Several months ago, my boss and I found ourselves in a posh NYC restaurant for a business dinner. She was wearing an amazing dress and shoes that looked like they cost a fortune. “Where’d you get those?” I asked with my mouth half-full of orzo pasta (bad manners, I know), gesturing to her shoes. I expected her to tell me they’d come from some high-end boutique.

She didn’t.

“One of those flash sale sites online,” she replied. When I looked at her quizzically – I had no idea what a “flash sale site” was – she continued. “You know, those websites that have daily flash sales. There are a bunch of them out there.”

Turns out, the shoes – from designer Lanvin – retailed for upwards of $400; she’d purchased them from a website called for $150. Gilt specializes in flash sales for women’s clothing, but also sells men’s clothing, children’s clothing, and housewares, all at amazingly low prices.

Inspired by her combination of trendiness and frugalness, I embarked on my own journey to learn more about these flash sale sites. Here’s what I found…

Flash Sale Sites Specializing in Apparel

My research uncovered three sites that specialize in apparel. The first was Gilt, the website my boss had used to purchase her shoes at a steep discount. The second was HauteLook; it’s affiliated with Nordstrom/Nordstrom Rack (in fact, you can make returns directly to a local Nordstrom Rack store, rather than returning by mail). And the third was Rue La La.

After browsing the virtual “racks” for about a week, I decided to make a purchase from one of these sites. I found a lovely cashmere sweater on Rue La La for $69 (retail price was $149). Thanks to a referral from the aforementioned boss, I was eligible for an additional $10 off my first purchase, bringing my pre-tax, pre-shipping total to $59. Rue La La didn’t collect tax on my order, and it was a flat-fee shipping rate of $9.95. Had I ordered anything else from Rue in the subsequent 30 days, I would have received free shipping on those orders. In all, that cashmere sweater cost me $68.95.

When it arrived, I was really happy with my purchase. The sweater was super-soft, well-made, and the color was an exact match to the picture online.

Flash Sale Sites Specializing in Kids’ Gear

While I’m sure there are flash sale sites galore for kids, the one I kept coming back to during my research was Zulily. This seems to be the one kids’-related flash sale site that’s really stood the test of time. And although they specialize in children’s wear and gear, they do offer deals for are more adult-oriented.

Although I didn’t purchase anything on Zulily, I learned that my mother had – and her purchases were hanging in my son and daughter’s closets! She’d earned referral bucks ($15 for each referral), and also told me that “I could get more money if I put my stuff on Pinterest, whatever that is.” (She was referring to an additional $15 credit you can earn for pinning your purchases and preferences to Pinterest; she’s not that tech-savvy, which is why I was so surprised she’d discovered flash sales in the first place!) The items available on Zulily weren’t always from high-end labels, as on Gilt and Rue La La, but they seemed to be well-made.

Flash Sale Sites for Home Wares

I’d already heard about one of these sites, One Kings Lane, from one of the home decorating magazines I read. Although I really loved the products on this site, they were often out of my price range – even with the flash sales.

Then I learned about another flash sale site for home goods called Joss & Main. I loved the products, I loved the prices, and I loved the shipping policy (very similar to Rue La La – pay once, good for 30 days). I ordered one item for my home, and it arrived on time and in awesome condition. I was a happy customer, so when I found another item I wanted for my home, I made a second purchase from the site.

This is where my personal rant begins…

The item I ordered from Joss & Main was supposed to ship in 7-10 days after I placed my order. A day or two after I placed my order, I received an email that the shipment would be delayed by about a month. I shrugged my shoulders, figured that was the risk you took when shopping online, and patiently waited for my order to arrive.

It didn’t.

The scheduled ship date came and went, with nary a word from Joss & Main. I contacted customer service, who told me they’d check with the warehouse to see what was going on. A few hours later, I received another email, informing me that my order had been delayed another month. So, again, I patiently (ok, not-so-patiently) waited another month for my order to arrive… and then that ship date came and went, again without any update from the company. I emailed, I complained, and was given a $5 credit to my account. Then a day later, I got yet another email, letting me know that my order had been delayed another TWO months.

I was livid.

Waiting four months from purchase to fulfillment was, to my mind, completely unacceptable. But what was even more unacceptable to me was the nonchalance with which the customer service representatives handled the situation. They didn’t seem to understand why I was so frustrated with my shopping experience. Maybe they were unphased by it because extreme delays like this happen all the time? Maybe they were desensitized to it? I’m not sure, but all I know is, I’d had enough. I cancelled my order, and vowed never to do business with this company again.

I’m interested to hear if anybody else has had a GREAT or a HORRIBLE experience with any of these flash sale sites I’ve mentioned. Are some better than others? Are there others I left off this list that I should consider looking at? Share your advice!

Libby Balke

Libby Balke