or lose. And so, when overcome with shoe lust, we turn to our favorite online shoe emporia that offer solace without breaking the bank. Cheapism.com ranks the best sites below.

But choose both vendor and shoes wisely. “If you spend $30 or less,” warns inveterate online shoe shopper Zaire Daley of Los Angeles, “they will definitely fall apart within a year.” If you’re purposefully buying something trendy, however, the shoes’ lifespan is probably irrelevant.

Some budget ecommerce shoe stores sell off-brands you’ve never heard of while other online vendors, such as 6PM, DSW, Zappos, Gotham City Online and Overstock.com sell brand-name shoes at discounted prices. The discounts vary widely, and memberships that yield extra savings are sometimes available. Shipping charges also vary and may wipe out any money saved on the cheap shoes.

Each online shoe retailer offers different perks, but two should rank high up on your list of priorities. First, shoes don’t always fit, so a good refund and exchange policy is important. Second, choose a site with a rewards program that includes additional discounts.

    1. Our top pick among shoe-oriented ecommerce sites is 6PM, which rounds out its lineup with clothing and accessories. This vendor generally posts the best prices, and while there are no exchanges, you can return unworn shoes within 30 days (at your expense) for a full refund. Standard ground shipping is free, two-day shipping costs $15, and $25 buys you delivery in one business day on orders placed before 1 p.m. PST. The rewards program is free to join and distributes points for every dollar spent, netting $10 off once you’ve accumulated 400 points.
    2. DSW sells only shoes and handbags, and ranks second on our list for its huge selection, loads of clearance items, and money-saving rewards. There are brick- and-mortar stores nationwide, but the online store is the shoe-hound’s best bet because it showcases the company’s entire stock. Online orders exceeding $35 always ship free and rewards members (free to sign up) qualify for free next-day shipping and access to $10-off certificates. Returns are easy: Send unworn shoes back within 60 days for a full refund (minus an $8.50 shipping charge) and exchanges are free.
    3. Zappos, an online-only shoe retailer that also carries clothing and housewares, made its name — and earned the No. 3 spot on our list — with easy, no-questions-asked returns and excellent customer service. Full refunds are paid out for returns made up to one year from the purchase date. But the customer-friendly service comes at a price: Discounts are rare and there is no rewards program unless you use the Zappos-branded Visa card ($25 back with first purchase).
    4. Gotham City Online sells trendy and upscale brand-name shoes at good prices, a business strategy that landed the site at No. 4 on our list. There’s a clearance section where shoes (usually from last season) sell for up to 80 percent off, but its fashion-forward sensibility leaves the athletic shoe department very sparse. This online shoe seller charges a $4.99 flat rate for shipping and returns made within 90 days ship free.
    5. Overstock.comsells shoes, and just about everything else. This ecommerce site placed last owing to a limited selection of shoes at prices that are competitive but not particularly cheap. The rewards program costs $19.95 annually and entitles you to 5 percent off every order, up to 40 percent off certain items, and free shipping on any order. For non-members, shipping is free on orders exceeding $50. Free refunds are sent for unworn shoes returned in original packaging within 30 days; a replacement pair is sent for defective shoes. 

            To see how these online vendors measure up in terms of selection and pricing, we shopped for a pair of basic women’s ballet flats, women’s athletic shoes, and men’s sneakers.

            First up was Steve Madden’s Heaven. We found these in many colors (including metallic), textures (patent, leopard, snake, glitter) and sizes at DSW, where they cost $39.95. 6PM also stocks a wide assortment of sizes and colors (but no snake or leopard) and charges four cents more. Overstock.com carries this particular style but the inventory is limited and the shoe sells for a comparatively whopping $58. Gotham City Online sells Steve Madden ballet flats but not the version we were seeking; an alternative, Kortship ballet flats with an elastic back, are available in several colors and sizes for $35.99. Zappos does not carry this shoe, either, although it does stock other Steve Madden flats at a significantly higher price point.

            Next we looked into the Nike Dual Fusion TR-2 for women. We struck out at Gotham City Online but hit a single at 6PM, which currently stocks it in red violet (two other colors sold out) and charges $52.99. Zappos sells these shoes for $59.99, a price that compares quite favorably to the $73.99 tag at Overstock.com and the $74.95 tag at DSW.  

            Men’s sneakers also run wild — price-wise, that is. Converse All-Stars are an all-time classic and the slip-on Chuck Taylors are ripe for summer. 6PM sells the shoe for $36.99, in natural only (two other colors sold out), while DSW offers a larger selection of colors for $44.95. At Zappos you’ll pay $55 for the same sneakers. Overstock.com doesn’t carry the slip-on style, but the basic lace-up low tops go for $52.99, which is hardly a deal because you can buy them from the manufacturer directly for just $50. Gotham City Online doesn’t sell Converse All-Stars but does carry look-alike Ed Hardy Dakota slip-ons for $24.99.

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