What You Need to Know About Sample Sales

Sample sales can be a fun way to get unique items at rock-bottom prices. Most retail stores, clothing manufacturers, and boutiques have sample sales from time to time, which can translate to big savings for you. In order to get the most out of the sale, it's important to strategize and take advantage of a few simple tips, which we've outlined below.

What Are Sample Sales?

Sample sales are the store's opportunity to clear out inventory from runways, one-of-a-kind items, and unique garments. In a traditional sample sale, designers will sell samples of new retail that have been previewed to buyers. This means you may be able to find some of the newest designs, many of which will be one-of-a-kind, at killer prices — anywhere from 20%–90% off. However, it can also mean that the items aren't up to the designer's usual standards because it never actually made it to production.

Sometimes, other sales (like overstock sales) will be referred to as a sample sale. These are actually just a retail store clearing out inventory from last season to make room for new stock. 

Where to Find Sample Sales

Sample sales often take place in warehouses, showrooms, and small boutique shops. Sites like Racked, NYMag, Clothingline, and 260 Sample Sale can give you a heads up on when the next sample sale will be near you.

You can also follow a schedule every year to estimate when the next sale will be. Some stores do a yearly sample sale, some follow a semi-annual schedule, and some clear out inventory every season. Sample sale season runs from November through May in large cities like New York.

Either get to the sale early, before anyone else, or at the end, after everyone has left. If you are able to arrive first, you will have the best pick of items. Arriving at the end of the sale can usually result in bigger savings and better chances of negotiating a lower price, since the stores are desperate to clear out any remaining inventory.

Negotiate Prices

One of the great things about sample sales is you can usually negotiate the price. If you are buying more than one item, you might be able to negotiate a lower total cost.

Look for imperfections for further markdowns. Anything from a loose button to a small snag can equal big savings. Simply take the item to the register and ask if they would be willing to offer a discount. Don't specify a specific markdown; let the sales associate offer a discount first. If they won't work with you on the price, ask if they're willing to throw something else in (like a free accessory). In most cases, you can walk away with a discount, but in a worst-case scenario, it doesn't hurt to ask. (See also: 8 Smart and Fun Things You Could Do if You Paid Less Rent)

Try Everything On

Some items may not be true to size, and others may not have sizing marked at all. Most sample sales don't have a fitting room available, so try on what you can on top of your clothes. Hold any other items up to yourself and have a friend take a photo with their phone so you can get an idea of what the garments will look like on you.

If there is a dressing room available, try on as much as you can before making the purchase. Remember that items sold at sample sales are almost always non-returnable.

Regardless of whether there is a dressing room or not, it's always a good idea to follow Cher Horowitz's advice and also take a photo of yourself in the clothes (or with clothes held up to you). Photos never lie, and you won't have to rely on unforgiving dressing room mirrors or lighting.

Master the Sale

Take advantage of these tricks of the trade and you'll be the master of the next sample sale.

Be Very Picky

Just because you waited in line doesn't mean you have to make a purchase. If an item doesn't fit perfectly, it can always be altered — but you should factor in the cost of tailoring before making the purchase.

Watch Your Budget

It can be easy to overspend when you feel like you're getting a good deal, but keep your budget in mind so that you don't overdo it.

Bring Cash

Sample sales are often cash-only. By bringing cash, you can also keep a good handle on your budget.

Go for the Bins

Bargain bins may seem intimidating, especially when they are surrounded by a horde of shoppers. However, this is where you'll find some of the best items at the best prices, so it is worth a look.

Start Shopping at the Back

Typically, shoppers start at the front of the store. By making your way to the back first, you'll be able to find the items that most people haven't rummaged through yet. Accessories, shoes, and the most deeply discounted items are usually also in the back of the store, so this is a great place to start.

Dress Comfortably

Make sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes that you can easily change in and out of, so that you can quickly try clothes on if there is a fitting room available. Think gym clothes or tight basics, such as a tank top, lettings, and flats. Also wear a cross-body bag, since a traditional purse will be cumbersome and only get in the way.

Be Prepared to Wait in Line

Many sample sales won't let new shoppers into the store until some of the shoppers already in the store leave. Be prepared to wait and enjoy the time in line with a friend.

Leave the Kids at Home

A sample sale full of fashionable shoppers is not the place for kids to be running around. You should be able to enjoy yourself and focus on getting the best deal possible (and not on chasing down your little ones).

Other Types of Sample Sales

Sample sales are also commonly referred to as warehouse sales, which are simply blowout sales of old or seasonal inventory. If you don't feel like fighting the crowds, you can also take advantage of deep discounts at sample sales online on sites like Gilt and Rue La La.

Do you have other tips for mastering a sample sale? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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