How to shop online in English
Published on May 8, 2019 / Updated on January 10, 2024
Shopping online is a low stress way to learn a lot of vocabulary at once. Screens full of pictures, with the titles underneath, it like your very own, always changing, vocabulary flash cards. There is a little bit more to online shopping in English than just the lists of products. Let’s talk about some of the common, and sometimes confusing, terms, so you can order apology flowers or really comfy socks,
You’d like to buy those comfy socks. Ah, socks, always a bit of a mystery where English-language shops like to put them. In the UK, they will often be in the Knickers or Lingerie (underwear) section, under a sub-category, together with tights. When it comes to the US, they might be under Lingerie (underwear again) or in their own section with tights called Hosiery. In clothing stores, everything will be divided by gender – Women, Men – and then a separate section for children called anything from Children to Kids.
The pieces of clothing you wear to swim in can be called a variety of things in English: swimming costume, swimsuit, bathing suit, bathing costume, swimming trunks, bikini. It’s not always logical which country will call them what, though generally the US trends towards swimsuit, and the UK towards swimming or bathing costume. I know, they are neither suits nor costumes. Anything you’d like to buy that isn’t clothes, up to and including things for the kitchen, blankets, vases, or furniture, will be under ‘Home’.
North Americans buy flowers by occasion, and American florist websites are full of pre-made bunches of flowers called bouquets. You choose based on whether it is a birthday, I’m sorry situation, Mother’s Day (which is the biggest flower-buying day in the US) or Sympathy (for funerals or to express your regret to a family for someone’s death). British florists tend more to flower arrangements (another word for the bunch of flowers) organized by colour and season. You will see the term ‘letterbox flowers’ or ‘letterbox-friendly’. This means the flowers come packed in a nearly flat box, all spread out, and a mail carrier person can get it through the average mailbox in a door, allowing for flowers to be delivered when someone isn’t home – this is also much cheaper than the other options.
The joy of buying food outside of your home country. I think this is the experience that connects people living abroad more than nearly anything else: freaking out in the foreign grocery store and wanting to have a good cry. I understand completely. Online grocery shopping is just a gift, it means we can sit at home, translating things, comparing photos, and googling everything until we find what we need. Instead of panicking, and buying a random jar that turns out to be pickled something instead of mustard, or whatever. If your particular mustard is out of stock, often they will try and guess what you’d might like instead. This is called a substitution. When they give you cauliflower instead of mustard, you can often reject it when they deliver. If something is not available at all, it will be marked as ‘out of stock’, ‘sold out’, or ‘not available’.
When it’s time to pay, you will be asked to create an account or profile. This is your personal information, like your full name and shipping address, so you can login more quickly next time. It also will allow you to save the items you’ve picked, and added to the shopping cart (the same word for the virtual one as the real world one). And it also means when you’re wondering where those comfy socks are because your toes are really very cold, you can check on the status of your order.
Now, get snuggled into your bed, pull out the laptop, and order those good socks and a whole pile of groceries, without speaking to anyone at all! Isn’t technology great?
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