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Are Flash Sales Worth Your Time?

At some point, we've all worn it: the smug smile that accompanies a seemingly amazing flash sale find. Whether the cart contains a studded leather jacket or a sherbet-colored sundress, the satisfaction of paying less than most people weaves a uniform thread.

But while there’s no arguing that flash sale sites offer luxury goods at a great discount, do they always offer the best discount? With hidden fees at checkout and online outlets often offering the same product for less, maybe not.

Although discounts at flash sale sites like Gilt.com ran up to 70 percent a few years ago, lately they hover around 40 or 50 percent (that's according to an October 2011 report in the New York Times). And not only are the discounts tinier, the stock's scaled back, too. Faced with tough economic times, labels produce less of everything. So even if a site's discounts—on, say, DVF dresses—are strong, their selection of styles and range of sizes might not be.

To counter these realities, flash sale sites employ armies of marketing tactics. Limiting the time a user can keep an item in the shopping cart might be the most egregious, since it robs customers of the time to research a better deal.

And would that research be fruitful? More often than not. Gilt, Hautelook and ideeli do offer great deals, but they aren't the only deep discount names in fashion. Elsewhere, there are outlets (yoox.com, 6pm.com), auction sites (eBay) and Google-esque shopping engines (shopstyle.com) that savvy shoppers should comb through. Because even if the difference between a flash sale's deal and an another discount is just a few dollars, it's cash that could be put to another purchase.

With that in mind, we've shined a light on the leading flash sale sites, researching their latest deals and special offers. Our conclusion? Perhaps the most effective use of time isn't merely scouring their discounts, but knowing the hidden fees that come with them, too.

Foley + Corrina "Jet Set" tote

Gilt.com

Deal Me In: A recent Giuseppe Zanotti sale included styles and sizes we couldn't find anywhere else.

Count Me Out: The Foley + Corrina sale wasn't as strong. While this tote would've cost $299 at checkout, it was just $272 at ebags.com and returnable for 60 days.

Take Note: Watch for hefty hidden fees like sales taxes and a no return policy on many items, like this bag.

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