Clark County residents stop, shop, roll

Flash-sale sites offer big discounts on designer items for limited time only




Several flash-sale sites are branching out into local deals similar to those of Groupon and LivingSocial.

Gilt Groupe launched Gilt City last year and now offers deals for 10 cities across the nation. The closest to Vancouver and most recent addition to Gilt City is Seattle.

Also last year, Rue La La launched Rue Local. Rue Local currently offers deals for nine cities, including Seattle.

Several flash-sale sites are branching out into local deals similar to those of Groupon and LivingSocial.

Gilt Groupe launched Gilt City last year and now offers deals for 10 cities across the nation. The closest to Vancouver and most recent addition to Gilt City is Seattle.

Also last year, Rue La La launched Rue Local. Rue Local currently offers deals for nine cities, including Seattle.

At 8:45 a.m. each day, Suzi Morse gets down to business in her Fisher’s Landing study.

Poised in front of her computer, Morse looks through the collections that the online flash-sale site Gilt Groupe is offering that day.

Time is fleeting during these members-only sales, which offer deep discounts on limited quantities of designer clothing, accessories and home decor, as well as gifts, gourmet treats and travel packages.

Morse needs to know exactly which designer’s showcase of the day, or collection, to open first as soon as the clock on her computer reads 9 a.m., which is when the sales begin. Within a few minutes, many items will be snapped up by other shoppers.

Preview windows offer glimpses into the day’s collections. On a recent day, collections included Tracy Reese women’s apparel, Hype women’s clothing and handbags, Tommy Hilfiger bedding, John Varvatos Star USA men’s clothing, Puma sneakers for men and Argington kids furniture.

Morse decides to begin with Tracy Reese, and at 9 a.m. sharp, clicks to open the collection.

She quickly scrolls through dozens of dresses and tops, adding a jersey caped blouse to her shopping cart. It’s $99, but retails for $235.

Items remain in the cart for 10 minutes, so Morse can think more carefully about whether she actually wants the blouse after looking at other collections.

Then, it’s on to Hype, where Morse falls in love with the Brandon Satchel. She can’t decide between the black and natural colors, so puts both in her cart.

“I’m a big bag girl,” said the 57-year-old retired endodontic assistant.

After visiting a few other collections, and pondering some Puma sneakers for her daughter’s fiancé, Morse settles on the Hype handbag in black. The original price is $350, but it’s $199 on Gilt. She proceeds to the virtual checkout with her bag, and the other items in her shopping cart are released for other shoppers to snag.

Morse is among the more than 100,000 people Gilt says are in line at its virtual door every morning, waiting to pounce on deals when sales begin at 9 a.m. Pacific time, noon Eastern.

Gilt is one of a growing number of members-only flash-sale websites. Others include ideeli, HauteLook, Rue La La, Moda Operandi, Beyond the Rack, Zulily and My Habit, which Amazon launched in May. Saks Fifth Avenue launched its flash-sale site, Saks Fashion Fix, earlier this month.

Most flash-sale sites buy excess merchandise from designers at a steep discount and pass some of those savings to their members. On Gilt, most items are as much as 60 percent off retail price.

These sites are free to join, though ideeli offers a premium membership for about $84 a year that lets people shop an hour before sales open to those with free memberships.

For most flash-sale sites, anyone can become a member. For Rue La La, however, one either has to be referred by another member or get on the waiting list until a space opens.

Moda Operandi has an application process, and asks prospective members to list their favorite designers and why they want to join.

Moda Operandi is different from other flash-sale sites not just in its level of exclusivity but also in its overall concept. The site lets people preorder items from the runway collections of top designers such as Nina Ricci, Carolina Herrera and Giambattista Valli.

Moda Operandi sells products at full retail price, but allows people to spread out the payment. Members pay 50 percent upon ordering and the remainder when the pieces are delivered, typically one to four months later.

Moda Operandi trunk shows are limited-time opportunities, as are all flash-sale sites. On Gilt, sales typically last 36 hours, though some products sell out within minutes. Most HauteLook sales last 48 hours. Ideeli sales last 40 hours.

The time-sensitive nature of flash sales is part of the appeal, said Jyothi Rao, general manager for the women’s category at Gilt Groupe.

“We strive to combine entertainment, gaming and shopping into one exciting experience,” she said.

Like gaming, flash-sale shopping can become addictive. Morse belongs to Gilt, ideeli, Rue La La, Beyond the Rack and HauteLook. Emails with offers from each site fill her inbox each morning.

“I’m addicted,” she said. “The temptation is huge.”

Morse has been shopping flash-sale sites for more than a year and said she has learned to better limit the time spent online.

“My husband told me I had to slow down. I listened to him,” she said.

Morse said shopping flash-sale sites helps her save time, because she’s not running from store to store in the mall. It also helps her stretch her money further.

“I can purchase a little more and different designer labels, because everything is discounted,” she said. “I’ve always been a designer and label girl since I was a kid.”

Though Morse belongs to a number of flash-sale sites, Gilt is her favorite, she said.

“The merchandise they have is more appealing to me,” she said, adding that she likes Gilt’s customer service.

Several months ago, Gilt reduced its flat shipping rate from $9.95 to $5.95 per order. If people need to return an item, they can either get a Gilt credit or have the money refunded in the original form of payment. Return shipping is free when people opt for a Gilt credit.

Morse once ordered from Gilt a decorative Italian patio pot that arrived broken. Her husband called Gilt to ask about mailing it back, and the representative said to just keep it and gave Morse a refund.

She also said she likes that Gilt lets people wait-list items either reserved in members’ shopping carts or sold out. If Morse puts something on her wait list that’s no longer available, she has a chance to purchase it if other people release it from their carts or return it, or if the designer makes additional merchandise available. Rue La La offers a wait-list option, as well.

Though Morse prefers Gilt, Vancouver’s Jane Jennings is partial to Rue La La.

“I think the service is better, the convenience, the selection and the prices,” said Jennings, a 41-year-old marketing consultant.

Jennings joined Rue La La about two years ago after her sister told her about it. She has used Gilt once but found it “a little overwhelming.”

Jennings’ favorite flash-sale site finds have been Hobo International brand wallets. They’re usually $100-$125 at department stores, but she has purchased three on Rue La La for $40 each.

Other purchases have included Saucony running shoes, Tom Ford sunglasses and Cuisinart appliances. And she is on the wait list for a Three Dots shirt in her preferred color and size.

Jennings said she finds looking at the previews of upcoming days’ collections helpful; she’ll take that information and do a little comparison shopping to help her determine how good of a deal is at stake.

“You do need to do a little preliminary research to avoid the impulse buy,” she said.

Impulse purchases haven’t been a problem for Jennings.

“(Rue La La) is something I enjoy looking at every day, but I only buy things I need and know I’m going to use,” she said.

Mary Ann Albright:;; 360-735-4507.