Sneakers may seem like the most universally beloved type of shoe, but finding the perfect pair is a little more difficult than you might think. The ideal sneaker isn’t just about aesthetics, but so much more. There are a lot of questions to ask yourself when shopping. For example: Do you need a shoe that’s comfortable enough to wear to work? Do you want something you can dress up easily? What about a pair that you’re not afraid of getting a little bit dirty? And that doesn’t even cover how much more complicated sneaker-buying is if you’re a self-proclaimed sneakerhead, of course.
If there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about sneakers (and all footwear, really), it’s Annelie Hofstrom, Vice President of Design for JustFab and ShoeDazzle. Hofstrom has worked in the footwear industry for nearly a quarter-century and knows exactly what’s what when it comes to everything from sandals to boots to (you guessed it) sneakers, too.
Hofstrom shared with Byrdie some of her best tips and tricks for sneaker shopping, but first let’s get into the best places to buy sneakers, no matter what your style or budget may be.
Meet the Expert
Best Overall: Zappos
Zappos is known for its wide variety of shoes (including sneakers) and its flexible, customer-friendly return and exchange policies. If you’re new to sneaker shopping and feeling overwhelmed, you can’t go wrong with shopping from Zappos.
Return Policy: Return shipping from anywhere in the United States is free, and customers can get a full refund within 365 days of purchase, if qualifying items are unused or unworn, with tags and in the original packaging.
Rewards: Zappos VIP offers free expedited shipping (Zappos has free shipping site-wide for any customer already), a points-earning system, free UPS pick-ups, and more. It’s also free to join.
Best Variety: Amazon
For those who are looking for a wide variety of sneakers that are also affordable, Amazon is a great resource. You can find really any type of shoe you're looking for. Plus, if you have Amazon Prime, then you know that super quick, super affordable shipping isn’t a problem.
Return Policy: While not every seller on the website is the same, the Amazon website states that “Amazon.com and most sellers on Amazon.com offer returns for items within 30 days of receipt of shipment."
Rewards: While not a typical rewards program, Amazon Prime members receive free two-day Prime shipping on qualifying purchases. Members also have access to Try Before You Buy, where they can order certain clothing items in different colors and/or sizes and only pay for what they end up keeping.
Best for Work: Nordstrom
When you’re looking for a work sneaker, you need to have options. Some people might be in search of the most comfortable sneaker option for their job, or a style that can be dressed up over time. Others might need to find a sneaker that’s a particular color or design. That is why Nordstrom is the best place to go for work sneakers. The retailer offers variety, quality, and style at a variety of price points.
Return Policy: Nordstrom is known for its flexible return policy. The retailer just states that it handles returns "on a case-by-case basis with the ultimate goal of making our customers happy.”
Rewards: The Nordy Club is a Nordstrom Rewards program that applies to any section of the store and allows customers to earn points for shopping and redeem them for Nordstrom Notes. It's free to join, but you can unlock even more perks if you sign up for a Nordstrom credit card.
Best Athletic: Foot Locker
Foot Locker is known for its large selection of the most popular and trending sneakers, and that’s why it’s one of the most popular options for sneaker shopping. Its generous rewards program is an added benefit.
Return Policy: Full refund in the original form of payment if returned within 45 days after the original shipping date. Returned or exchanged merchandise must be unworn and in new condition with the original tags.
Rewards: Foot Locker’s FLX Rewards program offers free shipping, early notification, and access to deals, exclusive rewards, and members-only sweepstakes.
Best Curation: Shopbop
Occasion sneakers will look different for different people, but what they have in common is that they feel a little more special than your everyday, run-of-the-mill sneakers. For unique and special-feeling items, Shopbop is a great resource, especially for those who are searching for designer or higher-end sneakers.
Return Policy: Customers have 30 days to return their purchase for a full refund, and 15 days to return the item for free shipping plus the refund.
Rewards: Shopbop’s Yours Truly program offers early access to sales, birthday rewards, and the ability for customers to shop for new releases first.
Best for Sneakerheads: GOAT
For streetwear and sneaker enthusiasts, GOAT is an excellent option for shopping for the most trending styles, brands, and silhouettes. The site also makes it easy to shop editorialized items, vintage styles, and the newest, most-anticipated drops.
Return Policy: Full refund in the form of GOAT credit, minus the shipping costs, but return requests must be made within three days from the date you receive your purchase in the mail.
