Get in on secret online sales

June 13, 2008 2:38:21 PM PDT
Listen up, label lovers! What if we told you there's a way to get your hands on designer duds at a price that'll have you calling the fashion police? All it takes is an invitation.Kim Nelson is a self-proclaimed shopaholic.

She said, "It's not that I purchase something every day, but I do go online and shop around every day."

So when she received an invitation to a members only shopping web site, she could hardly wait to start spending.

"I feel like it's a privilege," Nelson explained. "I feel like it's this exclusive shopping world."

An invitation like Kim's is the key to sites like ideeli, Rue La La, and Gilt.com, where designer duds are sold at bargain basement prices -- everything from clothes, to shoes to jewelry.

"Whether it's past season merchandise, or excess inventory, it's a very discreet way for them to sell goods online without it appearing on Google searches," Rachel Shectman with the Council for Fashion Designers of America explained.

It's also a way for designers to control when and where their brands are available. The Council for Fashion Designers of America says invitation-only sites first popped up in Paris.

Shectman said, "There were lots of copycats in Europe and abroad. And since then, over the past year, there's been more models like that that have appeared and popped up in the United States."

Here's how it works -- members get an email announcing the opening of a "designer boutique." Pieces are up for grabs for only one or a few days at a time -- or until they're sold out. Think of it as "flash sale," and you can snag a steal for 70% off or more!

Nelson said, "I think it can become addicting!"

The sites grow via word of mouth. Take Gilt.com, for example. Once you receive an invitation, you can invite your friends to join you.

Gilt Groupe Founder Alexis Maybank said, "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."

Alexandra Wilkis-Wilson and Maybank are the site's founders. They've featured everything from diamonds to dresses.

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

But to grab the goods, you have to click fast!

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

Ben Fischman with Rue La La has seen a similar response.

He said, "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."

Kim recently struck gold on a site when she found a dress that was sold out in stores.

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

You must be invited or sponsored to join the sites, but Gilt.com has a special 'key' for viewers. Rue La La is also granting viewers a limited time only invitation. It expires next week, so you may want to check out the sites this weekend. Find the details on our Consumer Blog.

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