Get ready for a time warp (remember the CD/video warehouse clubs that used to come in the mail with the huge sheet of colorful stamps?) – the hottest thing in shoes is right now is monthly shoe subscription sites.
I’ve noticed 3 major competitors on the scene: ShoeDazzle, JustFabulous and Sole Society. All of these companies will give you some pretty great shoes for very low prices and free shipping. But realistically (well, for all but the most ardent shoe addicts), if you’re going to subscribe to get inexpensive shoes every single month, you probably don’t have a ton of extra cash (or else you’d be stocking up on Manolos instead), so you’ll probably have to choose just one to try out first. I decided to do the dirty work for you and try to figure out what really separates these companies from one another. From fashion founders to who has the best pictures, here’s the lowdown:
HOW ALL 3 SITES ARE ALIKE – ShoeDazzle, JustFabulous and Sole Society all offer free shipping and free exchanges within 30 days (items returned for a cash refund are a different story). Each site will also give you personal shoe picks (based on VERY similar “Which shoe/celeb/runway pic do you like better” quizzes) along with additional shoe options on the side that are available to everyone. And if you don’t like the shoes that were chosen for you, each site will happily provide you with new options. You can have shoe selections sent to you to view for free for as long as you want, but once you make your first purchase, you are automatically enrolled in that company’s monthly club. After you’re enrolled, your credit card will be charged, and you get 1 item, every month unless you actively opt out before the 5th of each month (gotta stay up to date on those emails!). But there’s no limit to the number of months you can opt out. Surprisingly, there’s little else that the sites copy one another on.
Sole Society, launched in February 2011 by shopping site Hautelook (which is owned by Nordstrom) is the newest shoe subscription site around. Their team of 6 Fashion Insiders (or Sole Sisters – read more here) includes actress Bree Turner and experienced fashion bloggers, editors and buyers from all over the web.
COST – $49.95 a month for 1 shoe every month
WHAT YOU GET- At the beginning of every month, Sole Society will send out an email announcing that 6 pairs of shoes picked just for you are available to be viewed in “My Closet.” If you don’t like their picks and request alternate shoes, the original 6 pairs are all put back into their inventory and can no longer be purchased (well, not easily). Sole Society does not ask you for any feedback on what types of shoes you’re looking for instead. Sole Society does encourage you to contact them though, if you see a shoe from one of their Trends page fashion spreads that you’d like to have added to your Closet, so I’m sure the same could go for a shoe from your previous Closet picks. You only have the option to request new shoes once per month.
Your shoe choices are centered around high heels, especially platforms right now, but they also have flat sandals and wedges for April.
VALUE – All the shoes Sole Society offers are from their exclusive Marco Santi collection. They claim Marco Santi is a designer quality label which I believe is supposed to justify the slightly higher monthly membership; but since the brand was created just for them, you kind of have to take their word for it. However, it is significant to add that many of the shoes in your personal selections are genuine leather, unlike the shoes featured on the other sites I’ve reviewed here, which can definitely be worth an extra $10 (Note: there are fabric and faux leather shoes offered on Sole Society too).
SHOPPING EXPERIENCE – Sole Society gave me a cool, in-depth Style Bio after I finished their introductory quiz, which they told me they’d be basing my shoe picks on. Apparently I’m “Fierce, Sexy, Modern – you make a statement wherever you go with your daring and unexpected style. You stamp a hip aesthetic over every look, whether you’re in sweats on the weekend or wearing a show-stopping mini-skirt and heels. You’re all about confidence and individuality, and are able to pull off anything from vibrant print tops to curve-contouring pencil skirts. Your closet is full of sexy items including tailored jackets, faux fur and anything leopard.” Oh yeah! (except for the leopard part – only in moderation ;)). But if, after a while, you think that bio just isn’t getting you the shoes you really lust after, you can easily change it at any time in your My Closet page. ” Daring, Unexpected, Cutting-Edge” instead, maybe?
In My Closet, you are not shown whether other color options are available for the shoes selected for you, though often there are 2 colors to choose from when you click on the shoe to view more details. On the pages describing each individual shoe, each picture has a nice zoom option. Be careful not to miss the extra pictures though; only 4 are displayed initially. You have to press the light gray arrows above or below the picture list to view more. Sole Society also usually includes 2 model outfits that would work with the shoes. However, there is are no links or brand names given to identify the clothing in those pictures. There is also a box with Notes from the Fashion Insiders that often gives an outfit idea or some other comment about the shoes.
