Every Thursday afternoon for the past five years, give or take, I've crept around the Internet's sale sections both great and small to find the best discounted designer bags for a little feature we call Bag Deals. In that time, as you might have imagined, I've noticed some patterns, learned some tricks and assembled a mental checklist for finding and evaluating the best sale pieces, even when sale season seems like a distant memory.
Spring sale season starts in a little over a month and Friends & Family sale codes are starting to circulate for some retailers, which means this is a big time of year for bag lovers. With that in mind, now seemed like a good time to share my tricks of the trade with you so you can stock up your warm-weather wardrobes in style.
Some of the tips below are sort of common sense if you're an experienced online luxury shopper, while others are a little more intricate, but it's easy to lose your head when a sale launches and forget everything you thought you knew, so here's a little cheat sheet for when things get overwhelming.
1. Watch the Calendar
Major designer sales launch twice a year: circa Memorial Day and circa Black Friday. That's fairly well-known among high-end shoppers, but it's easy to forget when one of those periods is coming up because there's so much time between them. Shopping within those periods will give you the best selection of discounted goods in popular colors and sizes, although the beginning of sale season can also be a frenzy of competition among shoppers that gets a little overwhelming if you're just browsing and waiting for inspiration to strike. That bag you never dreamed would go on sale? It might be sold out by the time you click the link.
Still, sale season is well worth paying attention to, especially if you're looking to splurge. During sale season, we cover launches and stock in fairly minute detail, so if trying to find your needle in the haystack seems like too much work, check in with us and we'll have a bunch of resources to help you find your way.
2. Know Your Retailer
Sale policies and practices vary widely from site to site. Some retailers, like Net-a-Porter, only host a sale section twice a year and announce publicly when they've taken additional discounts or added new stock. Other sites, including traditional American department stores like Neiman Marcus, host a sale section all year that's periodically restocked with random bags like one-off returns or overstocks from previous seasons. With these retailers, it's very much possible to score something fantastic during non-sale periods, but you have to check in often and strike quickly when something good pops up, because there are usually only one or two pieces available.
It's also worth knowing a store's shipping, return and price-matching policies when evaluating whether or not something's a good deal. Some retailers won't allow returns on sale items at all or below a certain percentage of discount, which makes a purchase riskier if you've never seen what you're buying in person before, and even if you can return a bag, shipping fees can rack up if a retailer doesn't cover them. Also, stores that offer price-matching with other retailers or with their own additional discounts within a set period of time (usually seven days) give you additional peace of mind that you've gotten your best deal for exactly what you wanted. That's especially handy during sale season, when the same bag might be on sale at multiple retailers and discounts can change quickly.
3. Be Flexible on Color
For most popular bags, there are colors a brand makes every season that are considered part of a permanent collection (that usually includes neutrals like black, tan or cream) and more seasonal colors than may only live for a single collection. It's the seasonal colors that are most likely to go on sale because they can't hang around on store shelves once new stock arrives, so shoppers can often save some money if they shift their expectations from black to gray or from tan to burgundy. It's still possible to find permanent colors on sale sometimes, but they're generally at a lower discount and require quicker action than their seasonal counterparts. Overall, the best deals go to those willing to work, say, purple or green into their wardrobes.
4. Sort Carefully
Some of the best deals on designer bags between sale seasons can be had at discount-only sites like Barneys Warehouse or THE OUTNET, but discounters tend to have a lot of stuff that's been hanging around for a while that you have to sort through. Usually, though, any site's sale section can be sorted to see the most recent arrivals first, which gives you the best chance of spotting something that just arrived and will get snapped up quickly.
Also, sorting by brand can also be a big helper when looking for the most-prized pieces in a big sale stock, and if you're on a mission, it can also help stop your eye from wandering to impulse purchases. On the other hand, if you want to look at only a site's premier designer sale offerings instead of lower-priced stuff, sorting by price and choosing high to low will bring all of them up to the top.
