Flash Sales: Are They Really Bargains?

Hello-Hello, and happy new week!  Your moronic somewhat frazzled correspondent inadvertently hit the ‘publish’ key for this post earlier today, please accept our apologies for that blunder, this is the complete post as it was meant to be published. (Still pounding head on keyboard, wall, floor, large bruises appearing on forehead, Silly Tilly the Tubby Bulldog continues to gaze in this direction with wonderment.)

Today we conclude our reports on sale sites. Previously we had something of a ‘flash sale primer,‘ followed by a look at preppy brands sold on the sites. Today’s topic is one many of us have wondered about, how good are the deals?

The sites use the scarcity of merchandise as a major marketing ploy, but how tough is it really to find the brands many of us like on sale? In actuality, not that difficult at all for many lines. Below we share a partial list of companies offering their wares at flash sales several times a year:

  • APPAREL: Lilly, Vineyard Vines, Nanette Lepore, Tahari, Juicy Couture, Pink Tartan, Kenneth Cole, Calvin Klein, Hanky Panky
  • SHOES: Børn, Reebok, MBT, Ivanka Trump, Juicy Couture, Paris Hilton, Mephisto, Jessica Simpson, Donald J Pliner, Steve Madden,
  • HOME: The MacBeth Collection, Safavieh, Amy Butler, Kosta Boda, Waterford, Frette, Tommy Hilfiger Home, Preppy Plates, Bungalow Scout
  • KITCHEN: Henckels, Kitchen Aid, Staub, Zak Designs, Kalorik, Cuisinart, Pfaltzgraff
  • FOOD/OTHER: Mrs. Prindables (around major holidays), Hey’s Luggage, Samsonite Luggage, Victorinox

While yours truly isn’t a fan of several brands listed, it does demonstrate how often one can find merchandise. Multiply this by hundreds of other consumer brands and you have a sense of the dizzying volume of inventory available at discount prices. (Saying these lines are available on a ‘frequent’ basis is an understatement in some cases, a few of these are in almost constant rotation on the sites.)

Let’s look a label many readers are fond of, Lilly Pulitzer Here are three of the deals at last week’s Lilly Pulitzer sale on RueLaLa.

Rue La La Thursday June 7, 2012

A Bowen dress originally selling at $268 for $99.90 was a good buy indeed. As were the Cabana Sun Readers ($35.90 as opposed to $60) and the Mitzie Forever pant (they were $49.90, the MSRP is $128). In reality, everything offered seemed to be quite a bargain, and much sold out rapidly, as is usually the case with Lilly.

But savvy online shoppers also use other sources for good deals: many check the wildly popular Re-Lilly page on Facebook, along with other FB pages offering the opportunity to buy, sell and trade Lilly Pulitzer goods. And they watch eBay, as well as staying in touch with their local Lilly stores online and off to track sales. In the offline world many visit TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and other off-price stores, and some travel to the semi-annual warehouse sales near the Pink Palace. (This spring’s sale starts June 14, more info may be found here, a Facebook page for the Warehouse Sale is also set up here.)

Back to the bigger issue on pricing, here is more from a CNBC story:

The limited quantities of merchandise and tight time limits create a sense of urgency that can goad consumers into making impulse purchases, but it only takes a few times before savvy consumers realize that they can often find the same merchandise for less elsewhere.

Two companies making things for the home (as opposed to fashion) that we are accustomed to seeing on flash sale sites are Cuisinart and Kitchen Aid.  We are big fans of our Kitchen-Aid stand mixer and our hand mixer here at the Prepatorium, they are in use constantly. (Only on those rare instances when Cook has the night off, of course. Ahem.) For the sake of today’s exercise we will look at a Kitchen Aid 5 Speed Mixer in Onyx Black.

In December on Beyond the Rack the Mixer was shown at $54.99 (“compare to $79.99 MSRP”) seen below on the left, below right we show it at the Kitchen Aid site, where the mixer was being sold at $39.99 with a MSRP of $49.99.  The mixers seem identical, both seem to come with the same package of “turbo beater accessories,” including dough hooks, a blender rod, and more.

