Back in the 20th century, the sample sale was a hush-hush insiders’ affair that involved stripping down to one’s underwear, pawing through piles of size-4 designer merchandise and trying it on under the unforgiving fluorescent glare of a Seventh Avenue showroom. No more! These days, anyone with an email address and a mouse can attend a virtual “sample sale,” and the clothing on offer is just as likely to be size 4T, allowing Mom to nab irresistible bargains for both herself and Junior while he naps obliviously.
But do online sample sales really save time and money, or are they rabbit holes of overpriced organic-cotton onesies and unneeded cherry-print umbrellas? Babble clicked frantically through the leading designer-discount sites, stuffing and emptying our carts in what Simon Doonan once referred to as “shopping bulimia” to find the best.
- The Mini Social
Savings: Up to 60% off designer clothing and accessories. Sales are updated every weekday.
Sensibility: Modern, chic and sophisticated. “Not too frilly or babyish,” said co-founder Melinda Marinack, a former production manager with the t-shirt company C&C California. The company prides itself on collaborations with charities like Sunbusters (skin cancer) and Shoe 4 Africa. Marinack’s partner, Dominique MacPherson, formerly worked at Stila.
Stock: Navy-striped white hoodie, very ‘in’ keeping with spring 2010′s nautical look, by a label called Entertaining Elephants (endearing Really Rosie reference), was $27, down from $54. Right Bank Baby’s corduroy pantaloon was $31, down from $62, if you can get over the idea of putting your child into a pantaloon. A toile coat was $58 down from $115-and since it’s reversible, it’s essentially two coats, so that almost brings it down to Old Navy levels.
Shipping: Reasonable. $6.95, more for oversized items and to Alaska and Hawaii. Returns within 21 days for store credit only.
Savings: Up to 50% off retail. Multiple sales weekly include furniture and equipment.
Sensibility: Independent, artisanal and eco-conscious. “This category has been somewhat commoditized by the big-box retailers,” said co-founder Darrel Cavens, who hails from Seattle and, with partner Mark Vadon, formerly worked at the online jeweler Blue Nile. They were inspired to start this venture after having children of their own. “We’re representing smaller boutiques: organic and quality, but not stuffy or expensive.”
Stock: LexModern abstract prints for $39.99, down from $84.99; Azur white Italian cribs, $599 down from $1190; and a paisley belly band by Lassig for $18.99 down from $27. The Little Maven by Tori Spelling butterfly bathing suit, $21.99 down from $42, was a credible ripoff of Lilly Pulitzer, which routinely goes for more on eBay.
Shipping: Variable according to weight. Returns within 14 days for a refund.
Savings: Up to 70% off retail. Events have expanded from 1-2 sales per week to almost half a dozen.
Sensibility: Mini-me. “Moms who are very interested in wearing designer apparel also have a clear viewpoint and aesthetic sensibility around how they want their children to dress,” said Stefan Pepe, vice president and general manager of the company’s home and children divisions. The site’s two glam, blond co-founders, Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, have backgrounds in Silicon Valley and luxury retail, respectively.
Stock: Cute and low-key pink Tretorns for $16, down from $35 (though my daughter would prefer the similarly priced sparkly princess sneakers from Payless). A Juicy Couture pink velour strawberry cropped tracksuit pant, just the thing for her upcoming flight to the Oscars, was $30, down from $84.
Shipping policy: Panic-inducing. If you order within one hour of the sale’s countdown, it’s free; otherwise $6 for orders less than $50, $10 for orders over $50. Returns within 21 days for store credit only.
Savings: Up to 70% off retail. Sales for kids are sporadic but include toys and footwear.
Sensibility: Playful but occasionally impractical, befitting its Los Angeles roots. Founder Adam Bernhard’s background is in inventory liquidation. “We call ourselves the casual-chic style,” said Kerry Bennett, the director of marketing and communications.
Stock: I say “yay” to the brightly patterned dresses from Baby Nay, $18 down from $64! But the tall brown suede fringed Koolabura boots, $109 down from $200, seemed insane for something that will be outgrown in 3 months.
Shipping: Slightly sneaky. Not until items are in shoppers’ carts are they informed of the $7.95 charge. Returns within 21 days for refund; after 21 days, a reproachful 50% restocking fee will be deducted.
- Beyond the Rack
Savings: Up to 70% off retail. You have to sift through about eight daily sales to get to the kid stuff.
Sensibility: Proudly middlebrow. “Not just luxury-less expensive brands,” said marketing director Dara Fleischer, a mom of newborn twins, as a baby monitor beeped urgently behind her. The site was founded by retail and ecommerce veterans and is based in Saint Laurent, Canada.
Stock: Chooka rubber boots for $19 down from $35; Imps and Elfs green-striped cotton leggings, $9 down from $30 (much cheaper than almost identical ones at the Gap).
Shipping: $9.95 to the U.S., $11.95 to Canada (most sites do not ship to Canada), $45 internationally. Returns within 14 days for store credit.