February 24, 2010

Sample Sale Sites: All the Savings Without the Shoving

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Anyone who has walked the streets of New York City has probably seen this, even if at the time they weren’t sure what was going on. Down dingy alleyways in unassuming, unmarked buildings, a line of 200-plus women stood waiting in the cold, anxiously bouncing on their tip-toes, trying to sneak a peak of what was waiting behind the locked door ahead.

These women weren’t waiting to get in line to meet an A-list celebrity, or to get in to the city’s hottest new nightclub. No, these women were here for one thing, and one thing only — clothes.

Sample sales, where designers offer their wares far below retail (and sometimes even wholesale) prices, draw in herds of fashion mavens looking for high-end clothing and accessories at a deep discount. The event plays out like the Super Bowl of shopping: The second the door opens, throngs of stiletto-clad women charge forward, rushing towards the merchandise like a defensive line. One girl spots this season’s “it-bag” across the room, tackling bystanders as she sprints towards the prize, dodging and weaving the others until she finally clutches the bag in her hands (Touchdown!).

However, there is still hope for those of us who would like to keep our limbs intact after a day of bargain hunting. Shoppers no longer have to flock to New York or Los Angeles to find sample sales, now that sites like RueLaLa, Gilt Groupe and Hautelook are bringing the sales online.

Sample sale websites are private, meaning that you have to sign up and wait to be accepted onto a site’s “guest list” in order to shop the sales, just like at real sample sales. Once you’re in, however, the concept is essentially identical. The sites offer clothes, shoes and accessories from high-end designers at discounts of up to 75 percent. Thankfully, the sites offer merchandise shoppers actually want — not the horrific neon crap you so often see on the shelves of places like Nordstrom Rack.

Also unlike traditional sample sales, the site stock the full range of sizes one would expect from a regular clothing line, not just size zero jeans and size six shoes (the so-called “sample sizes” in the industry).

Gilt Groupe, a forerunner in online sample sales, offers over 650 brands from BCBG to Burberry and C&C California. Ideeli, another invite-only site, sells Betsey Johnson coats for under $100 (which typically retail in the $300 range), and Hunter boots — ever ubiquitous here at Cornell — for nearly a third of their retail price. Cheap clothes aren’t the only perks of sample sale sites — most companies offer members store credit if they refer their friends to the sites. Ideeli also posts giveaways for Balenciaga bags, exotic vacations and luxury gifts.

Think these sites sound too good to be true? Well, online sales aren’t free of all the hassles of in-store sample sales. Holding an item in your virtual cart too long (an hour at some sites; as little as 15 minutes at others) could cause you to lose your precious pair of jeans, leaving them up for grabs for the next anxious customer.

Plus, sales start at specific times each day, so you can forget about snagging that perfect dress if you have a 12:10 class. But, if you’re persistent and keep tabs on the sites, chances are you’ll bag some awesome deals from the comfort of your dorm room — sans the bruises, tackling and hair-pulling.

Original Author: Becca Lesser