How to shop online sample sales

how-to-shop-sample-sales.jpgA few years ago, a new shopping craze emerged from the depths of a depressed economy: the online sample sale. What first began as a low-key way for designers to unload unsold merchandise has quickly evolved into a multimillion dollar business for which some designers are now even creating special merchandise just to keep up with demand.

For the uninitiated, online sample sale sites are members-only websites which require a special referral or invitation to join (it’s free). No longer the exclusive clubs they used to be, it’s now pretty easy to get on the list (see below). Once you’re a member, you’re eligible to shop special designer sales which typically run just 2 or 3 days, often called flash sales, and feature a limited quantity of select designer merchandise at up to 85% off.
Whether you’re a seasoned sample sale shopping pro or new to the phenomenon, here are some tips to help you get the most from your experience:
1. Get on the list. Our favorite sample sale sites include RueLaLa, ideeli, HauteLook, GiltGroupe and EditorsCloset (invitations are included in these links).
2. Sign up for daily emails. Each site offers a daily email notifying you of the newest sales. Or, if you prefer a clean inbox, sign up for our daily sample sale scoop email featuring all the sales from the most popular sites, or visit our online weekly calendar listing of sales.
3. Be prompt. Note the start time of the sale (most start at 11 AM or 12 PM EST daily) and arrive on time – the best items sell out fast!
4. If you love something, add it to your cart. Merchandise is very limited at online sales, so once something is sold out, it’s gone. If you are considering an item, add it to your cart right away while you continue shopping. Most sites will allow you to hold an item in your cart for a limited time before making a final decision.
5. Don’t fall victim to sale psychosis. We use this term to describe the temporary insanity that takes over when women encounter a deeply discounted designer item. Take a minute to ask yourself if you really need something and what you will wear it with in your wardrobe. If it’s not something you are willing to pay full price for, then don’t buy it just because it’s on sale. Period.
6. Take note of return policies. Return policies differ from site to site, and sometimes sale to sale, with policies ranging from free returns to final sale only.
7. Note the ship date. Unlike most online retailers, online sample sale sites often do not warehouse inventory until after a sale is over. Often times an item won’t ship out until 1 or 2 weeks after you purchase it.
8. Refer your friends. Many sites offer store credits from $10 to $25 when your referrals make their first purchase. Free money!
9. If at first you don’t succeed… Keep an eye out for “blow out” sales. These are items that didn’t sell during their first (or even second) flash sale, so the discounts are deeper.
10. It’s not just clothing and accessories. Many of the sale sites also offer kids clothing, beauty products and home items, as well as experiences like luxe vacations and spa appointments.
11. Do your research. Some designers appear on more than one sample sale site within a short period of time, offering similar merchandise but not always similar discounts. It’s also a good idea to do a quick Google search of an item you are considering buying to see what the current retail price is on other sites to make sure you’re actually getting a great deal.
12. Have fun! There’s a reason online sample sales have become so popular, there are great deals to be had on in-season merchandise. Shop smartly and you just might find that you can finally afford to buy those designer pieces you’ve had your eye on.

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