Sampling the Online Sample Sale Sites

high fashion models - online sample saleSo you've been inspired by the tuxedo looks, flowing maxi-length dresses and puffy outerwear on the runway during Fashion Week, but don't want to dig into your 401k plan to buy something akin to that cool camel-colored cape you were lusting after.

You might not have to. The hot private sale websites -- the modern day, online version of the sample sale -- offer the promise of the hottest designer looks at up to 80% off the retail price.

Sites such as Gilt Groupe, HauteLook (which was just acquired by Nordstrom), Rue La La and Ideeli have quickly gained a fan base among fashionistas.

These private sale, (also known as "flash sale"), websites offer big discounts, usually for 36 hours to 48 hours, on upscale, designer merchandise in limited quantities.

We checked out how these sites work and perused some of the fashion deals you'll find there.Gilt Groupe

After signing up to join Gilt Groupe, the site instantly offers the impression that it must ponder your acceptance into its exclusive club.

A message flashed: "You are now on the waiting list ... Membership is limited." Nonetheless, two minutes later, I received a welcome email: "Start shopping now!"

The site bills itself as the leading source for today's top designers at up to 70% off retail brands for women, men, children and luxury living at "insider prices."

In addition to listing live sales, Gilt Groupe imparts fashion advice with themed sections to showcase products, such as "wardrobe essentials," where "weekend shoe," "the everyday dress," and "the classic sweater" were listed among the must haves.

Sample sales included:
  • The classic sweater sale included a $39 French Connection knit piece, marked down from the $88 original price and available in extra small to large. It was sold out, but there was an option to add the item to the wait list.
  • I jumped in on a sale that was going to end in 15 minutes for a Cynthia Rowley, leather satchel for $129, $71 off the original $200 price. Once I proceeded to checkout, the clock started ticking down by the second. The bag was available, but Gilt Groupe couldn't get it to me quickly: The site offered a 12-day, "extended delivery timetable."
  • On the other hand, the estimated delivery time for a Badgley Mischka beaded dress -- $199, down from $660 -- was within a three-day window. The dress featured the height and measurements of the pictured model wearing it.
Shipping cost: $7.95.

HauteLook

Despite its name, there was little haughty about HauteLook. "Membership is free to join and everyone is welcome," says the site.

HauteLook says it brings "the thrill back to shopping" during 48-hour sale events on fashion, accessories, beauty, kids and home brands that start at 8 a.m. Pacific Time, at 50% to 75% discounts.

After signing up on the site, I quickly received emails highlighting special events, including local deals in my area.

Sample sales included:
  • In addition to its sale events, HauteLook offers a single-item "deal of the day." A midweek offer hawked a Romeo & Juliet Couture ruffle sweater for $39, 70% off the $128 full price.
  • The site promoted a Rock & Republic women's denim event as a special pick from the editors of Lucky, the shopping magazine. The sale included Stella straight leg jeans for $79, compared to the original price of $165, a 52% savings.
The jeans, which came in sizes ranging from 23 to 32, were all sold out, save for a size 23. At the online checkout for my size 23 jeans -- which is equivalent to a size zero (eyes rolling) -- I was warned: "If you don't purchase the item in 15 minutes, it will be returned to inventory."
  • The site also emailed me about deals in New York City, where I live, including a detox facial package for $295, 46% off the $550 original price. Shipping costs don't appear to be listed anywhere on HauteLook.
Ideeli

Ideeli, where sales last 40 hours and start at noon, Eastern Time, also puts forth an inclusive vibe. The home page welcomes visitors to "shop must-have brands from the worlds of fashion, home and beauty at up to 80% off. Signing up is easy. Membership is free!"

Still, Ideeli works its fashion insider cred right off the bat, identifying itself as "an official sponsor of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week" on the home page.

And after joining, I received an email that said "You are currently a 2nd Row member. Upgrade your account and enjoy the benefits of 1st Row!"

First row members (just like Anna Wintour!) pay $6.99 a month, which grants you access to "first row only" sales and events one hour earlier than those poor second-row shlubs.

Sample sales:
  • A Nautica swimwear event included the one-piece Bandeau bathing suit for $49, compared to the $118 full price, in sizes 6 to 16.
  • A Betsey Johnson event spotlighted a short sleeve print dress for $79, compared to the $288 full price. A four-day shipping window was offered.
  • A Vivienne Tam petite white jacket was marked down to $45 from $128.
On Ideeli, the clock ticks while you're just browsing through products -- even when there are hours left to the sale, which can either create a sense of urgency or anxiety, depending on your perspective.

Shipping is $9.95.

Rue La La

Rue La La immediately sends the message that it won't let just anyone behind those velvet ropes.

In order to join Rue La La, which bills itself as a online destination of "premier brand, private-sale boutiques" that are open two days each, the site says an existing member must sponsor you.

If you don't have a sponsor, you are directed to "request an invitation" to join.

Unlike the other sites that signed me up immediately, it took 23 hours for Rue La La to approve my membership.

Was this really truly a matter of seeing if they could accommodate another member? Or was it about decoding my email address -- they didn't ask for any other profile information -- to determine if I was fashoinista material? Only the fashion gods know.

So it comes as little surprise that Rue La La carries some of the toniest fare among the private-sale sites.

Sample sales included:
  • A Narciso Rodriquez brown trench coat sold for $999.90, down from the $2,350 retail price, with a two to three day shipping window.
  • A Robert Rodriguez sale included a silk sequined dress in olive for $179, down from $649.
There were also less expensive items. The Hanky Panky underwear boutique, for one, featured the Photo Rose chemise for $39, compared to the $76 full price, with a warning that there were only six items left.

Standard shipping cost: $9.95.

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