Rewards: GOAT doesn’t have a rewards program, but the site does make it easy to consign sneakers and put their money toward other purchases on the site if you want.
Best Luxury: Farfetch
For the most unique, high-end sneakers that you know will turn heads, try out Farfetch. Not only does the brand have the most well-known luxury brands, it has up-and-coming designers as well.
Return Policy: Farfetch has an extensive and detailed return policy outlined on its site, which varies by item, designer, and more.
Rewards: The site offers a rewards/loyalty program called Access to any customer who makes just one purchase.
Best Customizable: Nike
No one does custom sneakers better than Nike. Nike By You makes it incredibly easy to design your sneakers, from colors to materials. You can even customize the laces and add specific text to the shoes if you want. Even better: Nike’s excellent return policy applies to Nike By You sneakers, too.
Return Policy: Amazingly, you can actually return your customized sneakers. According to the Nike website, “ Yes, our custom Nike By You sneakers are included in our return policy—you can return them for any reason within 60 days. And returns are free for Nike Members.”
Rewards: Nike Members is a free program that offers exclusive perks like early access to new releases, free returns, Nike By You customization options, and more.
Best Subscription Service: ShoeDazzle
If you are constantly in search of new, trending styles that won’t break the bank, ShoeDazzle is a great option. Plus, ShoeDazzle’s unique subscription-style format means you can get discounts on styles regularly, so you’ll always have an excuse to shop and try new styles.
Return Policy: ShoeDazzle is $49.95 a month, which gives you free returns (for orders $49 and more), free exchanges, 30% off of retail prices, and more.
Rewards: After joining Shoedazzle's membership program, you're automatically enrolled in its loyalty rewards program, called Style Points. Earn 25 Style Points for every dollar spent, excluding discounts and promotions, shipping costs, sales tax, and gift card purchases.
Best Basics: DSW
If you’re searching for basic, comfortable, versatile sneakers, look no further than DSW. Not only does the retailer offer affordable prices and popular designers, it also has a great rewards program and exchange policy, so you can feel confident while shopping.
Return Policy: While exchanges are free, if you’ve ordered online and are hoping to return a pair of shoes, there is an $8.50 charge—but that charge is waived if you’re a member of DSW’s reward program.
Rewards: Earn rewards on every dollar you spend through DSW VIP, which can be redeemed for gift cards. It’s free to join the program, which offers a 20-percent-off coupon just for signing up, free shipping, $5 off on your birthday, and more (in addition to those free returns).
What to Look for When Buying Sneakers Online
As mentioned above, it’s impossible to find your perfect pair of sneakers without considering your specific style and lifestyle (not to mention, budget). But if there’s one quality to search for in sneakers above all others, it’s versatility.
“I like the hybrids that have been coming out lately,” Hofstrom says. “Hybrid sneakers can function as an ankle boot or just traditional sneakers.”
If your closet is already full of designer sneakers, you might want to try something a little more specific, but if you’re new to sneakers, look for pairs that can easily take you from work to errands to a hike. If you’re not sure how to style your sneakers, consider Hofstrom’s suggestions.
“I love to pair sneakers with a sweater and midi skirt or dresses. It’s comfy, dressy, and trendy,” Hofstrom explains.
Of course, be sure to read through each retailer's return policy before you buy online. That can help save you a lot of time and possibly money if you do decide to return or exchange your pair of shoes. Some retailers don't charge for return shipping labels, while others will take the cost out of your refund.
Luckily, you don't have to pore over every brand website listed here to figure out what its return policy is—we did that for you.
Is it cheaper to buy sneakers online or in-store?
Like most types of clothing, finding a more affordable pair of sneakers is less about shopping online than in-person, and more about what you’re looking for. If you’re hunting for the latest, most anticipated sneaker drop, then online will be a much easier option. If you’re known to frequently return items, then shopping in person might avoid the stress and cost of having to return online purchases, since you can try on options in person before buying.
How do you measure shoe size?
What are sock sneakers?
Sock sneakers are ankle-high sneakers that are made with a stretchy knit material, making it easy to slide them on and have the form-fitting fabric hug your foot from ankle to toe.
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 retailers of all types. For criteria, she evaluated customer reviews, materials, versatility, and design.
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 online shoe retailers that are Black-owned and/or Black-founded. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com, and we will evaluate the brand ASAP.