No matter what style you're shopping for, shoes are that reliable, pick-me-up purchase. Shopping for footwear can give you an instant lift -- which is not always true when it comes to buying clothes. (Trying on that cute little black dress after you've put on a few pounds is more torture than fun.)
But with the plethora of shopping choices in stores and online, how can you find the best buys on heels, flats, boots and sporty shoes, too? Here's a guide to help you step into some great footwear deals this summer. Tap Outlet Stores, Off-Price Chains For Deals
For the big shoe deals in brick-and-mortar stores, scour off-price chains and outlet stores. You'll find a wide selection of brand names and designer shoes for 20% to 60% off department store prices.
While the mix at off-price chains is unpredictable and can be spotty -- much of the merchandise is department store and supplier overruns -- the prices can be worth it. A recent trip to a New York City Marshalls, a nationwide off-price chain, turned up a pair of Michael Kors gold sandals for $30, down from its original $90 price tag, as well as dressy pumps from Aerosoles for $29.99, down from $69. (Of all the off-price retailers, Marshalls probably offers the widest shoe assortment.)
You should also tap outlet stores for outsized bargains. If you're a brand loyalist, going to a manufacturer's outlet store, such as Cole Haan or Nine West, is a really smart choice for big discounts, Jody Rohlena, senior editor at Consumer Reports' ShopSmart magazine, told WalletPop. Retail outlets sell merchandise for approximately 25% to 75% below the manufacturers' suggested retail price.
Also check out the outlet divisions of the upscale department stores, such as LastCall, Neiman Marcus's off-price division, and Nordstrom Rack from Nordstrom, a great source for designer shoes at a big discount, Te Smith, vice president of MarkMonitor, a brand protection firm, told WalletPop.
"These outlets have some big markdowns -- especially for people who are looking for a deal on the high-end brands," Smith says.
And don't forget LastCall.com and NordstromRack.com, pretty much the only department stores that run e-commerce sites for their outlet divisions. A recent visit to LastCall.com turned up a pair of 7 For All Mankind boots for $82.50, "which were originally $330," Smith notes.
If you have tony tastes and are looking for a deal on designer brands, shop the private sale, or "flash sale," web sites for luxury brands. These sites, which include Gilt Groupe, Rue La La and Ideeli, offer up to 80% off their upscale designer merchandise during sales that typically last between 36 and 48 hours. "But you'll have to act fast," Smith says. "The merchandise is in limited quantities."
Thrifty Shoe Finds
If you're not averse to used merchandise, mine secondhand stores, consignment shops and thrift stores for some dirt-cheap finds on everything from athletic footwear to designer shoes. Although the selection is hit or mix, bargain shoppers won't want to miss the thrift stores run by such organizations as the Salvation Army and the American Cancer Society, which have stores throughout the country.
If a more traditional footwear merchant is more your speed, specialty shoe chain Designer Shoe Warehouse, better known as DSW, gets high marks for its huge selection -- stores are reminiscent of a football field, averaging 25,000 square feet -- and you can find competitive prices on a variety of shoes on a daily basis.
Tap Online Shoe Sites for Savings
"Shoe shopping sites have really been proliferating," says Rohlena. And shopping for shoes online saves gas money, she adds. But before you buy anything online, first review the online shoe merchants' shipping costs, return policies and return shipping costs, Rohlena advises.
"Your shoes have to fit; you can't fudge that," she says. And if you have to return them because they don't, you don't want to get burned by a draconian return policy or exorbitant return shipping charges.
Zappos.com and Endless.com are among the best shoe sites, according to ShopSmart, offering free shipping on both delivery and returns, which can save you a bundle.
Endless.com offers "competitive prices" on everything from sporty sneaks to expensive designer shoes, with a user-friendly search engine that lets shoppers peruse by price, color and heel height, for example, and an edited mix so "you're not overwhelmed with thousands of choices," says Rohlena.
And if you sign up for the site's daily emails, you'll be alerted to sales by shoe type, such as 50% off all sandals, or specific brands, like 30% off all Nine West shoes.
"With hundreds of brands and thousands of styles, Endless.com does a great job of offering shoes for every budget," Tracy Ogden, spokeswoman for Endless.com and parent site Amazon.com, told WalletPop.
"You can head over to the 'women's shoes' main section, and find stylish, yet affordable brands such as Dolce Vita, Sam Edelman and Chinese Laundry, shoes that include prices ranging from $50 to $200," say Ogden. "[Or] you can visit Endless.com's 'designer' section to find high-end brands like Giuseppe Zanotti, See by Chloe and Badgley Mischka, with styles ranging in price from $300 to $1,200."
You might also want to visit Zappos' 6pm.com outlet site for super discounts on a variety of shoe styles and brands. While the size and color selection is limited and the assortment may be last season's goods, says Rohlena, "if they have what you want, you can get it at a really good price."
Although 6pm.com doesn't offer free shipping, the site's big deals often offset that cost, Rohlena says. A recent trip to the site turned up a sale on Calvin Klein shoes that included $30 citron suede flats, 60% off the original $75 price. And a pair of New Balance sneakers was selling for $39, 40% off the $65 full price.
If you have special shoe needs, ShopSmart cites Planetshoes.com as the best option for earth-friendly and vegan (non-leather) shoes, as well as a broad mix of high-end comfort shoes and hard-to-find brands like Naot. Click on the site's "The Daily Catch" link for deals.
Sweeten the Deal
Before making any purchase, be sure to take advantage of promotional offers and time your purchases wisely to sweeten the deal. These tips will help you land the best price:
• Shop off season to scoop up some super buys, Rohlena suggests. Yes, the mix will be limited if you're shopping for sandals in September, for instance, but chances are, you'll nab some super deals, as retailers are trying to work off their inventory and are in markdown-mode.
• Before you start your shoe shopping, peruse coupon sites like Retailmenot.com and Coupons.com to look for retail or supplier coupons, Rohlena suggests.
• Sign up for sites like ShopItToMe.com, which bills itself as your personal online shopper and bargain hunter. The site will send you alerts on sales and special e-commerce offers.
• Sign up for rewards and bonus programs that are offered by many of the specialty shoe chains, such as DSW and Famous Footwear, as well as some of the other aforementioned merchants. These programs typically offer discounts as purchases are made; you can also rack up points for every dollar spent, which will ultimately earn you a gift certificate or a healthy price cut.