Sole Society lets you see the number of people that have liked a shoe on Facebook when you hover over a picture in My Closet, unfortunately when you click on the shoe to view more details, you don’t get anything else review-wise. Sole Society does want you to rate how much you like the shoes visually based on color, style and the heel and you can see your own ratings (not sure how that’s helpful), but there are no statistics shown from other users. Hopefully though, since they’re gathering that information, they will display or do something with it in the future.
Also on the website, Sole Society has a fun Fashion Insider of the Month feature (this month it’s the owners of nail polish brand Ginger + Liz). Unfortunately, you cannot add the polish to your Sole Society cart and there are no links either. The Trends page is similar: outfits are displayed pairing the shoes with fashionable clothing (brand names are given) but there are no links or information on where to purchase the clothes (VERY surprising since the company is owned by Nordstrom!).
RETURNS – Sole Society offers free exchanges within 30 days as mentioned above for all sites. But, they deduct a $7.95 restocking fee and a $9.00 return shipping fee for any items returned for a refund. There is no fee for items returned for an exchange (continental US only). So, basically, sell the shoes to a friend if you don’t want another pair as an exchange.
BONUS – Thanks to Marie Claire magazine, you can get $10 off your first pair of shoes until April 30, 2011 with the code SPRING10. Also, you can earn a free pair of shoes for every 3 friends you refer who also make a purchase.
FINE PRINT – If, for some reason, you forget to check your email for years or just never manage to make that 5th day of the month cut-off, you actually won’t end up paying Sole Society thousands of dollars. Once you accumulate 3 credits (or $150) in your account, you will not be charged a monthly membership fee again until you redeem a credit for shoes. So, if you’re super forgetful (and/or are a chronic amnesic shoe-a-holic), Sole Society’s credit limit will costs you the least out of all the sites reviewed. However, please note that that $150 can be charged to you EVERY YEAR (per their FAQs, credits are only valid for 12 months).
The one year expiration date for credits also means there is the possibility that you will not get shoes you technically paid for – and this is probably one catch that made these subscription sites lucrative in the past: If you forget to skip months and try to use your credits as quickly as possible so they don’t expire, you open yourself up to another monthly membership charge, and if you don’t use the credits, you could be paying $150 for nothing (except looking at pretty pictures).
If you wish to cancel your membership, Sole Society is, by far, the easiest site to work with. You can cancel by calling their customer service (6am – 6pm PST or 9am – 9pm for the East Coast crowd), emailing them or just visiting your My Account page online – there’s a link at the bottom of that page. They also have live chat!!
JustFabulous started in 2010. Founded by Katherine Power and Hillary Kerr (also co-founders of WhoWhatWear, an online fashion magazine), the site also boasts 2 celebrity stylists completing the team. The site promises you access to up-to-the-minute trends without the expensive celebrity price tags.
COST – $39.95 a month for 1 shoe or bag every month
WHAT YOU GET – JustFabulous features shoes and handbags! At the beginning of every month, JustFabulous will send out an email announcing that 6 pairs of shoes and 6 bags picked out for you are available to be viewed in “My Boutique.” If one or more options have sold out, you will also be given some Sold Out Solutions for each unavailable item (JustFabulous recommends that you view your Boutique as soon as possible on the 1st of the month since they do tend to sell out of popular items quickly). And if you’re totally shoe crazy, there’s a link to 3 more bonus options that almost made your Boutique (but are still available for you to purchase). If you don’t like the shoes and/or bags they found for you, you can complete a short questionnaire detailing what you’d prefer instead and select to keep any of the original shoes and bags you liked.
In The Haute List tab at the top of the site, you also can view/buy the top 4 shoes and 4 handbags chosen each month by JustFabulous’ Style Experts. Plus, there are approximately 10-14 more items updated weekly under the Featured Styles tab (for April there are lots of rainboots) which are available to everyone for a limited time. AND you get access to the W3 collection (17 items) with a great Style Guide inspired by the WhoWhatWear website.
The shoe options are heavy on the towering heels, especially platforms right now, but they also have flat sandals, wedges, ankle booties, chunky heels, ballet flats and knee boots. The bags range from clutches and hobos to totes and cross-body styles.
JustFabulous is also carrying a full line of Fab Soles, from the makers of Foot Petals. Since they’re from Foot Petals and are priced identically, they appear to be exactly the same (just less petal-y in shape).
VALUE – I noticed that many of the handbags JustFabulous sells (for $39.95 each) are from the Vieta brand and can be purchased online at the company’s site ranging from about $60-$100. For an example, check out JustFabulous’ Dusk barrel bag on The Haute List, which is also here on the Vieta site. I think Vieta’s prices are really inflated for man-made/PVC bags, but if you don’t agree, you can say you’re getting a great deal! I do think JustFabulous has priced the bags pretty accurately though – you’d usually pay about $40 for a similar bag in New York City’s Chinatown, for example. So for people without the desire to hunt or who don’t live anywhere near NYC or another major metropolis where I’m sure similar stores exist, JustFabulous’ bags could be a great low cost option. All their shoes are also made from man-made materials or fabric (no leather); so think Payless quality (side note: Payless has given me a few of my favorite shoes of all time, so I’m not knocking it!).
