Gift giving on a holiday budget is never easy, but it’s far from impossible. The advent of online shopping brought with it many new and exciting ways to save money on gifts, including daily deal websites (such as Groupon), auction sites (such as eBay), and flash sale sites (such as Gilt and The Clymb).
If you’re not familiar with flash sale sites, the concept is derived from in-person flash sales common in fashion meccas, such as New York and Los Angeles. The idea is that for a limited time – usually just a few hours or days – shoppers score deep discounts on brand-name items.
Online flash sales are very similar: Flash sale retailers work with brands to provide online shoppers with discounts – sometimes up to 75% off – on everything from fashion accessories and clothing, to home decor and furniture. Many products sold during flash sales are overstock inventory that brands are looking to clear out quickly, which makes them happy to offer the best possible deals.
What to Know Before You Buy Flash Sale Gifts
When it comes to gift giving, online flash sales are an excellent way to stock up on products for your family, friends, and neighbors. The trick is to use the right sites and understand what’s involved.
Here are several things to keep in mind:
- Know the Shipping Policy of Each Site. One of the biggest complaints about flash sales is that orders take time to ship – sometimes up to six weeks for delivery. This shipping delay occurs because flash sale sites typically don’t maintain their own inventory, which means they have to process your order through the company that produces the product, and then wait for that company to ship the product. If you’re on a tight timeline for gift buying, it’s particularly important for you to understand the site’s shipping policies, as well as the specific shipping policies for the item you’re purchasing.
- Make Sure It’s Really a Deal. Not every flash sale deal is the best deal you can find. Just because a flash sale site offers a 60% discount off the suggested retail price of a high-end designer bag doesn’t mean you can’t find the exact same bag for a lower cost on another site. To ensure that you always get the best possible deal, cross-reference your flash sale shopping cart with a quick Google search for the same items prior to finalizing the purchase.
- Understand That Most Flash Sale Sites Are for Members Only. You may have to sign up for the site before viewing its deals. Usually you can do this by simply providing the site with an email address and password, although sometimes you can sign up with a social media account, such as Facebook. Once you’re signed up, you’ll receive email notifications about upcoming sales and reminders when sales are ending.
Top Flash Sale Sites
Flash sale sites can be an excellent way to find killer deals for everyone on your shopping list – but you do have to be conscious of each platforms’ limitations. For the best possible deals with reasonable shipping times and rates, check out the following flash sale sites that are perfect for gift giving.
1. The Clymb: For the Athlete or Adventure-Seeker
If there’s an adventurer or athlete in your life, look no further than The Clymb. The Clymb offers everything from name-brand fitness gear, including Mizuno, Asics, and Roxy, to adventure travel deals. For instance, it is currently offering an eight-day rock climbing trip in Spain for just $425 (not including travel, food, or gratuities).
Shipping: The Clymb offers a flat-rate $7.95 shipping for most orders, although orders greater than $200 or those that include oversized or heavy products may be subject to additional fees. Each product provides an expected date of receipt (typically about two weeks from the date of purchase), as well as specific details on the shipping terms. For instance, when I selected a yoga mat to add to my shopping cart, I was notified that the item was subject to greater shipping fees because of its size, although the shipping date was standard – two weeks from the date of the purchase.
2. Zulily: For the Mom or Mom-to-Be
Zulily’s niche is very clear: It’s a flash sale site for moms. You can find everything from toys and adorable baby gear, to maternity wear and home and kitchen decor. The site first started a few years ago around the time when my sister was pregnant, and I quickly became a fan, snapping up all sorts of items for my new niece.
However, the site has expanded its inventory, making it more appealing to every woman, regardless of “mom” status. For instance, it currently has sales running for Lucy Activewear, Vitamix, and Ecco Footwear.
Shipping: Shipping in the U.S. starts at a $5.95 base shipping rate, and increases based on the quantity, size, or shape of the items you purchase. That said, if you make a purchase that uses the standard shipping rate, any subsequent purchase made on the same calendar day qualifies for free shipping. In other words, the shipping rate of your second, third, or fourth purchase on a single day gets wrapped into your first purchase.
Products typically ship from Zulily within 10 to 14 days of the purchase date, so they may take up to three weeks to arrive at your home. During high-volume purchase periods, such as the holidays, Zulily clearly marks items that are guaranteed to arrive by the holiday date, making shopping easier.
3. BookBub: For the Book Lover
BookBub works a little differently than other flash sale sites. After signing up as a member and filling out a brief form, BookBub notifies you of ebook sales taking place through other sites, such as Amazon, Apple, and Google. The daily sales notifications you receive from BookBub are specific to the genres you’re most interested in, and they include direct links to the sites where you can purchase the books. These third-party sites give you the choice to purchase the book for yourself, or to make the purchase as a gift for another party.
Granted, if you want to take the time to search out these same deals yourself, they aren’t exclusive to BookBub. The real benefit of the service is that the deals are compiled and provided to you in a single location, and the notifications are specific to your interests.
Shipping: Because BookBub deals only in ebooks, delivery can be expected to be immediate, and provided through the third-party sites.
