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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


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.

James Jean "Reboot" Skinny Jean


Deal Me In: Free shipping means the sticker price is often what you really pay, too.

Count Me Out: These James Jeans sold for $72 at MyHabit, but just $61.99 at 6pm.com.

Take Note: Refunds don't return cash, but rather credit to your MyHabit or Amazon account.

Chloe "Lina" tote


Deal Me In: Pay the $9.95 shipping fee once a month, and no matter how many things you buy in the following 30 days, they all ship standard shipping for free.

Count Me Out: While this Chloe tote costs only $888 at checkout on matches.com, Ruelala asked $1,199 for it.

Take Note: You can put sold out items in a "Still Want It" list. You'll be alerted if that item comes back in stock. Which means you have yet another chance at those much-coveted Manolos.

Magaschoni Cashmere Ruffle Cardigan


Deal Me In: By featuring high-end brands like Kiki de Montparnasse (which aren't widely carried), Hautelook promises it'll stock its sales with offerings that are hard to find elsewhere.

Count Me out: This Magaschoni cardigan clocked in at $202.95 at Hautelook's checkout, but just $167.20 at bluefly.com.

Take Note
: Mind that $7.95 shipping fee.

Vince Camuto "Kodi" pump


Deal Me In: If your friends join via your invite, you'll get $25 credit (unlike $10 at some sites like Hautelook).

Count Me Out:  While vonmaur.com offers the same pumps in sizes from 5.5 to 10 for $55, Ideeli asks $64.99 for them.

Take Note: You'll have to pay a $7.95 to return an item.


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