Friday, June 22, 2012

Cheap Thrills - Where's the sale section?

This is the fourth post of a series on cheap fashion, Cheap Thrills- Where's the Sale Section?  The following posts will continue in showing you how I find good deals-- it's a long read so I split it up over a few posts.  I'll also later detail some of my most triumphant steals.

My favourite part of a store is the sale section.  Sometimes I feel bad for the sales staff, so I browse around half-heartedly in the new arrivals before drifting to my real destination-- the sale section.  It's usually in the back, it's usually messy, and often it's weird stuff no one wants anyways.  


I often read about the great deals people get when thrifting, but I feel like I'm never particularly enthused about thrifting myself, and I think this is because I can often get almost as good a deal on new items.  How, you ask?  By learning how to shop sales.  Most of this is trial and error, but here are a few things I've learned.

  1. Don't be a store snob.

(c) Louis Vuitton

You may have a terrible J. Crew addiction or undying loyalty to Anthropologie, but don't restrict yourself to one store or a certain type of store even.  I often find great pieces where I'm least expecting them!  I've picked up fantastic all leather oxfords for a song at the grocery store and once got a lovely dress from Wal-Mart.  Also, don't relegate yourself to shops you think fit your style or are targeted to your age group.    I'd never been inside a New York & Company store before because I thought it was for women of a different age group.  I went in one day to look for a present for my mother and walked out with a beautiful trench coat at 80% off!  I also like to regularly check in at Sirens, a 'club-wear' oriented store, and once was rewarded with a $6 green maxi skirt that was a dupe of one that I'd recently seen in a J. Crew catalog.

I also like to shop around in stores targeted to teenage girls.  You can find some trendy items at good prices, and if you look around, not everything is too short and too tight!  The men's and kids' sections can also yield some fun pieces-- Men's sweaters can make great slouchy knits for you, and you can sometimes find some cheaper button-downs in the boys section.  Here's a secret-- I think Zara is rather overpriced at full price, but peek into the girls department.  Their shoes go up to about a size 6-7, and I've scored some cute things at much more reasonable prices!

  1. Look at the discount and the final price together
It's important to look both at what the final price of something will be, as well as how much you'll be saving by purchasing at that price.  Make sure the final price is still within your budget!  Even if a $2000 pair of shorts is now priced at $500, giving you a savings of 75%, you're still paying $500 for a pair of shorts.

Conversely, if something was originally $50, and is now $45… well, that's not much of a sale, is it?  Maybe you could get a better deal elsewhere, or wait and see if the piece gets discounted further.

  1. Use deals to your advantage

(c) hpliao77 via

Look around for signs advertising deals and sales in that particular store.  If there's a sign that reads 'Ask associate for more details!', ask an associate for more details.  If you're unsure whether something is on sale, ask at the register.  I've seen innumerable stores attempt to be tricky with wonky sign placements or tiny little 'and up' addendums.  I've also bought things that were even cheaper than marked when they were rung up at the register.

If you have time, check the store's website and see if the prices online correlate to the brick and mortar establishment.  Make a fuss if there's a difference that you can use to your advantage.  You can also check online for coupons and coupon codes.  See if you have any retail benefits that you didn't know about.  Visa offers some (minor) discounts at some stores, as does the Student Price Card (SPC).

Loyalty cards are sometimes useful and sometimes not.  Free ones (usually) have no downside, but make sure to ask the staff about the nuances.  Can you use your card discount on discounted and/or clearance merchandise?  Do you have to buy a certain amount of stuff to get a discount?  And so on.  For cards that cost money, can you buy one when making a purchase large enough that the discount would outweigh the price you would pay for the card?  Credit cards are tricky-- they often have high interest rates.  Would you really use it and is the discount worth it?  Do you go to this store all the time?  You can sometimes create a loyalty credit card for a large purchase and then cancel it as soon as possible, but don't get stuck with it!  Ask about nuances, when you can cancel, hidden/cancellation fees, etc.

  1. Learn about sales
This one comes with time.  Firstly, don't get stuck into thinking that when you see a great sale, that's it, and there won't be as good a sale ever again.  There is one particular store I know of that perennially has closing down sales.  I've also seen a store have an end-of-lease sale and 6 months later… lo and behold, the store is in the same location.  Great sales happen all the time.

However, there are some times that you can reliably predict there will be good sales going on.  Near the end of each fashion season, stores will be attempting to clear out the old season's merchandise to make room for the new stuff for next season.  If you know when to shop, you can pick up seasonal items for good prices.  Generally, I see seasonal clearances begin around the middle of that season (for example: clearance summer merchandise will begin appearing in late June and early July).

Some stuff  goes on sale, some doesn't.  Generally it's a crapshoot, but there are some things you can reasonably predict will be offered at a discount later:
  • Trendy items
Very trendy and of-the-moment things like coloured denim, crop tops, high-waisted bellbottom jeans, scarf-printed items and things of this nature I would expect to be able to find at a good discount, since they are not likely to become classic items in the history of fashion.
  • Weird stuff
May or may not be trendy.  Strange silhouettes or wild prints (especially on things like, say, pants) will probably be offensive enough to a good proportion of the population that they won't sell well and will be discounted in the future.
  • Ubiquitous items and basics
You can just find enough of these everywhere that through sheer numbers, I would expect to find some on sale.  Take for example a tank top or dark wash skinny jeans; you're gonna find that stuff everywhere and eventually one will be on sale.

Here's things I wouldn't expect to go on sale:
  • Specialty items
Things like convertible/strapless bras, shapewear, insoles, ski jackets, running shoes and other things that are more functional rather than aesthetic.  You can shop around for a better price, but generally you're going to have to buy this stuff full-price.
  • Designer pieces
The sales are not really that great when they do happen, and if you're coveting a specific piece, I wouldn't bank on it going on sale.  There's the added tangle of limited production and likely a lot of other people coveting the same thing.

Lastly, learn about how a particular store runs sales.  Mostly all this requires is going into said store a lot to browse.  For example, I don't generally buy anything full-price at Suzy Shier, as generally, all of their merchandise will eventually go to 50% off.  At RW&Co, I know sometimes they run an 'extra 50% off all sale merchandise' promotion, and I try to wait until that's happening until purchasing.  If I find something I really love at Forever 21, I don't even know if I'm going to find it again in an hour, so I usually get it.

You can also learn about specific stores by reading fashion and style blogs-- there are numerous blogs about J. Crew and Anthropologie in particular (that I've noticed), and you can get alerts on when specific things go on sale or when specific sale events occur.  You can also get a sense of their sale cycles and learn how to somewhat predict when the best time to buy an item would be.

Now you know all my secrets!  What are your tips for getting a good deal?

In the next post, learn about how I put my shopping skills to good use. :)

2.  The Plan of Attack
3. Shop Like You Mean It
4. Where's the Sale Section? - You Are Here!



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