4 Tips for Snagging Sample Sale Deals

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Shopping during a sale can be a hassle, but getting a great price is often worth the trouble of rummaging through items and then waiting in line for an eternity. If you want to get a serious deal, you may also want to consider shopping at a sample sale. The crowds might be just as fierce, but you can snag rock-bottom prices on designer duds.

The Cheat Sheet spoke with Natalie P. McNeal, founder of personal finance site Frugalista and author of The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving up the Fabulous Life, to get advice on how to successfully navigate a sample sale.

“Historically, a sample sale is when a business has leftover inventory that it wants to get rid of quickly. Sometimes the clothing or items were used on a shoot or worn at a fashion show. Some of the goods may need tailoring or may already be tailored. The items are sold at a lower price than retail. Nowadays, sample sales aren’t just places where you can physically go shopping. Online sites such as Gilt, HauteLook, and Ideel are part of the sample sale conversation. They are often called flash sales,” said McNeal.

Here are four things to keep in mind when shopping at a sample sale.

1. Subscribe to fashion mailing lists

McNeal says the best way to get information about sample sales is to check the websites of fashion bloggers. They often have access to inside information the general public may not be aware of and will update followers on their site and through mailing lists.

“Get on the local email or newsletter list of your favorite local fashion blogger and they’ll probably have details on all the sample sales.  Also, if you have a favorite store or designer, get on its newsletter list and be sure to open the emails when they ping your inbox! Racked is good for info on sample sales,” said McNeal.

2. Get a preview

Since sample sales can get a bit hectic, it’s best to try to get a preview of the sale before you go. This way, you’ll know exactly what you want beforehand and you’ll be able to get the items you want quickly. However, once you arrive at the sale, if you’re not sure you want a specific item, McNeal advises holding onto it until you’ve decided.

“If you find something that you like or are even on the fence about, don’t put it down until you make a decision about whether to purchase it. Things get scooped up pretty quickly and there probably isn’t another item like it to purchase. It’s a ‘last call’ scenario at sample sales,” said McNeal.

3. Get there early

When it comes to sample sales, the earlier the better. There will certainly be long lines, so you’ll want to manage your time well so that you can arrive before the crowd and claim your spot.

“You can get better deals at the last minute, but then all of the good stuff may be picked over. If you’re a size 6, you need to shop early because that size goes quickly at these sales. Sample sales are really big in the bridal industry and you don’t want to get in a cat fight for a one-of-a-kind wedding dress at a great price,” McNeal warned.

4. Bring cash

Some sample sales will only accept cash. Make sure to check ahead of time to verify the payment policy.

“Be sure to take cash to the physical sales, although now that sample sales have gone mainstream, some sales may take credit. Still, plan to use cash. Online sites take credit cards, but their return policies often vary depending on the type of purchase. Check the return policy for each item when shopping online,” advised McNeal.
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