Latest Article: Discount Shopping in the Internet Age

In the digital age, online flash sales are the new way to shop.

They’re addictive—I’m a member of several flash sale websites. I get their e-mails twice daily and check out the discounted designer merchandise on a regular basis.

Gilt Groupe, Rue La La, HauteLook, The Outnet and Billion Dollar Babes are just a few flash sale sites, offering products ranging from funky ikat pillows and wine to European men’s wallets, Marc Jacobs handbags and vacation packages to Turks and Caicos. Though becoming a member of one of these sites occurs through invitation only, the six degrees of separation theory suggests that you probably already know someone who can get you in.

As a college student, buying designer items might not be the most practical thing for you to do with your cash. However, with discounts as high as 50 to 85 percent off, your parents, friends and bank account would be proud.

The key to successfully navigating these sites is to have both speed and a clear idea of what works for your body type. Since shoppers are sometimes only given 24 hours to purchase items—which may only be available in “limited quantity”—it is a good idea to know your measurements and budget ahead of time.

To give you a glimpse of what a flash sale experience is like, here’s a rundown of my ultimate favorite of the bunch: Gilt Groupe (www.gilt.com).

Gilt Groupe is one of the few retailers that boasts increased sales during the recession. It’s the one-stop shop for anyone interested in living a luxury lifestyle on a budget. Featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, many tech blogs and numerous fashion magazines, Gilt Groupe is the brainchild of Harvard Business School alumni Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson.

In 2007, the duo created this site to bring the frenzy surrounding New York sample sales to a wider audience. In this vein, Gilt’s product offerings set it apart from the competition. With designer clothing and home decor, as well as discounts on hotels, travel packages and cosmetics, Gilt has positioned itself to be the go-to spot for everything. Last week, the site even launched a men’s style manual and developed an iPad application for the technologically savvy shopper on the go.

Gilt Groupe isn’t just for Neiman Marcus cardholders looking for a good deal. Collections by up-and-coming designers are also featured on the site, and prices go as low as $12.

Advance previews of upcoming sales allow you to decide whether or not you’re going to pencil in a one-hour block to shop on Gilt Groupe. Discounts go up to 70 percent off retail prices, meaning you could save hundreds on big-ticket designer items. Unfortunately, the sales window starts at noon and lasts only 36 hours, compared to 48 hours at Billion Dollar Babes or 72 hours for some collections on HauteLook. One bonus is that you can download a Gilt clock that alerts you when the sale begins and has a countdown to the next one. This may make you seem a bit like an overzealous shopper, but isn’t that what competitive shopping, bargain hunting and flash sales are all about?

-Stay Stylish

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