Depending on a few key factors, shoe shopping can be one of the most enjoyable retail experiences out there. You don’t have to take your clothes on and off a million times in harsh dressing room light. Also, unlike clothing, there’s usually not a ton of discrepancy when it comes to shoe sizing. And beyond all of that, shoes are just a fun accessory—an opportunity to try something a little bolder or add a pop of color to an outfit. Still, shoe shopping can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. The retailers are endless, and when you add in online shopping, the list gets even longer. Still, there are tips and tricks for making the online shoe shopping process easier, says Regina Popp, Senior Director of Fashion and Trends at DSW. The bottom line, though, is that shoe shopping should be fun.
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Based on its super wide range of inventory and flexible return policy, Zappos is our top pick. However, if you have styles from past seasons in mind but can’t easily get your hands on them, The RealReal is certainly worth a look.
“Ultimately the best shoe shopping experience is when you feel inspired, can digest all the new looks out there, and try them on easily to make sure you get the perfect fit,” says Popp. “Shoes are more about fit than any other category out there, so you need to invest the time to take them for a test run, whether that’s in-store or at home in your closet.”
If you’re feeling inspired and wondering where to start, we rounded up the best places to shop online, based on reviews, shopping experiences, and more.
Best Overall: Zappos
Online-only shoe retailer Zappos is known for its seemingly never-ending supply of shoes in all different styles and sizes—and for its customer service. In fact, according to Forbes, the former CEO has said Zappos’ success was largely built on the fact that each customer service rep was encouraged to stay on the phone with customers and connect with them personally as much as possible. These days, Zappos sells more than shoes, but they’re still a great place to start if you’re looking for a wide variety and easy returns. Zappos VIP offers free expedited shipping (they already offer free standard shipping site-wide), a points-earning system, free UPS pick-ups, and more. The best part? It’s free to sign up.
Return Policy: Full refund within 365 days; free return shipping | Rewards: Zappos VIP | Size Range: Women’s 1-20, Men’s 1-20 (plus wide and narrow)
Best Runner-Up: DSW
One of the most accessible shoe shopping options out there, DSW offers a wide range of shoe styles and sizes at a variety of price points (the majority of which are pretty affordable). The store also sells styles from major designer names like Steve Madden and Jennifer Lopez—which are exclusive to DSW. DSW VIP allows you to earn rewards on every dollar you spend, which can then be redeemed for gift cards. It’s free to join the program and offers a 20 percent off coupon for signing up, free shipping, $5 off on your birthday, and more (in addition to free returns).
Return Policy: Free in-store returns within 60 days, $8.50 shipping fee for online returns | Rewards: DSW VIP | Size Range: Women’s 4-13, Men’s 6-16 (plus wide and narrow)
Best for Designer: Nordstrom
Nordstrom is, of course, known for much more than just footwear, but its shoe selection is still pretty expansive, especially if you’re looking for a good variety of affordable and luxury or designer styles. According to the website, Nordstrom handles returns “on a case-by-case basis with the ultimate goal of making our customers happy.” Plus, Nordstrom’s rewards program applies to any section of the store, and allows customers to earn points for shopping and redeem those rewards for “Nordstrom Notes.”
Return Policy: Lenient | Rewards: The Nordy Club | Size Range: Women’s 4-14, Men’s 5-20 (plus wide and narrow)
Best for Vintage: The RealReal
Love shopping for unique vintage shoes? Not interested in paying full price for the designer styles you love? Browsing The RealReal for shoes can be a good option. The RealReal is an online consignment store for high-end luxury and designer goods, and it’s a great way to find one-of-a-kind footwear. While the store doesn’t have a traditional rewards program, it does have a variety of options to shop items at discounted prices. If you consign an item on The RealReal and it sells, you have the option to put your earnings toward another purchase on the site. There is also an influencer program in which certain people who qualify can earn commissions on sales.
Return Policy: 12-14 days from shipment or in-store purchase date | Size Range: Varies based on inventory
Best Variety: Amazon
If you’re shopping for shoes in a hurry, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check out what Amazon has to offer (especially if you’re a Prime member and have free two-day or even overnight shipping on many styles). Whether you’re looking for UGG Slides, Dolce & Gabbana sandals, or Carhartt steel-toed work boots, Amazon has it.
Return Policy: Usually free within 30 days of delivery | Rewards: Amazon Reward Credit Cards, Amazon Prime | Size Range: Women’s 3-16, Men’s 4-20 (plus wide and narrow)
Best Trendy: Asos
For those shopping for trend-forward styles, Asos is an excellent option. Not only do they have the latest, greatest trending styles, but the brand also offers trending styles at affordable price points, which is not always easy to find. In addition to Asos-designed styles, you can shop for shoes from popular brands like Dr. Martens, Converse, and more. While the online retailer doesn’t have a rewards program, they do offer unlimited 2-day shipping for a flat fee of $19 per year, which could be worth it if you shop there often.