4. Last Bottle: For the Wine Connoisseur
Last Bottle is a great site when you’re looking for host or hostess gifts, or if you’re looking to stock up on wine for a party. The site usually offers one deal a day on fine wine at about 50% off the normal retail price. New members receive an additional $5 credit to their accounts, and each purchase earns 2% credit to be used for future purchases. Members can also score a $20 credit for referring friends to the site – the credit is automatically added to the account after a friend makes a purchase.
Shipping: Wine is typically shipped within one to three days of the purchase, and is delivered within seven to ten days when delivered by ground. Free ground shipping is included whenever a member makes the minimum order purchase designated for the daily deal. For instance, Evening Land Chardonnay Sonoma County Blue 2012 may require a six-bottle minimum order in order to receive free shipping, though other deals may require only a four-bottle minimum for free shipping. Otherwise, shipping varies by state and the number of bottles you purchase.
5. Touch of Modern: For the Modern Man
Many flash sale sites seem to focus on female shoppers, but Touch of Modern is all man. The website’s interface is sleek and straightforward, making it easy to search for sales based on categories such as “the techie,” “the executive,” and “the mechanic.” Products are masculine, but cover all genres, including housewares, food and drink, art, fashion, and sporting goods.
Shipping: Shipping prices vary significantly based on the size of the order. While fashion items ship for a flat rate of $5.95, all other items are subject to a sliding scale – a purchase up to $25 incurs a $5 shipping fee, while a purchase of $500 is subject to a $40 shipping fee.
Products are shipped to the purchaser from the brand’s location, which means shipping times may vary significantly. Each product page provides an estimated shipping time, usually between three and four weeks.
6. One Kings Lane: For the Homemaker
One Kings Lane is an incredible home goods flash sale site that serves as the perfect resource for home, bed, and bath gifts, including gifting favorites such as bath soaps, robes, slippers, candles, and picture frames. One Kings Lane also makes it easy to mark the items you’re most interested in by clicking the little heart that appears in the top right corner of every product image. You can then view your favorites at any time by clicking the heart near your account information near the top right of the website.
Shipping: Shipping rates start at $6.95 for orders below $45, then increase on a sliding scale based on the total cost of your order. Each product provides an estimated date for you to receive your item, typically within seven to ten days of your order.
7. Hautelook: For the Fashionable Woman
Hautelook doesn’t just offer fashion flash sales for women, but it’s one of the best sites I’ve found for this demographic. Not only does the site provide excellent fashion, accessories, and beauty flash sales, but Hautelook is part of the same company as Nordstrom Rack. You can actually shop both stores from the same website by selecting either Hautelook or Nordstrom Rack with the tabs on the upper left side of the page. You can then use a single checkout for both stores, making it easy to take advantage of flash deals and ongoing discounts at the same time.
Also, anything you buy from Hautelook can be returned in-store to Nordstrom Rack within 90 days of purchase. This return policy is one of the easiest available for flash sales sites, as most sites don’t accept returns unless merchandise is damaged upon receipt.
Shipping: Hautelook also offers one of the better shipping deals, with free shipping on purchases over $100, and shipping rates between $5.95 and $7.95 for purchases less than $100. Shipping times vary greatly. Products that are kept in stock, including all Nordstrom Rack products, can be expected to ship within two to three days, while products from events where the inventory is not kept in stock are expected to take between two and four weeks to ship. Make sure you note the expected ship-by dates on the product pages prior to purchasing.
8. GroopDealz: For Inexpensive Options
Unlike many of the flash deal sites that offer discounts on designer and name-brand products, GroopDealz focuses primarily on lower-end items. This makes it an excellent choice for stocking stuffers, small gift items for children, or for the occasional fun self-gift when you want to give yourself a little pick-me-up. For example, I took advantage of a deal on printed leggings that cost just $8 a pair.
Shipping: The GroopDealz shipping policy is one of the more difficult to manage. GroopDealz essentially places the responsibility of shipping into the hands of each vendor, which means that each vendor can set its own shipping rates and ship-by dates. If you make a single purchase from three separate vendors, you may have to pay three separate shipping fees – one for each vendor.
Read each product’s details carefully to note the expected ship-by date and the associated shipping rate. For instance, the leggings I like so much come with a $3.95 shipping rate for the first pair, with an additional $2 shipping added for each additional pair. On the other hand, a $2.80 set of fingernail decals comes with a shipping rate of $1.95, with no additional charge for additional sets.
Flash sale websites are an excellent resource for gift-buying, particularly when you’re not in a rush to receive a product quickly. Just remember to always cross-reference the sales prices with other websites to make sure you’re getting a good deal, and be sure to double-check shipping rates and times.
And don’t forget to include the cost of shipping as part of the product price. If you can get a flash sale deal on a sweater for $15 with $7 shipping ($22 total), and you can find the same sweater for $19 on another site, but with just $2 shipping ($21 total), the $19 sweater ends up being the better deal.
Do you use flash sale websites to purchase gifts? Which site is your favorite?