Flash-Sales: Real Deals or Real Hype?

Many deal trends have emerged in response to our demand for bargains over the last several years, all of which have made saving money easier and more fun. Among the flurry of discount sites and apps introduced to the tech savvy, one craze caught the attention of frugal fashionistas everywhere: Flash-sample sale sites like Rue La La, HauteLook and Gilt Group bring coveted brands and exclusive merchandise to every day consumers. Today, you can find similar sale formats beyond fashion including home goods and travel. Though these seem like great deals, a little further investigation may unveil a mirage of cyber bargains.

So, what is it?
These member-only sales create excitement and urgency as each “exclusive” event delivers drool-worthy designer brands like DVF, Kate Spade, Derek Lam and Le Creuset at prices people find more affordable compared to retail cost. Limited quantities with a limited time to buy means members scurry to snag up items before they’re gone. And, usually before they have a chance to think through the purchase–the ultimate impulse-shopping scheme. Unfortunately, shipping fees and strict return policies make buyer’s remorse an expense issue to resolve. This is where my problem begins.

Ordering comes with a cost.
Most of these sites charge a flat-rate shipping fee even on small orders and there is always a cost for return shipping. Therefore, if you are unhappy with the fit, style, quality and fabric, you will likely be out of pocket up to $20 for simply ordering.  There is usually a limited time for returns too (some as limited as 14 days), so those who don’t mind the clock may be stuck with an unwanted purchase.

Credit conundrum. 
Some of these flash-sale sites offer limited credit options. Some may only provide a credit good toward future purchases on the site. Those who order too quickly may disregard the fine print and miss important return policies on final sales and clearance goods that can’t be returned, too.

HauteLook Hair Dryer DealGroupon Hair Dryer DealDeal dupe. 
People assume the prices on goods listed on these flash-sale sites are the lowest around, but that isn’t always true. I have found similar items offered on these sites at discount retailers like TJMaxx and Homegoods for less, and at other online retailers for the same, low price.

Just the other day I was looking at a deal for the Bellezza Pro Ceramic Hair Dryer and Flat Iron Set, a value of $470 for just $74 on Hautelook. Since I had been planning to purchase a set of these beauty tools anyway, I added the items to my cart. Before checking out, I ran a quick comparison through Google and found that I could snag the same exact set for even less via Groupon which listed it for just $49. That’s $25 less!

Though I felt particularly duped by this deal, not every offer is hype and there are plenty of real deals to take advantage of as long as you know how to navigate and manage the flash sales. To ensure you score only real deals and avoid buyer’s remorse, follow these steps.

1. Delete payment and billing information to prevent impulse buys. Many of these flash-sale sites allow you to save your credit card number and billing and shipping information for speedier check out. When you have to actually dig out your credit card and reenter the information, you will have more time to think about the purchase.

2. Always compare prices using Google or PriceGrabber. You may be able to score the same deal through the retailer or brand’s direct Website too, do check before checking out. I have found this to be especially true with supposed hotel deals through Jetsetter. The rates were nearly identical when compared to the hotel’s Web pricing.

3. Avoid temptation by disabling pop-up notifications on your mobile device and opt out of sale alerts via email. These will tempt you to start browsing and temporarily distract you from work while leading you to buy on impulse. Instead, only visit the sites when you already plan to purchase something like a new dress for a friend’s wedding or a gift for an upcoming celebration. Otherwise, you may become overwhelmed by the exclusive limited-time deals and buy on impulse.

4. Give yourself time to think about the purchase. Make it a rule to walk away from the computer and give yourself time to think if you really need the item you are about to buy. Make it an hour or more. Chances are you will forget about the item and avoid overspending.

Have you ever bought an item through one of these flash sale sites that you found to be a real deal or wish you hadn’t made the purchase? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Andrea Woroch

Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who regularly contributes to leading national and regional news stories. She has appeared on NBC's Today Show, Dr. OZ, Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, MSNBC, CNN, ABC News with Diane Sawyer, and been quoted in New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Better Homes & Garden and many others. Andrea also enjoys writing articles for various personal finance and lifestyle websites and blogs. Andrea is passionate about sharing ideas and tips to help you live on less without having to sacrifice. She says making a few small tweaks to daily and monthly spending is all you need to do to achieve your dreams within your means. Follow Andrea on Facebook and Twitter for daily savings tips and check back for new videos, magazine stories and blog posts all about saving money!

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