J Brand jeans, Gucci sunglasses, Hanky Panky thongs, Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dresses, Stuart Weitzman stilettos, Botkier handbags and TAG Heuer watches: All at a fraction of their retail price. If you’re the kind of woman who finds fashion bargains to be more irresistible than brownies, chances are you’ve already discovered the world of online flash sales. At leading flash sites, like Rue La La, HauteLook, Gilt Groupe and Ideeli, along with dozens of new ones that pop up weekly, high-end fashion is offered for up to 80% off.
Shopping a flash sale takes planning and decisiveness. Each limited-time sale lasts for only 24 to 72 hours with the pick of the online litter going almost instantly. Any woman who regularly shops flash sales can tell wrenching tales of the platform sandals or classic trench coat that ended up “In member’s cart” just as she was about to click “Buy.”
Want a competitive edge? Follow these shopping tips from the pros:
Do Advance Scouting
Many flash sales sites have an “Upcoming” tab that lists the labels that will be going on sale in the next few days. Familiarize yourself with the possible inventory and select your top picks by checking out the current line on department store sites and the designer’s own website.
Online boutiques open their virtual doors the same time every day, so get to know their schedule. New sales at HauteLook and Rue La La go live at 11am EST, Gilt Groupe at noon. Have your mouse posed for action. “Sign in early to check out the lists of sales before they go live, and hit refresh right at 12 p.m. ET to enter the sale as soon as it begins,” suggest Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, a founder and chief merchandising officer of Gilt.com.
Seek Out Specials
Use all the tools that are out there, suggests Kerry Bennett, marketing vice president for HauteLook.com. Some sites have mobile apps that allow you to shop on the go. Becoming a Facebook fan or following a site on Twitter can get you perks, like early previews and friends-only sales.
Shop From the Bottom Up
“Most people begin shopping at the top of the page, and those items get snapped up early,” says Wilson. If you’re even considering an item, drop it in your shopping cart immediately. Sites typically give you 10 or 15 minutes before you have to make the purchase. If the piece you want is sold out, use the “Wait list” option. Items frequently become available as shoppers give them up—or reach their “Time’s up” limit—and you’ll be notified as soon as that happens.
Make a Shopping List
Know what you need to buy, suggests Kim Turner, an image consultant with FashionCents.tv. “Just like with other sales, if you just buy something because it’s on sale, then you’ll find it sitting in the back of your closet, unworn. An unused item is never a bargain,” she says.
Know Your Body Measurements
The dress that hits the mid-thigh of the tall model featured on a shopping site might land just above the knee on you if you’re 5 feet 3 inches tall. Shopping sites generally include the length of garments, and that can be the most reliable predictor of fit. Turner suggests taking four measurements, using pieces in your wardrobe that fit you perfectly: Inseam (measure a pair of pants from crotch to hem); ideal dress length (measure from shoulder to hem); ideal skirt length (run the tape measure from waist to hem), and sleeve length (measure from shoulder to the end of sleeve).
Shelley Levitt, managing editor of The Style Glossy, is a former West Coast editor of SELF and senior writer at People.