The Champagne Life on a DIY Budget Since 2007

Cheap & Chic: The Year of the Private Sale Site

2008 private sale site boom

After France’s original private sale site, Vente Privee, became a word-of-mouth sensation in 2002, like most Parisian fashions, it was only a matter of time before the private sale site made a splash stateside. Six years later, the members-only, limited-time online sale site is an international phenomenon proven to be lucrative for both retailers and fashionistas. These virtual sample sales have become the club to which every savvy style maven wants to belong.

“The retail industry has watched the success of social networking platforms, such as Facebook, and retailers are reaching out to the customer and building communities,” says Adam Michelson, the Director of eCommerce at Optaros, an international consulting and systems integration firm that has worked with both RueLaLa.com in the U.S. and Wonderbox in France.

“There is a sense of exclusivity with these sites—but they are not so exclusive that you feel alone.”

With all these exclusive sales regularly landing in your inbox, now it’s easy to recession-proof your wardrobe without ever skimping on style. Here are five websites where membership definitely has its privileges.

The Golden Girl: Gilt Groupe
Harvard-educated long-time friends Alexis Maybank (formerly of eBay) and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson (formerly of Bulgari and Louis Vuitton) brought the 7th Avenue Sample Sale to the rest of America when they created Gilt.com in 2007. Their recent partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) secures their merchandise supply chain directly from the designer, which means not only an incredible selection but that your orders ship almost immediately. Opt for low-cost shipping ($4.95) and you’ll save even more (up to 70% less than retail) on names like Zac Posen and Valentino.

Added bonuses also include top-level shopping selection by size and a free wait list on items that sell out. If an item becomes available again, and you’re next in line, it’s all yours. Membership to Gilt is by invitation only, but you can request one by visiting Gilt.com (and then you can invite your friends to join). When a referral makes their first purchase, you score $25 in your Gilt account.

Variety is the Spice of Life: Rue La La
If you’re looking for a wide variety of sales—not just fashion, but homegoods, too—no other site comes close to the diverse weekly offerings at Rue La La. Sales on sleek kitchen appliances from Cuisinart, super-soft Italian bedding from Bellino, and heavy-duty Victorinox luggage sit alongside the likes of Marc by Marc Jacobs, Prada, and La Perla. Bursting with shades of Cosmopolitan pink, its eye-catching boutique feel and easy navigation made RueLaLa.com an instant hit when it launched in April 2008. If you’re searching for New York Times best sellers (or investment volumes), Rue La La’s brand and product assortment can sometimes feel like retail chick lit. Yet with the endless variety of sales and steals, Rue La La is one beach read you’ll find yourself flipping through again and again. (Plus, if you miss a sale, anything that doesn’t sell out can be later found on Rue La La’s sister site, SmartBargains.com, founded in 1999.)

Membership is also by invitation only, but you can also put your name on the waiting list at RueLaLa.com. Again, once you’re a member, you can then invite all of your friends, and when a referral makes their first purchase, your account will be credited $10.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Regent’s Secret
Denim connoisseurs, rejoice! Regent’s Secret is the best sale site for today’s most-wanted brands in a wide variety of styles, washes, and cuts. Recent sales included Yanuk, 575 Denim, and True Religion. Knowing quality denim is second nature for Regent’s Secret — whose CEO is Jay Furrow, one of the founders behind Joe’s Jeans. Regent’s Secret offers members continuous benefits from referral purchases. Rather than a one-time dollar amount deposited into your account for a referred friend’s initial purchase, you will continue to earn 5% on your referrals’ purchases each time they shop. Every $10 earned means 1,000 Reward Points, which are credited to your account and which you can then use toward your own purchases.

Membership is, again, by invitation only, but if you have an existing member’s email address, you can also enter it at Regent’s Secret.

Sublime Staples for all Bargainistas: Haute Look
HauteLook.com launched in early December 2007 by former Fox News Style File producer Carlota Espinosa, and this L.A.-based private sale site quickly became a must-shop destination with its varied selection of both indie designers and high-end brands, as well as the up to 75% off savings. HauteLook.com regularly carries lines like Velvet, Diane von Furstenberg, and Theory, all of which are both contemporary and infinitely wearable. If you’re shopping for gorgeous staples you’ll be wearing this season and beyond, Haute Look always delivers.

For more information or to register, go to Haute Look. Send referral emails to your friends and receive $10 into your Haute Look account when they make their first purchase.

Handbag & Accessory Heaven: Ideeli
Ideeli specializes in high-end accessories, such as jewelry, super-cute clutches and oversized sunglasses fit for a starlet. (It’s also the only private sale site for which you don’t need a referral to become a member.) After signing up, you’ll be notified when particular items go on sale, rather than entire “stores” showcasing one designer or brand. Ideeli’s selection is always beautiful to look at, frequently carrying European brands not typically available in the U.S. — and with names like Dior, Balenciaga, and Chloe, as well as the occasional giveaway or sweepstakes, you would be making a mistake not to become a member.

Ideeli goes one step further than the other secret sale sites by making certain items and sales available only to VIP members. For $7.99 per month, you can become a 1st Row Member and shop sites an hour earlier than 2nd Row Members, and will also receive mobile alerts (depending on your carrier). But, are VIP perks necessary when you already have to be invited to join the party?

“These sales are already private. You don’t want to make them more private. Now you’re creating a double barrier,” says Michelson. “And that can push people away.”

Membership to Ideeli is also by invitation only. Referrals’ first purchases net your account a sweet $25 in sale credit.

Stay tuned, as more private, online secret sale sites are popping out of the worldwide woodwork virtually every day.

Do you have a favorite private sale site not mentioned here? Or did you have a different experience with one of the sites we listed? We want to hear from you!