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Online retailers let you try before you buy

Friday - 2/21/2014, 4:28pm  ET

JOSEPH PISANI
AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- The fitting room is coming home. Online retailers that sell jeans, eyeglasses and shoes are shipping their products to customers for free to try on at home before buying them.

It's a way for newer online brands to hook potential customers. A credit card is needed, but nothing is charged unless the items aren't returned on time. The limit for how long you can keep items is usually about a week. Shipping is free both ways and there's no obligation to buy anything.

It's a much slower way to shop. You have to wait for the box to arrive, which can take days, and then arrange to send them back if you don't like anything. Most of the companies tend to sell higher-priced items.

But online retailers say it works for busy professionals who can't make it to a store. "Our customers tend to have more money than time," says Rob Wright, the founder of Bungalow Clothing, which sells high-end women's clothing online and ships boxes of clothes for free for 10 days. Wright says customers like trying on items at home because they can see if they match with the jackets or shoes they already have in their closet.

And being at home can be more comfortable than an in-store fitting room. "There's no pushy salesperson and no funky lighting," says Wright.

Eric Clark agrees. "Stores are annoying. They try to upsell everything," he says. Clark, who owns a tutoring company called Quincy Tutoring in Massachusetts, used to buy his prescription glasses from brick-and-mortar stores. That changed last spring when he stumbled upon Warby Parker, an online seller of eyeglasses, on social media site Twitter. "I had never even heard of them," Clark says.

He gave Warby Parker a try after seeing that the company would send him five pairs of glasses to try on at home for free. When he received the glasses, he snapped photos of himself wearing them and uploaded them to photo-sharing app Instagram. His friends told him which ones they liked best, and he ended up buying two pairs for about $300.

If you plan to try out one of these retailers, make sure you read the rules carefully first. You don't want to keep items for longer than allowed and pay for stuff you don't want. And if you damage an item, you'll pay for it.

When asked to enter a card number, use a credit card instead of a debit card. Some of the sites will put a hold of different amounts on your account, which is later removed, to verify that your card works. You don't want that hold to potentially bounce a check against your checking account.

Here are some of the companies that offer free home try-on programs:

-- CLOTHING: There are a couple of clothing retailers to check out. Bluer Denim, which sells American-made premium jeans for $98 and over, ships up to three pairs that you can try on at home for seven days.

Bungalow Clothing, which sells everything from $200 jeans to $700 leather jackets, lets you text the company when you're ready to ship the box back and they'll arrange for FedEx to pick it up.

Women can try bras at home, too. True & Co., which sells bras that average around $25, allows women to try up to five at home for five days.

-- GLASSES: There are also a few eyeglass sellers to choose from. The glasses that Warby Parker sends out are samples that don't have the prescription lenses in them. So you'll need to send them all back, and then the company will send you a fresh pair of the ones you want. Most prescription glasses cost about $95, sunglasses with a prescription lens cost more.

Rivet & Sway, which sells $169 glasses for women only, has a similar home try-on program. Made Eyewear makes the process a bit simpler, sending out glasses with the prescription you need, so you can keep the ones you want right then and send the rest back. Made Eyewear's glasses start at $84.

-- SHOES: There's at least one women's shoe company that offers at-home try outs. Brian James Footwear will give you 12 days to try on up to five pairs of shoes for free. The company sells its own brand of boots, wedges, flats and sandals that sell for about $98 and up. Shoes that are shipped back have to be in their original condition.

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