Sample-sale websites — like Gilt, Ideeli, and Rue La La — may seem like convenient ways to get discounted clothes without the hassle of pawing through bins. But here's the trouble with them:

For those not yet initiated into the apparently cool but secretly bad world of sample sale sites, a word of introduction. These are online clearinghouses where (sometimes) designer clothes and accessories are sold at deep discounts. Some of them generate a veneer of exclusivity by being (or appearing) invite-only, but most now allow you to just sign up. Then you get a daily email alerting you to the prospect of, say, Alexander Wang dresses, available at prices that, while not exactly affordable, are at least in the stratosphere rather than the ionsophere. And sometimes, if you're lucky, you can snap up cheaper brands (Michael Stars, for instance) at prices that could actually be categorized as cheap. How do Gilt, Swirl, and their ilk manage this? By sucking! Here's how:

Time is against you.
Like physical sample sales, online sample sales have time limits. But because it's the Internet, these time limits are vanishingly tiny. For the more popular items on Gilt, if you don't get them in your cart within one minute you are screwed (it's worth noting that Rue La La's timing seems more forgiving). Gilt then gives you 10 minutes to decide if you really want them, but even that's not really enough time, and you're going to end up buying something you don't really want or need just to keep other people's paws off it. Trust me, and the beautiful jacket sheath dress that I will never, ever wear.

It won't fit.
Assuming your size isn't totally gone within the first minute of shopping (oh, and that you're a straight size, since plus size sales are rare on these sites, though not entirely unheard of), you still don't get to try it on before you buy. And ten minutes — especially in the middle of your workday, when many of the sales start, isn't really enough time to figure out if the garment you're eyeing will really have enough room in the bust (here again, Rue La La is more forgiving, with no obvious countdown once items are in your bag). Yes, fit is a problem with all online shopping. But usually you can at least return your baggy or binding items for a refund. Not so at sample sale sites:

Returns are credit-only.
At Gilt, Swirl, and Ideeli, you can only return purchases for store credit, meaning you'll just keep on buying more stuff you don't need and can't fit into, until you spend out your entire credit on shipping costs (some sites give free return shipping, but you still have to pay them to send your next order). Rue La La yet again comes out on top here — they will actually let you return stuff for a refund. So aside from a pretty terrible name (I know it's meant to be all Frenchy, but it still sounds like I'm going to "rue" my purchases), they're the clear winner in terms of not-horrible shopping experience. But that's not saying a lot, and if you really want to have a pleasant time while purchasing high-end clothes you can actually afford, you probably need to go the Anna Wintour route and just have a zillion dollars.


Gilt [Official Site]
Ideeli [Official Site]
DailyCandy Swirl [Official Site]
Rue La La [Official Site]

Image via Vladimir Gerasimov/