Rosemary Mac Cabe

Hemlines, heels and haute couture – your daily dose

Get savvy about the sales

THERE IS an urban legend in the retail world, one that is brought out and told (and retold) twice a year – that of the savvy sales shopper. “You know,” friends and family chirp, “the kind of people who go …

Mon, Dec 27, 2010, 00:29


THERE IS an urban legend in the retail world, one that is brought out and told (and retold) twice a year – that of the savvy sales shopper. “You know,” friends and family chirp, “the kind of people who go into the sales on St Stephen’s Day at 9am and know exactly what they want!” They exist, we are told, these mythical, militarily organised beings, in the here and now; everyone knows one.

“A woman in work does that,” you’ll hear. “I swear, she gets the best bargains.” However, a concerted search for the savvy sales shopper yields few results. It would seem that we are all, in fact, more alike than previously suspected – most people quizzed admitted to wandering into the sales, late on a Thursday afternoon, and picking up the odd “bargain”.

Mary McEvoy, who works in the public service, says she regularly frequents stores during the sales . But there is no method to her madness. “I don’t know what I want until I see it,” she says. “It depends what the reduction is. I mightn’t necessarily need it . . . I probably would buy things I wouldn’t ordinarily look at, purely for the fact that it’s 70 per cent reduced or something like that.”

This is not the ideal way to approach the discounts that this time of year brings, unless you are one of the few people entirely unaffected by our current economic crisis (in which case, go, spend and be merry; your country needs you).

For the rest of us, sale time brings the perfect opportunity to purchase investment pieces that may otherwise be out of our price range, at a bargain price – and, according to the experts, all this requires is a little bit of preparation.

“First and foremost, be methodical,” says Darren Kennedy, TV presenter and stylist, of “Make a list – go through your wardrobe and identify any clear gaps, and things you actually need.”

The emphasis on need versus want is especially important when items are discounted; a leopard print blouse at 30 per cent off automatically becomes a “needed” item by virtue of its price, when in fact leopard print is – ugh – so over, and in any case didn’t you come in for a winter coat?

Stylist and journalist Blanaid Hennessy would advise being as thorough as possible. “Go through your wardrobe and have a clearout,” she says. “Do it before Christmas maybe, before you get any gifts, and get rid of the stuff you don’t need any more. Just don’t go mad – keep the things you love, and be aware of the items you have that you might not love but that are ‘filler’ pieces.”

Identifying a gap in your personal market is the first step to making the most of the sales. This provides you with an affordable way of creating that much-sought-after capsule wardrobe, or finishing your home with that must-have piece of art or lustworthy 38-inch flatscreen.

Next? Be focused. “Go prepared. Have scoped out, prior to sale time, what you’re looking for so that your jaw is not hitting the floor at the things that you neither need nor want,” says stylist Angela Scanlon.

It may seem terribly tiresome to spend time identifying the items you want to buy prior to sale time – is there a more empty feeling than that of walking away from something you want? – but it will pay dividends when you can smugly do a smash ’n’ grab in the midst of a crowd of panicking, distracted shoppers. This is especially important when it comes to electronics. There are few things as overwhelming as a Harvey Norman store on the first day of the sale, and few gadgets will remain in the store if you haven’t got your blinkers on.

“Once you go in with intent, you won’t make those costly mistakes,” says Scanlon. “Even if you buy things cheaper than usual . . . they’re still expensive if you don’t use them.”

As far as logistics go, all three shopping experts agree on one thing: get there early. “If you go early, you can find the best stuff,” says Hennessy. “It will get messy – and I think the seventh circle of hell might just be a sweaty, packed shop during the January sales.”

On the other hand, Kennedy advises waiting for the bargains to get even better.

“Don’t be too eager,” he says. “Prices will continue to drop. If you’re prepared to keep an eye on an item, you can end up getting a really huge discount as stores cut prices coming into January.”

Rest assured, if there are 20 of your desired item with the right spec on December 26th, it’s unlikely they’ll all be sold come January 1st – but that one remaining pair of Prada shoes is not going to miraculously find its way into your wardrobe if you don’t take the plunge.

When it comes to fashion, says Scanlon, the time might just be right to invest in more expensive items with a view to keeping them for years. “Shoes and handbags are great things to buy,” she says. “They don’t change too radically from season to season, and they tend to fall by 30 to 50 per cent, especially in department stores. It’s the time to buy those kinds of things you’ll have for years, but mightn’t generally have that wedge to spend on them.”

If you’re planning on investing in something in the sale, do your grunt work beforehand. If it’s a dry-clean-only white coat, it will cost you a pretty penny to keep clean – similarly, if it’s a television with no HDMI port, you might have trouble using your UPC box with it.

It’s crucial to make sure that your buys are ticking all your boxes, especially if they’re in the €100-plus category.

The most important thing to remember, however, is that the sales – in their own particular way – are meant to be fun. The Christmas lights are still up, Christmas music is floating down Henry St, children are buoyed by thoughts of Santa Claus (who decided they were good, after all) and it’s the beginning of a new year that, let’s face it, can’t be much worse than the last.

Above all, says Hennessy, it’s the perfect time to go for something different. “Take advantage of the fact that there’s a whole lot of money off,” she says. “No one’s stuck with any one particular style – sales shopping is a great time to try a new look.”

That’s the crux of the matter; having said goodbye to the season to be merry, it’s now the season to be frivolous, if you can get away with it. When it comes to larger purchases, it’s worth following the experts’ advice: do your research, be focused and don’t be swayed by shiny baubles in your peripheral vision. But if we’re talking a €5 sequined jacket or talking light sabre, and it’s making your heart soar just thinking about it, it might just be worth taking a chance.

Where to go and when

SOME SHOPS have already started their sales – and these days, lots seem to have permanent sale rails anyway. However, January sales usually begin, unpredictably, in December – with the majority of stores beginning their sales on St Stephen’s Day.

There are notable exceptions, however; Urban Outfitters usually bucks the trend and starts its sale the day before Christmas, when great bargains can be had without the post-Christmas crush, and Next starts its sale at 5am on December 27th (no crush-free guarantees can be made, with people, year after year, camping overnight to take advantage of its cut-price goodies).

It’s worth checking with your targeted stores beforehand, but for quick reference, here are a few of the big guns:

Brown Thomas and BT2, stores in Dublin, Cork and Galway – December 26th; Clerys, Dublin – December 26th; Arnotts, Dublin – December 26th; Next, stores nationwide – December 27th, 5am; Debenhams, stores in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Kildare – December 26th; Marks & Spencer, stores nationwide – December 27th.

Published in The Irish Times, Wednesday, December 23rd.

You may suspect this is a little too late for sales that started today or yesterday, but take heart – Brown Thomas was flooded and, as such, you can begin your assault early in the am. Pick me up a pair of those Miu Mius while you’re there, will you? Size 6. Kthxbai.