Take it from me, a black-belt shopper: There’s an art to shopping — and sale shopping requires extra finesse. Scoring big at sale time means something different to every woman. For some, it might mean that you can finally scoop up that one incredible piece you’ve been eyeing all season at a price that fits your budget. For others, sales are the perfect time to round out your wardrobe with well-priced basics.
Here are 13 ways to shop end-of-year sales like a pro.
1. Set your budget first. Know what you can comfortably spend before you hit the stores to avoid that sinking feeling of buyer’s remorse. When you’re shopping for holiday gifts, it’s easy to adopt the “three for them, one for me” method. If this sounds like you, only bring one credit or debit card to ensure you won’t go wild in the heat of the moment. You’ll be rewarded with guilt-free shopping.
2. Befriend a salesperson. This requires a commitment prior to sale time, but shopping with one salesperson is highly advantageous during end-of-year sales. Your loyalty can be rewarded with insider information, such as when holiday sales are starting, how much the discount will be, what merchandise is likely to sell out quickly and when second and third markdowns are scheduled.
3. Know what you need. End-of-season sale time is a fabulous opportunity to find great basics. While everyone else is searching for the trendy bag or dress, scoring some key, classic pieces for your wardrobe at the end of the year can be well worth the wait. If you find a great deal, you might even consider buying multiples. Lingerie sales are ideal for this. Finding great-fitting bras and panties that work well under your clothing is no small task, so buying two or three at a time, maybe in various colors, makes sense.
That said, just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean you should buy it. It’s easy to convince yourself that because it’s a great price, you must need it. But a deal is no longer a deal when it’s not really something you truly need or want.
4. Comparison shop online. Do your homework before the sale begins. Find the stores that carry the brands or items you want, and visit their websites regularly to compare. Some shops or sites will automatically mark down items to 40 percent off once the sale begins, while others hold out and start at only 25 percent off.
One great resource for comparison shopping is Polyvore. Let’s say you’re looking for a specific pair of Gucci boots. Polyvore will pool together all the websites that carry Gucci boots and show the prices. Then you can click and buy on the spot if you see exactly what you want.
5. Take advantage of pre-sale. Many high-end stores offer their regular customers the chance to “pre-buy” items they really want before a sale begins. This is something I’ve done many times. You give your credit card number to your salesperson, who holds the item for you, and the minute the sale begins, they ring it up. You don’t need to physically be in the shop, but you are assured to get the pieces you want.
6. Buy that luxury item you’ve been stalking all season. Sale time can be the opportune moment to score that expensive designer piece you really want. It makes more sense to invest in a beautifully made, quality garment or accessory than bringing home loads of (even more) inexpensive trendy items that won’t last past the season. Shop for quality.
Designer clothing and accessories never get marked down until the end of the season, which usually happens immediately after Thanksgiving — within the next week to 10 days. High end designer labels are the last items to be marked down, so it’s worth it to wait and not indulge in earlier sales.
7. Know your size first. Long before the sales begin, make sure you know your exact size in those Prada shoes or in those Armani trousers you’re lusting after. If you see what you want online, you know that it’ll fit you when you order it, which avoids the need for returns.
8. Wait until the third markdown. When stores get to the deepest markdowns, there are usually some surprises for patient (and lucky) shoppers. I have found some incredible hidden gems at the end-of-season sale at prices that were so good, I’m still scratching my head. This is also the best time to buy those super trendy items, if you really want them. This way, you’ll pay the lowest possible price for things that might not have long-lasting power in your wardrobe.
Third markdowns usually happen either right before Christmas or immediately after when stores are anxious to get rid of their inventory, making way for bathing suits in January. If stores still have a lot of stock left, you can continue to find great deals through the first half of January.
9. If you bought too soon, ask if the store will honor the new discount. Many times a store will honor a new markdown if you purchased something (on sale or not) within a certain timeframe before the sale (typically within 10 to 14 days). You will have to bring the item and receipt back to the store, but it can be worth the savings.
10. Dress comfortably. Shopping during end-of-year sale time can be stressful. Dressing in comfortable shoes and in clothes that aren’t too heavy or tricky means you won’t be distracted by feet that hurt or by taking off all those accessories and putting them back on each time you try something on.
At the end of the year, you’re not just contending with other people in search of a sale-score, you’re dealing with hordes of shoppers looking for other holiday gifts, so this season is particularly challenging. Here’s one instance when “dressing for success” really counts.
11. Try it before you buy it. Don’t ever buy anything without trying it on first, especially during sales. Try on garments in a store beforehand if you can, so that if you plan on purchasing something online, you’ll know your size. Also be prepared by wearing the right undergarments underneath your clothes so whatever you’re trying on will look good too. Don’t wear those frilly (however pretty) bra and panties when you go shopping — they’ll show under everything and you won’t get a clear perspective. And don’t buy anything that doesn’t fit you. If it isn’t your size today, most likely it won’t be your size next week either.
12. Make sure you can make returns. You just never know. When I buy something, even if I’m sure I won’t return it, I always ask about the store’s return policy. Some small boutiques won’t take returns on sale items at all, and some stores will only accept returns on sale items within a shortened timeframe.
13. Consider alterations. If you’ve found something you love, but it doesn’t fit exactly the way you want it to, consider alterations. But make sure they’re realistic and not going to end up being outrageously expensive and complicated. Check with the store’s alterations department to see if they can tailor the garment there and what the cost will be.