sale spy: mastering clearance stores

Editor’s Note: My helpful hints today on iVillage are all about navigating Black Friday – when to dive in, when to bow out, and how to prep for battle. In that spirit, I thought I’d have our Sale Spy, Roxanna, give you some tips on my retail Achilles’ heel: the clearance store! I have yet to master these bargain bastions, but now that I have her tricks in hand, I just may give it another try!

Sale Spy’s picks: Leather Combo Blazer, Cut 25, $346.99 (reduced from $495) / Crossbody bag, Steve by Steve Madden, $46.80 (reduced from $78) / Medici Coat, Anthropologie, $149.95 (reduced from $298)

Roxanna K.K. ~ Everyone can shop in ritzy boutiques. With their racks of carefully edited merchandise and judicious use of white space, they’re a piece of cake. But only die-hard sale hounds can shop at clear-out retailers like Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack and TJ Maxx. This is where you become a shopping ninja.

Now I know many people are overwhelmed and intimidated by these stores – the unending racks of jumbled up merchandise shoved together like sardines, the fluorescent lighting, the nonexistent service. But trust me – there are amazing deals to be found here, people. It just takes a little courage and a lot of chutzpah. Luckily you have your trusty Sale Spy to guide you through the process so that you, too, can score the best finds without developing a migraine in the process:

Pick a Focus: Clear-out shopping can get overwhelming quickly; many people will take one look around and walk right back out, defeated. The key is to pick one or two places to focus your attention and ignore everything else. Wander aimlessly, and you’ll wind up frustrated and lost in the no-man’s-land between housewares and lingerie.

            • Pick a specific clothing item to sleuth. Choose something in season for your best odds, as there is new merchandise coming in all the time.
            • Avoid pants, jeans and other hard-to-fit items –  the likelihood of success is much smaller and you’ll only get aggravated hauling 14 pairs of pants to the fitting room.

Choose your Timing: You’ll have the best luck at the beginning of the season when bargain stores are flush with new arrivals; by the end of the season, the flow of new merchandise slows to a trickle. Avoid Saturdays, when the stores are at their busiest. And ask an associate when the new shipments come in; usually they are delivered on a regular weekly schedule and if you go that evening, you can get the best buys before they fly off the shelves.

Be tough: Clearance shopping isn’t for the faint of heart. You often have to dig through racks and racks of merchandise, most of it made of scary spandex-poly blend.

  • Head to the designer clearance section which is usually smaller and of better quality.
  • If you find something you like, check the price against several identical garments; often the store has repeatedly reduced an item, but only changed the sticker on some. This can be a time- and patience-sucking procedure, but it’s saved me countless times.

Go with an open mind: This is about treasure hunting, not checking off whatever’s on your list. Decide on an area you want to shop in but keep your options (and your eyes) open; otherwise you might miss those perfect Frye boots (yes, I have found these at a clearance store before). Also, these stores carry hundreds of brands, many of which you won’t have heard of before. It’s fine to go with a brand you don’t know for a trendy item, but if you are spending a significant amount of money, make sure it’s a brand you know and trust.

Be wary of return policies: Because these stores go through items so quickly, their return policies may be shorter than what you’re used to, so be sure to ask before buying. Also, if you sign up for a loyalty card, they may extend your return period, which is a great perk if you’re a return-pro like me.

Those are my tricks to stay sane and get the best out of clear-out store shopping…what are yours? Do you like this type of shopping or absolutely abhor it? Report your best finds in the comments!

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2 comments on “sale spy: mastering clearance stores

  1. Pingback: Speaking With: Toronto Food Policy Council Chair Hélène St Jacques « Wholesome Hedonist

  2. Suesan

    I bought this orange purse when it was full price and I still don’t regret it. It really is a fun bag and is very fall festive.

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