So the question becomes, why would I want to buy it from Beyond the Rack for roughly $15 more?

The NY Times ran a story titled “Bargain Hunters: Hold That Click” in October of last year.

Flash sales are the highest expression of shopping as competitive sport. To win, you must be among the first customers to put an item into a virtual cart, then commit to buying it minutes later or else watch as it — poof! — disappears from the cart. As those precious seconds tick by, there is hardly time to comparison-shop on other Web sites.

Let’s do another example, back on January 26 Kitchen-Aid was back on Beyond the Rack. There were some good deals, but in terms of scarcity, no one can make the case the Raspberry Ice Stand Mixer shown below was difficult to locate. In the graphic below we show it for sale at Beyond the Rack for $339.99, at 6 other retailers it was approximately $10 more. Determining the best “bargain” was essentially a case of comparing shipping fees and return policies.

On March 28th, the same mixer was back on Beyond the Rack at $344.99, proving the “get it quick before it’s gone” argument for buying is often erroneous.

This CNBC story underscores the point:

The limited quantities of merchandise and tight time limits create a sense of urgency that can goad consumers into making impulse purchases, but it only takes a few times before savvy consumers realize that they can often find the same merchandise for less elsewhere.

Again, the sites count on and exploit that sense of frenzy, more from a retail expert via CNBC’s Consumer Nation:

…it comes with an excitement factor since merchandise can sell out fast.

“I think the sense of urgency is very powerful in terms of eliciting consumer behavior. They are tapping into something fundamental in terms of how humans respond to urgency and sales,” said Lipsman.

Let’s stay with the not-really-scarce Kitchen Aid for a minute, they were also selling on Ideeli in December, on December 12th we looked at a different Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.  We’ll compare prices for the 5 Quart Stand Mixer in Empire Red; “on sale” at Ideeli it was $299, but at Amazon the mixer was $239.

We did our best comparing apples to apples: both have a 5-qt. stainless steel bowl, both come with a flat beater, dough hook, and wire whip, both have the 325 watt motor, both have the 2-piece pouring shield with large chute for adding ingredients. Shipping and handling at Ideeli was $9.95 for a total of $308.95, at Amazon S&H was $20.92 for a total of $260.91.

Another example, also in the Kitchen/Bakeware category, is seen with this set of 3 OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls.  January 22nd of this year the set was $50 on Gilt.com

Gilt.com January 22, 2012

The price at Amazon for the same item that day: $29.99

Amazon.com January 22, 2012

Last Friday we decided to do some more random price-checking. Many items we saw at RueLaLa were good buys, here are a few examples:

RueLaLa.com

We did another comparison at Haute Look, the Nordstrom-owned flash sale site.

Haute Look

March 28th we saw a demonstration of the maxim about knowing your prices and taking time to shop around. A Tommy Hilfiger “Captiva” Duvet and Sheet Set was $149.90 at Rue La La, while the same 7-Piece Set was $109.99 at Overstocks.com Both retailers offered a duvet cover, two shams, flat sheet, fitted sheet, two pillowcases.

RueLaLa/Overstocks

Back to the NY Times story by Stephanie Rosenbloom:

ON Gilt.com, where shoppers vie for limited-time discounts on designer brands, a Kate Spade cabana-stripe medium tote bag was recently $169, plus $5.95 shipping. That same day, the bag was on KateSpade.com for $130 with free shipping — about $45 cheaper.

On HauteLook.com, another so-called “flash sale” site, a navy dress by Decode 1.8 was $75, plus $7.95 shipping. But at Overstock.com, the dress cost $55.99 and shipping was free. Savings: $26.96.

It is also important to know precisely what you are buying. Gilt did an event January 21-23 called “Wear Now: Sweaters with Style,” offering a number of labels one would associate with a department store: White & Warren, Pink Tartan, Autumn Cashmere, etc.. But some of the brands didn’t sound at all familiar, like “Barrow & Grove,” I didn’t remember ever hearing of it. There is a reason I hadn’t, it turns out ‘Barrow & Grove’ is a brand created and sold by Gilt, the company filed for the trademark last August.