5. Check Smaller Boutiques and International Sites
When most high-end shoppers arrive at sale season, they head directly toward a half dozen of the biggest luxury retailers on the internet. While it's true that those sites generally do have the largest selections, they may not be the best choice for someone shopping later in sale season or looking for a bag on sale that retailers with huge customer bases don't need to discount. In those situations, checking out the selection at indie boutiques liked FWRD, SSENSE or Kirna Zabete might yield better results because smaller stores doesn't have as much of a logistical capacity to carry inventory from season to season as a department store with many locations and a large web presence does.
Similarly, stores from outside the US, such as MATCHESFASHION.COM and mytheresa.com, primarily serve customer bases with slightly different tastes than those of US stores, so their selections are likely to include some things that are more scarce at American retailers. Also because of those different tastes, international retailers are theoretically more likely to discount certain bags that didn't end up being as popular with European customers as they were in the US. Maximizing variety is important in getting good fashion deals, and for that purpose, you need to look beyond your old favorites. If you're hesitant about shopping from retailers outside the US, there's no need to be--we have a handy guide to answer your questions and get you started.
6. Be Realistic About What Will and Will Not Go on Sale
Some bags just aren't going to go on sale within the timeframe that you want to own them, and there's nothing that can be done to will that into happening. When it comes to sale shopping, it's important to focus on solving only the problems that are actually within your control. Sometimes you might need either to buy at full price or adjust your criteria.
7. Consider Pre-Owned Options
Even if a bag doesn't go on sale, something else will happen at some point, though: a person who already owns it will get sick of it. Over the past few years, it's become increasingly likely that person will then sell it online, often in near-new condition, at one of the many secondhand designer consignment sites that have popped up across the Internet. We have a full breakdown of how to make sure you have the best experience possible when shopping pre-owned bags online.
8. Be Patient with Discounts
If you're willing to admit the bag you love is maybe a little weird, or maybe the color you prefer is one a lot of people might not appreciate, it might be worth it to wait and see if a retailer takes an additional discount, especially during the first few weeks following the launch of a new sale. The most sought-after bags will almost always disappear before their prices lower any further, but if your tastes run a bit eccentric, you can probably wait a little and get a better deal. By the same token, I've noticed that some prominent retailers don't even add the best stuff to their sale sections until a couple days after a seasonal sale has launched, or as late as second discounts. If you don't see the bag you want immediately, don't lose heart just yet.
9. Watch for Discount Codes During Full Price Season
Friends & Family sales started as a way for employees of a store or brand to share their employee discount with, you know, actual friends and family. Now, most big retailers have a "Friends & Family" sale with a publicly available code, which is usually good for 20% off most of a store's full-price inventory. Those and "Buy More, Save More" sales, in which your discount gets bigger with the more money you spend in a single purchase (usually topping out around 25%), are your best chance for grabbing a bag you've never seen go on sale at a hefty discount, and they usually come around six to eight weeks before a sale season launches at most larger retailers.
10. Don't Buy Something You Don't Love at Full Price Just Because It's on Sale
The best way to save yourself both money and stress is to remind yourself that buying something you don't love just because it's 30% off is actually a way bigger waste than waiting a little longer, saving up and buying what you love at full price. It's far better to have a couple pieces in your wardrobe that you adore and use constantly than to have a closet full of things you wore twice and resented forever after.
11. "Sold Out" Doesn't Always Mean Sold Out
Some stores are better at online inventory control than others, and sometimes when you click through to a product page, you'll get a note that the bag is actually sold out. This is especially true during sale season, when people are putting things in their carts left and right. Depending on how the site counts inventory, that bag might come back in stock very quickly when someone either cancels their cart or makes an order and then quickly cancels it. If it's a bag you know you'd buy if it were available, keep it open in a tab for a couple days and refresh it every now and then. You never know! Also, it may well be worth check back on that sale section in a couple weeks--returns pop up all the time.