Exclusive sites offer discounted designer duds

Tuesday, July 22nd 2008, 10:37 pm
By: News 9

By Kirsten McIntyre, NEWS 9

Exclusive online sample sales are offering shoppers a cheaper way of buying designer duds.
Kim Nelson, a self-proclaimed shop-a-holic, received an invitation to a "members only" shopping Web site.

"It's not that I purchase something every day, but I do go online and shop around every day," Nelson said. "I feel like it's a privilege. I feel like it's this exclusive shopping world."

Designer brands are sold on Web sites like Ideeli.com, RueLaLa.com and Gilt.com at bargain-basement prices.

Rachel Shechtman of the Council for Fashion Designers of America said the merchandise is often from past seasons or excess inventory.

"It's a very discreet way for them to sell goods online without it appearing on Google searches," Shechtman said. "There are lots of copycats in Europe and abroad."

She said over the past years, more imposters have popped up in the United States. The exclusive Web sites offer a way for designers to control when and where their brands are available.

Buyers get an e-mail announcing the opening of a "designer boutique." Prices are up for grabs for only one or a few days at a time or until the items are sold out. Buyers can purchase items for 70 percent off or more.

The sites grow by word-of-mouth. Gilt.com for instance, invites a buyer and that buyer can invite friends to join as well.

"So, if we have a member in L.A., she'll know much better who else out of her friend group might be interested in Gilt Groupe," said Gilt.com founder Alexis Maybank.
Gilt.com featured everything from diamonds to dresses.

"We were selling sunglasses that retailed for about $300 at Barney on our site for about $98," Maybank said.

If buyers find something they like, they have to purchase quickly.

"In our Diana von Furstenberg sale, we were selling eight dresses a second," Maybank said.

RueLaLa.com's CEO Ben Fischman said his Web site saw similar sales.

"Within that first hour, many of our styles have already sold out. We're doing our best to make sure we can get as much inventory on the site as possible."

Nelson recently found a dress on a site that was sold out in stores.

"I looked through and they had my size," Nelson said. "I was very excited and purchased it right away."