Return Policy: Full refund within 28 days, a voucher from 29-45 days | Size Range: Women’s 4-15, Men’s 10-14 (plus wide and narrow)
Best Sporty: Foot Locker
When it comes to budget-friendly athletic and sporting shoe options, Foot Locker has you covered. In other words: If you’re looking for a sport-specific sneaker, Foot Locker is a good place to start, whether you’re shopping online or in person. Basketball shoes? They’ve got it. Very particular pair of sneakers from a very particular brand? They probably have that, too. The company’s rewards program offers free shipping, early access to deals, exclusive rewards, and members-only sweepstakes.
Return Policy: Full refund within 45 days | Rewards: FLX Rewards | Size Range: Women’s 5-12, Men’s 6-18
Best for Running: Road Runner Sports
For running shoes (especially if you’re a marathon or ultra-marathon runner), you want to make sure you’re getting your perfect shoe for the best price possible (running shoes aren’t cheap, after all). If your entire family happens to run, having access to a program like Road Runner’s Family VIP Rewards is key. It costs just $2 to join, but a family of four saves, on average, $284 a year with the benefits of the program. The program not only offers 10 percent off everything in-store, 5 percent rewards cashback, and free shipping, but it also boasts a 90-day “perfect fit promise.” This means you can run for three months in your shoes and still return them if they don’t work.
Return Policy: Full refund within 60 days for new and unused items | Rewards: Family VIP Rewards | Size Range: Women’s 3-15, Men’s 5-18 (plus wide and narrow)
Best Curated: McMullen Boutique
If you fancy a site with a tight edit of options from a curator with impeccable taste in designer fashion, look no further than McMullen. The shop was founded in Oakland by Sherri McMullen in 2007 and has since blossomed into one of the top boutiques in the country, according to Vogue and WWD. In terms of shoes, McMullen carries brands such as Rachel Comey, Proenza Schouler, J.W. Anderson, Peter Do, and Veja.
Return Policy: Exchange or refund on anything full price on or before 10 days from delivery of your package | Rewards: Automatic enrollment for perks and complimentary services | Size Range: Varies from brand to brand
MEET THE EXPERT
Regina Popp is the Senior Director of Fashion and Trends at DSW. She was previously a senior fashion editor at Footwear News.
What to Look for When Buying Shoes Online
Good reviews and proper filters
“Filter in, filter out, and read the reviews,” Popp instructs. “I usually start by filtering down to the category/style/brand I am looking for, but then progressively remove the filters to see if I missed anything spectacular. And look for cues on sizing, whether that’s new technology solutions or purely customer reviews.”
Popp says this kind of filtering strategy will likely save you a lot of time and energy that you’d spend on returns. If the shoe does arrive and it doesn’t seem quite right, though, Popp suggests trying it on twice—and not after a long day on your feet. “This will ensure that it wasn’t a fluke or ‘love at first sight’ and you are truly able to walk comfortably and style the shoes as you anticipated,” Popp explains.
Find your style
When it comes to choosing the right styles for your wardrobe and lifestyle, Popp says she usually goes by the “know thyself” rule. “If strutting in stilettos isn’t your thing, pick a blockier heel with sexy strapping and call it a day. Snap judgments don’t usually pay off in the footwear department,” Popp says. “Pick the shoes/booties/heels/sneakers that let you be your best self—shoes should never hold you back because they hurt, slip, etcetera.”
Can you return shoes you have worn?
When it comes to shoes, no brand expects you not to try them on when you get them home. But while trying them on and walking around in them is encouraged to gauge fit, taking them out on the road or the town might be a different story. In general, it’s always a good idea to try shoes out on clean surfaces to keep them as clean as possible in case you have to make a return.
There are exceptions to this rule when it comes to running shoes in particular, though. Zappos, for example, allows you to try (and wear, and run in) running shoes for 30 days before making your final decision. If you don’t like them, you can return them for a full refund, no matter how many times you’ve worn them. Brooks Running has a similar offer on their running shoes, except it’s a 90-day policy. In other words: If you’re buying running shoes, there are plenty of options that allow you to wear the shoes and return them if they’re not right, so be sure to choose your retailer carefully.
How do you measure shoe size?
Measuring your shoe size at home isn’t all that complicated, but it is a process that’s easier to follow if you’re able to see a visual example. All you’ll need is a ruler, a piece of paper, and a pencil. This video from HealthyFeetStore.com explains the rest of the process.
There is also the option of buying a cheap foot measurer (view at Amazon), of course. It’s also worth mentioning that most retailers have those options available in person if you’d rather go that route.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Olivia Muenter is a fashion commerce contributor for Byrdie, and she has been published in Refinery29, Bustle, Fashionista, Glamour, and Woman’s Day, among others. Her search for this piece covered shoe retailers of all types. For criteria, she evaluated customer reviews, return policies, variety of inventory, and user-friendly or inspiring shopping experiences.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough Black-owned and/or Black-founded shoe retailers to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.