I’m Torn: Sample Sale Sites

I’ve heard of them all: Gilt Group, Hautelook, Rue La La, Ideeli… The exclusive, invite only “sample sale” sites that promise hot labels to a select group of shoppers at a reduced cost. Once you snag an invite, they seem like a win-win, right? Chi-chi clothes at recession prices! But like many things that seem too good to be true, the cons might outweigh the pros.

Love ’em:
Obviously, there’s the appeal of getting cheap, cute, designer clothes without having to get out of your pajamas. Or bed. A few weeks ago, Hautelook had a Primp boutique and I flipped out. $88 thermal leggings for $20? Perfection. I figure I can wear them for future online shopping, um, trips. I also probably wouldn’t just waltz into Neiman Marcus or Bloomies sans makeup (and chic outfit) just to check out the Chloe dresses or Gucci purses without any intention of making a purchase…but doing so online is totally acceptable!

The sites also feature a large variety of designers. Sure, these sites feature well-known, crave-worthy brands like Marc by Marc, Seven For All Mankind and Oscar De La Renta, but they also have some surprising finds. Rue La La has offered Birkenstock and Lululemon boutiques, Gilt features Rachel Leigh jewelry, and Hautelook highlighted Ecoskin. It really can’t get better than old favorites and new finds.

Last but not least, it brings out your competitive side. Because merchandise supplies are usually pretty low on these sites, when you see something you like you have to snatch it up. Or add it to your shopping cart. Either way, you have to do it and check out before whatever it is you want is sold out. Usually when numbers of certain items are getting particularly low, the stock photo is labeled with a warning: ITEM IN MEMBER’S CART! When you see that, it’s go time. Find your size, select, and buy. I would never grab a top out of someone else’s hands in real life, but online? Okay.

Loathe ’em:
Like all online shopping, you can’t try stuff on before you buy and there’s usually pretty pricy shipping charges. This isn’t Zappos, chicas! Obviously it helps if you know the brand you’re buying, but that’s not always the case and returns are not easy. And don’t even think about exchanging the same item for a different size. Not going to happen.

Although the sites feature hot brands, styles can be hit or miss. It’s great if you can get a hot pair of jeans or an investment piece, but I don’t get very excited about a designer poncho from 2005. Depending on the boutique, some of the items can be pretty dated or just plain out of style. Plus, there’s a reason that some of these items are on these sites–there was a huge surplus. Case in point: Jon Gosselin Ed Hardy was on Rue La La this spring…

And the emails! So. Many. Freaking. E-mails. These websites send out e-mails not only weekly, but daily. And honestly,  I just do not care about many of the sales some of these sites feature. I’d probably like it if the e-mails highlighted some of the items that would be available in each boutique, but… they don’t. And don’t even try to get me to unsubscribe. I know I could, theoretically, but then I would no doubt miss the reminder that the Vix Swimwear boutique opens at 10AM EST!

So, hate it or love it? I’ve definitely gotten lucky on more than one occasion with these sites, but the majority of the time their e-mails go straight to my trash! What do you think about sample sale sites?

Weekly Ten: I Heart NYC
Weekly Ten: I Heart NYC
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