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How to Be Fashionable With Gilt — Without the Guilt of Breaking Your Budget

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It may be the worst-kept secret in fashion. Gilt, an online version of a sample sale, is growing by leaps and bounds, and mostly among the young and well off. Feeding on the fantasies of those who aspire to luxury, the site promotes designer  brands at up to 70% off retail prices… but only for 36 hours or until the items sell out. Which they often do.

The site’s best finds sell out within moments. And say you are able to select the item that you’ve just fallen in love with–a Derek Lam dress or Christian Louboutin shoes–and put it in your checkout cart, another clock starts to tick. You have minutes to decide if you will really buy this item before it gets put back into inventory.

The scarcity of time and items turns the normal “high” of shopping into a competition of covetousness.

The integrity of the designer brands at accessible prices (if you can call a Gorham Afghan Oval Lapis Ring on sale for $1,420 “accessible”) relies heavily on the site’s exclusive invite-only membership. Gilt also protects the site from sale-trolling spyware like Shopzilla’s. In turn, brands that would never be caught dead selling their goods online are on Gilt.

And Gilt Groupe is making bank–or so say their executives (Gilt is a private company so exact figures are impossible to confirm).

However, are Gilt’s customers profiting — at least if they’ve got strict budgets to keep?

The “members only” exclusivity and the sense of urgency created by the flash sales turn the ease and convenience of traditional online shopping (which is just catalogue shopping with a computer) into a virtual sample sale with other customers’ carts popping up on items that are about to sell out and a ticking clock in the corner of the screen. The logic of “Do I need this?” and “Can I afford this?” is pushed out by “I have to get this before she does!”

Alexis Maybank explains it best. Maybank, one of the co-founders of Gilt explained the psychology behind the 36-hour sale in a session of fashion for HVB Forum DLD:

“That short window of time drives a certain spontaneity,” she said. “The psychology reverses itself. If you go into a store and there’s nothing there, you think, ‘Ugh. This store is terrible.’ In our shopping model, if you come into one of our sales and there’s nothing left, the psychology is–‘It’s my fault. I should have gotten here sooner.’”

While that reversal may score you the $49 La Perla embroidered thong (on sale from $105), if you have a budget you’re trying to stick to, these flash sales likely won’t help you.

However, buying something on sale is definately better than paying full price — as long as you follow a few steps to break the sale spell.

1. Avoid the craze.

Ask yourself, would you be interested in this item if it were here tomorrow? Like so many crazes that have come and gone (Tickle Me Elmo, anyone?), you may simply be following the crowd with this item.

2. Take off the sale goggles.

If you don’t actually like the item and end up using it, it’s not a good deal. It’s a waste of money.

3. Count to 10.

Or 1,200. It takes 20 minutes for your head to resume its rational thinking once it’s been emotionally worked up, according to Kit Yarrow, professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Sale shopping, since there’s a time investment and then the thrill of the hunt–especially when you find the right color and size–constitutes an emotional-charged state, man or woman.

4. Limit the sale e-mails.

Especially for Gilt and its competitors like Rue La La and HauteLook, your inbox can look like a consumer candy store of brand names and hot sales. Every. Single. Day. Your willpower may only hold out so long. Unsubscribe from the e-mails (you’ll still be a member), and only shop the sites when you have the emotional energy to say “no” or the cash to say “yes.”

5. Don’t be swayed by guilt (or gilt).

If sale shopping is something you love, put it in your budget, stick to it, and most of all, enjoy your purchase. But limit yourself. Once you’ve made the first buy, subsequent purchases are easier.

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