Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Breakdown of Flash Sales Sites

During my two-year hiatus blogging, the biggest innovation in online shopping since the dawn of the Internet Age has emerged: flash sales.

If you're not familiar with the term, flash sales are online shopping "events" or "boutiques" that start at a certain hour and go on for a short period of time. Flash sale sites are great places to get clothes, shoes, accessories and items for your home from your favorite designers at unbeatable prices. But there's a rub--these sites have limited inventory, and the competition can be fierce. Events for coveted or lower-price brands can sell out quickly. (Shoes, handbags, jewelry and vintage can be spoken for in minutes.)

But Material Girl is never one to shy away from a shopping challenge, so I've developed an easy-to-follow strategy. Which I will share. Followed by a quick run-down of my top five flash sale sites.

First, join. Obviously. Once you sign up and become a member, you'll receive daily emails from the sites telling you what events/boutiques/sales (they all have their preferred term) are happening that day, usually 10 or 15 minutes before they open.

Get the apps. All the sites below have apps. Install them so you can shop on the go.

Plan ahead. Flash sale always have events coming up. Watch their list of upcoming sales so you know when to log on. You can find this info on the sites and in the daily emails. (I've been known to put a reminders in my calendar.)

Shop early. Hit events as soon as they open or you could miss out on the best stuff.

Put things in your cart even if they're maybes. You can always delete items from your cart, but if someone else has reserved the handbag or the size 6 dress you want, it could slip through your stylish fingers. If you think you might want it, pop it in your cart just in case. (Note that flash sale shopping carts have a time limit. You generally have in the neighborhood of 10 minutes and then items in your cart are once again up for grabs. This gives other shoppers a chance at the merch and it can also lead to impulse buying.)

Watch for repeats. If you miss out on something you want, all is not lost. You may see the same item in a brand event on another site in the near future (which happened with an adorable Rebecca Minkoff dress I scored over the summer). Or one site might offer repeat events with old and new merch from that designer you love giving you a second chance.

Now for my breakdown...

MYHABIT is my favorite flash sale site (and not just because I work there). The site offers designers whose clothes make my heartbeat speed up. It's beautiful to look at--the white background is easy on the eyes, as are the models. Plus, unlike any other flash sale site, MYHABIT features 360 videos for clothing, where you can watch the model do a spin in the garment. It's cool to see how the clothes move--even if it's a 5'11' size 2 doing the moving. (MYHABIT has recently started offering plus size events so you can see regular size models, too.)
SHIPPING & RETURNS: The shipping is free both ways and super fast. Most items are returnable in 21 days. You get store credit and not a refund (although you can use your credit on Amazon.com and endless.com as well as MYHABIT).

Fab is a recent entry into the flash sale world and I find the site, well, fab. They offer mostly home items with a cooler-than-Ikea vibe, but I've found they have fabulous and unique jewelry (although the model shots aren't great--I've seen better on eBay). Fab offers a clean yet colorful look. Their home page is really a day brightener. It's just fun. And I feel a little bit cooler for looking at it.  
SHIPPING & RETURNS: Most items are final sale. They charge for shipping (there's a big range) and it's not fast. But we're talking furniture or stuff from, say, Finland, so that's not surprising.

GILT Groupe was my gateway drug into the world of flash sale shopping. Something about GILT's black background and overall vibe makes me feel fancy and savvy, like I'm rich enough to afford their items at full price but smart enough not to pay it (like Lilly on Gossip Girl while she was on house arrest perusing the app on her iPad). They are, after all, a Groupe. With an 'e.' I like that, in addition to events from a single designer, GILT offers multi-brand themed events for things like LBDs, the perfect white shirt, or fall sweaters.  
SHIPPING & RETURNS: Shipping is slow-ish (2-3 weeks) and they charge $5.95. Most item are returnable in 21 days. You can get free shipping for returns if you opt for a store credit, but if you want a refund, they deduct up to $14.95 to cover return shipping.

Rue La La offers a number of good designers, but it's lower on my list for the look alone. If MYHABIT and GILT have a SAKS vibe, Rue make me feel like I walked into Macy's. I see merch I like but I have a feeling the dressing rooms might be a little messy and offer unflattering lighting. Their Rue 30 shipping policy is a great deal for frequent shoppers--you pay $9.95 once and you get free shipping on everything else you buy for the next 30 days--and I've found their shipping to be speedy.
SHIPPING & RETURNS: You have 30 days to return Rue merch. They offer final sale items, too, so pay attention. You can get free return shipping with a store credit, but if you want a refund, they deduct $9.95 for return shipping costs.

While I've scored a few good items from HauteLook, it is my least fav flash sale sites. The model shots are better than Rue, but they don't offer a lot of designers that interest me. It's worth perusing their daily email, but I don't click through to peruse the merch nearly as often as I do for the other sites. (They've currently got a fantastic furniture event, however. But I'm a little reticent to buy a $900-sale-price chair without sitting in it first. Anyone who's worn high heels knows pretty-and-chic doesn't always equal comfortable.)
SHIPPING & RETURNS: You have 21 days for returns. They have several categories that are always final sale so pay attention. You can get a store credit or a refund minus $5.95 return shipping cost.

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