Gilt.com

Gilt describes itself this way:

“Gilt Groupe provides instant insider access to today’s top designer labels, at up to 60% off retail. Join today to receive insider pricing on designer fashion, jewelry…”

Barrow & Grove doesn’t fit in my definition of top designer labels. It begs the question, where and when were the cashmere sweaters now “on sale” at $109 and $99 sold at $262 and $242? And it raises the issue of transparency, one is given the distinct impression they are purchasing ‘designer’ goods offered at upscale stores like Saks or Neimans when shopping at Gilt, not merchandise created specifically for Gilt.com. I’m sure the Barrow & Grove sweaters were lovely garments, but I would prefer knowing they are made for the site, as opposed to being told this:
Nothing says luxury like cashmere, and nothing says top-notch cashmere like one of our favorite new labels, Barrow & Grove.
Another site we enjoy (and have purchased from) is One Kings Lane, specializing in home design and interior decor.  But at times the items up for sale are… well, a little odd, to say the least. Our friend Meg, the delightful mind behind Pigtown Design, has done an outstanding series of posts under the banner OKL Madness. For example, she wondered about this item, a “Vintage Green Tackle Box” that was offered at $79.

One King Lanes via Pigtown Deisgn

As Meg noted in her post, the condition looks more like: “rusting and dents”. Another example she shared is this 1970s Vera Framed Scarf offered last week. For $849.

One Kings Lane

This example resonated because yours truly has quite a few vintage scarves by artist Vera Neumann in her possession, several in mint, pristine condition. And The Consort has had a vintage scarf or two framed as artwork in the past, so we’re well aware of prices for vintage silk scarves by name designers, as well as costs for very nicely framed items of this kind. IOHO referring to this as ‘madness’ is kind.  (BTW, for those on Pinterest Meg even has a OKL Madness board.)

When purchasing from any of the sites it is imperative to know shipping and return policies, this can be especially important if purchasing oversized or unusually shaped items for the home, StyleList offers more:

…although One Kings Lane offers returns on some products within a 14-day window, most items are marked final sale. Also, Gilt Home has a similar policy, stating they do accept decor returns but not “on discounted home items, as well as those delivered via in-home and special delivery services,” which pretty much includes all furniture.

In summation, it all comes down to knowing what you are buying, not just the price and availability of an item, but also shipping and return policies at any given site.  In order to make an educated purchase those factors should trump desire for the item, and the delivery timeline should also be factored in.  Knowing other available outlets for purchasing the item(s) should also play a part, both online and off-line, including what were once unconventional resources, like the Re-Lilly FB page.  Of course, if it’s merely a case of “see it – want it – buy it” then the impulse wins and none of this much matters. (Umm, we have also done that too.)

Part 1 of the series is here, Part 2 is here. If, after reading all of this yawn-inducing background you are interested in signing up for any of the sites, here are links to some where I have shopped *and* enjoyed a positive experience. Another interesting facet of the flash sale business model are the varying rewards offered for those referring customers, most offer merchandise credits of anywhere from $10 to $25 if someone uses your invitation link and also purchases something.

9 Comments

Filed under preppy, Sales & Savings

9 responses to “Flash Sales: Are They Really Bargains?

  1. Thank you Princess for taking on this topic.
    At some point I think that savvy shoppers are going to get tired of flash sales and their false sense of urgency.
    At Beladora.com we believe in offering low prices everyday and we never pressure our clients to make a purchase. We want them to make a rational deciscion to buy, not an emotional one based on a false urgency or false limited supply….and we actuall sell product with a limited supply!
    My best to you and happy summer!
    Belle

  2. Thanks for the shout! I have purchased items at OKL and have been very happy with the price and quality. However, I do see a lot of things that are insanely priced, but they are mostly in the Tastemaker Tag Sales.
    xo

  3. PG

    Thank you for tackling such a tough subject! I loved your three part series, it was very informative. I have yet to buy anything from a flash sale (not enough spending $) but I was always intrigued.