SHOPPING EXPERIENCE – JustFabulous gets tons of points for their videos of someone walking in every pair of shoes (surprisingly useful), their Reviews section and their styling ideas. JustFabulous is the ONLY site that lets customers post full written reviews for any item. They also display a handy Member Fit Survey, an Overall Summary rating, and tell you what percentage of members who purchased this style would recommend it – all in case you just want a quick overview. And, proving that the site is run by experienced style watchers, JustFabulous features 2 really amazing style boards with complete outfit options underneath each shoe (with different shoe colors). The best part about the style boards is that they actually link to the other sites where you can purchase the clothing from like TopShop and ModCloth! A+
Things that need improvement mainly involve the handbag section: bad partial interior shots, bad partial descriptions (how many interior pockets?), no video (which would be cool to see the bag opening and closing or how much can fit inside), no style boards, and no photos of the bag on a person or mannequin to scale the dimensions (measurements are in the details). However, the Haute List does have a video posted for ideas on wearing those featured bags.
RETURNS – JustFabulous offers free exchanges within 30 days as mentioned above for all sites. But they deduct a $5.95 restocking fee for any items returned for a refund. There is no fee for items returned for an exchange.
BONUS- Get 1/2 off one pair of shoes on the day you join. You can also earn a free item when you refer 2 friends who make a purchase and another free item every time you reach 100 points (20 points earned per shoe or bag bought, so every 6th item is free). Plus, right now you can get free shipping if you add a pair of Fab Soles to your order along with a pair of shoes or a handbag.
FINE PRINT – If, for some reason, you forget to check your email for years or just never manage to make that 5th day of the month cut-off, you actually won’t end up paying JustFabulous thousands of dollars. Once you accumulate 5 credits in your account, you won’t be charged again until you use one. So your maximum debt at one time is capped at a little under $200. Their FAQs do not state that credits here will expire – the only site that doesn’t.
To cancel your membership, you must call customer service (which means you have to reach them during their business hours, 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM PST or 10 AM to 7 PM for us East Coasters). But JustFabulous does also have Live Chat available during those same business hours.
According to co-founder, Kim Kardashian’s Showroom bio, ShoeDazzle began in March 2009. She, along with Anya Sarre of ‘Entertainment Tonight’ and ‘The Insider’, and 8 other fashion stylists with extensive resumes make up the team which promise an intimate shopping experience customized to make you feel beautiful and pampered.
COST – $39.95 a month for 1 shoe, bag or jewelry set every month
WHAT YOU GET – ShoeDazzle features shoes, handbags and jewelry, plus a chance to score some clothing and random fun stuff too! At the beginning of very month, ShoeDazzle will send out an email announcing that 5 pairs of shoes, 5 bags and 5 jewelry sets picked out for you are available to be viewed in “My Showroom.” You can also see 14 or 15 more shoes that almost made the cut. Plus, if you don’t love your personal section of the first 5 shoes, you can request alternates be chosen for you once per month by completing a short survey about what you’d like to see instead (and you’ll still be able to view and purchase the items from the original picks – so I suggest ALWAYS requesting alternates for more shopping fun!)
The shoe options here are mainly crazy tall heels, especially with platforms, as on the other sites, but they also have flat sandals, wedges, ankle booties, ballet flats and knee boots.
Scroll down further in your Showroom, to browse a frequently changing (but often sold out) assortment of monthly Featured items. Here ShoeDazzle has listed shoes that were styled into their Featurettes (fun fashion photo shoots that appear on the homepage and across the top of My Showroom) as well as items like their multi-pack of Foot Petals brand foot cushions (at ShoeDazzle’s $39.95 price it’s actually cheaper than retail) and their current Casual Chic shoe collection of 14 sneakers (the first of these websites to offer sneakers!).
ShoeDazzle really dazzles when you connect your Facebook account. When you link up, you can use ShoeDazzle’s Friends’ Showroom feature to view the Showrooms for stylists Kim Kardashian, Anya Sarre and Heather Zweigel as well as any of your Facebook friends’ who have joined. This means you can buy the stylists’ and any of your friends’ 15 Showroom items (as long as they’re not already sold out) for tons of extra options.
