4 Secrets to Shopping at Sample Sales

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Think of sample sales as your competitive, no-holds-barred place to go for designer, luxury goods at steeply discounted prices. Visiting a sample sale is a sport that male and female fashionistas take very seriously. Precaution and preparedness must be taken, so no one swoops in behind you and grabs a pair of designer goods that you’ve been dreaming about all season.

Sample sales, sometimes referred to as warehouse sales, occur when a designer or fashion label has too much merchandise that they need to unload. “The samples that are sold are usually those that have been handled throughout the season to present to buyers so that can select and see exactly what they will be shipped from that manufacturing company,” says Marlene Siegel, a New York City based designer and buyer, to The Cheat Sheet. “This concept was originated for the manufacturing company to make room at the end of the one season for the new styles coming in for the new season and to raise some cash,” she adds.

Some of the goods at a sample sale might be a little out of season or worse for the wear — still new though — but the allure of designer goods is irresistible to those who can’t abstain from purchasing upscale brands at 70% off. Fashion lovers are known to clear their schedules and plan their year around sample sales, says The Huffington Post, the majority of which take place in May and mid-October to mid-November. The general consensus for surviving a sample sale, in person and not online, is arming yourself with knowledge and pre-planned strategy. Here are some tips on how to navigate a sample sale and get the most designer bang for you buck.

Do your research

You can never be too prepared for a sample sale. You need to be on your game for this one. You don’t need to be a fashion industry insider to score a preview or invitation to a sale. Huff Po recommends that you sign up for daily newsletters from sites like NYMag.comRacked.com, or 260SampleSale.com for the inside scoop, but make sure you check out your city’s specific go-to guides for sample sales in your area. Also, if you have friends or family who work in the retail or fashion industry, ask them to give you the scoop on sample previews. This way you’ll be able to see price ranges for discounts and be able to figure out your budget for the sale.

Another great tip when doing your research is knowing that some of the best sales go unadvertised. This means that you’re going to have to pay extra close attention. Discount and shopping expert Mark Ellwood pinpoints advice from Racked’s Editorial Director Izzy Grinspan in his book Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World. He explains that Grinspan “obsessively monitors fashion editor’s Twitter accounts during sample season” to get the real inside, inside scoop.

Plan ahead

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Remember these two key things when visiting a sample sale: comfort and cash. Sample sales have no fitting rooms, but even so, with such chaos and tables with boots at 50 to 70% off, there is no time to try stuff on anyway. You snooze, you lose at a sample sale. However, if there is something that you absolutely must try on, instead of stripping down (which is ill-advised unless you’re rocking some killer boxers that can be mistaken for swim shorts) wear thin, basic layers such as cotton tank and shoes that you can easily slip things on and off. Plan to tackle a sample sale by dressing as if you’re going to the gym. The craziness is sure to make you sweat anyway.

Make sure you bring cash with you. Load up your wallet because most sample sales only accept cash. Bring just enough with you so you don’t go over-budget and spend more than you intended. Running to an ATM will not only make you lose your place in line, but make you miss out on some great steals. Also, make sure you know the exact address because some samples sales aren’t held in easy-to-spot store fronts. Many are held in office buildings, so make sure you also know the floor number.

Get there early 

For the most part, sample sales — and we’re talking big designer names — can draw insane crowds on the first day, similar to the stampedes of Black Friday at department stores. Being at the back of the line won’t do you any good. Stylecaster says, in order to get your pick at the good stuff, it’s imperative to get there much earlier before the sale starts at risk of losing out on the best items. Odds are that there will still be some maniacal shoppers in front of you when you get there, but it’s better than being the 97th person in line.

Alternatively, if there is a brand you really like, it might be worth it go back during the last day of the sample sale, as most of the things that are left will be discounted heavily, more so than originally, and although some of the bigger-ticket or coveted items may be gone, there will still be plenty of other items left for the taking.

Bring a buddy

Bringing a buddy allows you to cover more territory at the sale, not to mention they can hold your place in line if you see something else you like while deciding on a purchase. It can be a rough and tumble place inside, and it’s all about how you divide and conquer, says The Huffington Post.

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