  4. What an informative post! You’re SO right about a lot of these flash sales – we just have to be smarter consumers! Thank you for the wonderful information!

  5. Re-Lilly

    What a thorough and informative post. Thank you for the shout out! xx Re-Lilly

  6. Deedee

    Great post. I used to check out Gilt everyday but not anymore. Some of the deals just aren’t that great. I can get better quality stuff on ebay or even the outlets for cheaper! I’m not a sucker anymore (most of the time). =)

  7. great post, very informative and well researched! also consider how SLOW shipping is; these sites dont actually have the inventory on hand, they order it in after the sale and it is then shipped from their warehouse to you. i waited 4 weeks for a michael kors watch from Beyond the Rack in December! it was a discontinued style that was much more expensive on ebay so I did get a good deal with the flash sale site, but by the time it arrived I had almost forgotten i had ordered it!

  8. Thrilled you looked into this, TP – terrific post idea.

    I was an early fan of these flash sales and still find steals every now and again, but I’m suffering a bit of fatigue. Not only have I suspected the bargains aren’t always just that, but some sites are so crowded *cough*Gilt*cough* by one minute after the sale starts items are already sold out, as you noted. I’ve also had inbox trauma from too many PR emails being sent by these sites and recently did a big unsubscribe sweep.

    That Barrow & Grove ploy is dirty pool, in my book. Fine to have your own label so long as it is addressed as such, but the way it is presented as “designer” is disingenuous at best.

  9. Pink&Grn4Ever

    I just came home from a few days away to 16 boxes from from OKL (1 Kings Lane- been buying for 3 years) and Haute Look (buying 1 year). And I have smoke coming out of my ears! I have observed OKL go from ENGRAVED thank you ENCLOSURES in their shipping boxes AND included with 4 stapled pocket-sized notebooks shrink-wrapped together w/ each shipment (they were great!). Then we saved a buck and went to gold Thank You enclosures printed (lithographed) (Engraved Thank You enclosures? I thought they were nuts) with small travel candles. Now NOTHING. Just the thank you.I called the Customer Service Line the other day and just said flat out, “You are getting greedy.” Their sales sell out too fast.
    If you go to a hot designer sale, It’s like someone has mobiles and employees working the lines, and that whole site is gone in under 5 minutes. I couldn’t click once. Their prices are now bordering on the ridiculous. And get this….one stationerI purchased from is more expensive on OKL than their own site!!!!!!
    I sent a wedding gift to an interior design and his companion–THEY HAD TO THROW IT AWAY! A vase, broken, with two sides glued on. They told me thank God.
    Now I buy nothing if its not returnable. In fact, I am desperately trying not to buy anything.
    As for Haute Couture, I have a disability in my hands, and my finger hit the return key twice because of the shaking. They wouldn’t take back the item. I said, aren’t you owned by Nordstrom? The people who made customer service so important in retail. She says.,” I don’t think so.”
    They charge shipping for every buy no matter how many times you buy. The prices are great on high-end shoes. I have to buy kitten heel shoes and consign all my high-end high heels because of my disability. I purchased a great pair of gold evening shoes but the Stuart Weitzmann’s I was waiting for are beaded sandals instead.
    As for Lilly? I do better in the Department stores? I get to know the manager and they call when they’re marking down. Or I like Your Sale. My local Signature Lilly store is wonderful. I buy from Lillys all over the country. I look on site, I know the style I want, the style, I know which Lillys in which areas will mark down which fashions based on the weather. And I call around. I’ll try on the style locally when it comes in first for the Season and wait for it to go down. I buy in Kansas, Virginia, I have certain favorites. And the Madison Avenue
    store has tremendous service. Anybody can use a Saks or Neiman personal shopper, there’s no charge and they’ll help you find items.
    Saks Sale, lastcall Neiman Marcus, Neiman Marcus Sale all have lots of styles and you can sort by price and size.

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