And there’s more: ShoeDazzle is taking a cue from other limited time only sale sites and sending Dazzle Deals every Tuesday and Thursday via email. The Deals start at 9 a.m. (PST) and go until 9 p.m. (PST) the following day or when the item has sold out, whichever comes first. Recent Dazzle Deals have displayed dresses, beachwear and a Proliss curling iron set all for the same $39.95 per item membership price.
Unfortunately, ShoeDazzle does NOT give you more options if some of your handbags or jewelry selections have sold out and you cannot request alternates either if you don’t like the options they gave you (you’re only allowed to choose alternates for shoes). But you can add yourself to a Waitlist for any item to be notified via email if more are re-ordered.
VALUE – While most of the heels are marked as ShoeDazzle brand on the insoles, the sneakers in their Casual Chic feature are all brand name items like Chinese Laundry Wash, Skechers Sport, Pony, Mia and Converse. I also spotted a few brand name handbags like Melie Bianco and Nila Anthony (usual range $50-$99). But, please note that all the bags and most of the shoes are made from man-made/synthetic materials, not leather. The only exceptions I found were the Casual Chic collection of brand name shoes.
SHOPPING EXPERIENCE – I liked that ShoeDazzle tells you what they’re basing your selections on; when you complete their Style Quiz, they give you a style category along with your matches for designers, colors and patterns. Mine said I was artistic, whimsical and free-spirited – I think so! But if you think they’re totally off, make sure you don’t leave that area until you’re satisfied. There is a link to re-take the quiz on that final results page, but no way to do it again after you leave.
ShoeDazzle only allows shoppers to rate an item on a scale of 1 to 5 stars and they let anyone rate, not just people who have purchased the item. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem (I like being able to rate things without being required to buy them first), but without any written reviews or fit information available (except what’s listed in the About the Style section where most every shoe is “true to size”), the rating becomes almost worthless. You can’t tell whether the ratings are mostly based on the look of the shoe or important things like fit and comfort. The exception is when you connect with Facebook. When you have your Facebook account linked with ShoeDazzle you can post shoes you like to your own wall and get comments from your own friends (could be helpful if you just want opinions on looks or choosing between 2 styles). Facebook connecting also gets you access to the Stylists’ Showrooms, where you can view and reply to random peoples’ comments on those picks (and vice versa) – so at least for some shoes, you might be able to give and share info about fit.
When you click on an item to see more information, ShoeDazzle lists detailed photos including a shot of someone wearing the item (including wearing the bags! Extra points!), a zoom feature and, for most styles, a complete outfit. The model’s outfit specifics (like brand and price) are not provided, but if you’ve connected to Facebook, the stylist that picked that item will give you another idea in a sentence or two about how to wear the item. Another functionality comment though – since you can see that alternate colors are available for an item in My Showroom, I wish you could click those boxes to change the color of the picture there instead of having to open the item description page each time to see those other color choices.
Unfortunately, there was one other thing I was not happy with on the ShoeDazzle site. After you’ve signed into your free account and start shopping, ShoeDazzle will allow you to add items to your Shopping Bag but they will not let you view or edit your Shopping Bag until you’ve provided them with your credit card information – although they do still promise not to charge you until you’ve actually made your first purchase. I found this unnecessary and annoying since I add, compare and delete items from my Shopping Bag constantly – but maybe that’s just my strange habit and this won’t bother most of you. (Let me know your thoughts on this, readers. I’m curious to see how your online shopping habits compare.)
Luckily, ShoeDazzle does have a pretty fantastic YouTube channel with news, tips and behind the scenes fun, so that leveled the scales again.
RETURNS – ShoeDazzle offers free exchanges within 30 days as mentioned above for all sites. They also deduct a $5.95 restocking fee for any items returned for a refund. There is no fee for items returned for an exchange.
BONUS- Get 20& off your first item. You can also earn a free item every time you reach 1000 Style Points which can be amassed through referring friends who make a purchase (200 points for each friend) and buying items yourself (100 points for each item purchased, so excluding friend referrals, every 11th item is free).
FINE PRINT – If, for some reason, you forget to check your email for years or just never manage to make that 5th day of the month cut-off, you won’t end up paying ShoeDazzle thousands of dollars. Like JustFabulous, once you accumulate 5 credits in your account, you won’t be charged again until you use one. However, please note that that $200 can be charged to you EVERY YEAR (per their FAQs, credits are only valid for 12 months). Their one year expiration date also means that if you don’t use your credits, you could be paying ShoeDazzle up to $200 for nothing.
If you wish to cancel your membership, you can ONLY do so by calling customer service (which means you have to reach them during their business hours, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Pacific time. That’s 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for those on New York time). ShoeDazzle specifically states accounts cannot be closed via email.
And that’s it. I hope you can find the right site for you and may your closets be filled with shoes.