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Unbelievable Designer Discounts: Flash Sale Sites and How to Shop Them

These adorable Tracy Reese dresses are under $100 each on Gilt Groupe.  No Joke. 

Online sample sale sites such as Gilt Groupe, Rue La La and HauteLook bring sales that were once only accessible to select groups in New York and Los Angeles to the whole country. These sites are retail genius: they capitalize on the game of bargain hunting by offering each sale for only a short period of time and displaying sold out items along with available items so shoppers can see the deals they couldn’t get. Many have limits on how long items can be in your shopping cart, too, and offer elaborate email and phone reminder systems so their customers never miss a sale. All of this encourages shoppers to adopt a Black Friday-level of shopping frenzy every day; to be at their computers ready to pounce when sales open and buy merchandise as quickly as possible once they do. 

Yet these sites are not chaotic discount stores—they are members-only outlets that sell designer fashion brands.  Flash sale sites make recession-omics shopping chic and very exciting. Susan Lyne, CEO of Gilt Groupe admits that the main draw of the site is a “heightened sense of entertainment and competition,” and that it has been so successful largely because it functioned as “a safety net for designers” during the recession. In fact, many department stores have begun to mimic the format of flash sale sites in an effort to drive up sales. Neiman Marcus, for one, has bi-weekly “Mid-Day Dash” sales during which select merchandise is 50% off or more.

Flash sale sites provide such a successful business model because they offer shoppers something new and un-ignorable: authentic, current designer fashion for a fraction of the price. Below is an all-out guide to the best online sample sale sites. We highlight the general benefits of each site and point out ways in which each is unique from its competitors so you can easily and happily cash in on the incredible deals these sites have to offer.

Gilt Groupe

Alexander Wang Outfit on Gilt


Founded by eBay executive Alexis Maybank and Louis Vuitton merchandiser Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, Gilt Groupe was a pioneer of the fashion flash-sale format and is still the most popular among luxury bargain shoppers: it grew by nearly 600% in 2009 and was named to Fast Company’s 2010 list of most innovative companies. Gilt Groupe offers 36-hour sales on designers such as Alexander Wang, Alexander McQueen and Burberry. The discounts are amazing—as I was writing this article, there was a sale offering Moschino handbags that retailed at over $1,000 for just $99.

Shopping Tips

Gilt Groupe only allows customers to hold items in their carts for 10 minutes during which time other shoppers can get on a waitlist to buy the item after the time is expired, so there is no guarantee customers will get the items they want if they don’t purchase within those 10 minutes. Gilt accepts returns for store credit only, and only allows clothes and shoes to be returned—all accessories and leather goods are final sale only. Still, return shipping is free, and members get free shipping on an order for every ten friends they recruit to Gilt Groupe.  


Rue La La

Missoni Poncho on Rue La La



Rue La La is the luxury component of the online shopping company Retail Convergence, which also owns SmartBargains.com. Rue La La generally sells mid-range fashion brands such as Juicy Couture, Catherine Malandrino and Andrew Marc, although it does occasionally feature premier designer accessories. 

Shopping Tips

Rue La La’s unique features include a “Local Picks” page that highlights hotspots and advertises deals and events in your area, although it is only available for Seattle and Boston at the moment, and couple of timesavers for return customers such as a Quick! Buy it option though which shoppers who already have their payment information saved can purchase items almost instantly, and an All-Day Shipping option that allows customers who have already bought something that day to receive free shipping on subsequent purchases.  As an added bonus, Rue La La members receive a $10 credit when any of the members they invited make her/his first purchase.  You can return most Rue La La purchases in 30 days either with free return shipping and store credit or pay for return shipping in exchange for a full refund.  They do not accept exchanges.   


Kenneth Cole Jacket on Hautelook


Founded in 2008, HauteLook is one of People magazine’s top 15 ways to save money in 2010. Their sales are not as miraculously discounted as some other flash sale sites at only 50-75% off, but their brands are to die for contemporary designers—Vince, Walter, MINKPINK and Rock & Republic to name a few. 

Shopping Tips

HauteLook offers a $10 friend incentive identical to Rue La La’s. Every item you place in your shopping cart comes with a timer that automatically removes the item after a period of time that changes depending on the popularity of the specific item. They accept apparel and shoe returns for store credit only and have a slower shipping schedule of 10-14 days per order.   


Ivory Trunk

Stella McCartney Bootie on Ivory Trunk

Offering truly lust-worthy labels such as Oscar De La Renta, Miu Miu and Yves Saint Laurent and free shipping with every purchase, Ivory Trunk is the most upscale of the sample sale sites. A large difference between it and most other flash-sale sites is that Ivory Trunk categorizes its sales so members can shop specific needs, for example two-toned accessories or work-appropriate clothes, in addition to browsing merchandise by designer.

Shopping Tips
Ivory Trunk members receive a $25 credit when members they have invited make their first purchase.  Ivory Trunk offers only store credit for returns and returns must be completed within 14 days of purchase. 


French Connection Dress on Ideeli


Ideeli is one of Oprah’s famous favorites and Ideeli’s exclusive sales, deals and giveaways have been featured in the last two issues of O magazine. Even more exciting, the site periodically sports an O Shop which showcases Oprah’s favorite current sales.  Ideeli touts Gucci and Prada among their sale brands, although their day-to-day brands tend to be less illustrious. Ideeli’s most interesting feature is its “1st Row” membership option. Named after the coveted 1st row seats at fashion shows, Ideeli members can upgrade to 1st Row for a monthly fee and gain early access to general sales and exclusive access to additional sales.

Shopping Tips

Ideeli has new sales every day that last 40 hours each and flash giveaways of killer accessories every week.  As a member of Oprah’s team, Ideeli members can also earn awesome deals with O magazine, such as discounted subscriptions and a $50 Ideeli credit for every $200 spent at the O Shop. Like HauteLook, Ideeli purchases can take up to 14 days to ship. Their return policy is also 14 days and only for select items, but they offer full refunds on the items they accept. 









Anne is a senior at the College of William and Mary who loves writing, fashion, blogging, being an English nerd and hanging out with her sorority. Sometimes she thinks about her future; sometimes she spends weekends in New York; mostly she just tries to be herself.
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