Even if you haven’t seen that infamous scene in Confessions of a Shopaholic (and you really should it’s a fab film!) you will have heard about Sample Sales. Once a hidden secret only for fashion insiders and personal shoppers, they are now one of the most popular events in London with multiple sales happening every week in venues across the capital. What is a sample sale you ask? Well it’s a great opportunity to shop luxury and high street brands at up to 80% off. Brands will typically sell excess retail stock, production samples and archive/ catwalk pieces. This is usually the last chance to snap up pieces before they are recycled or donated and you can nab some serious bargains. Whether you are a sample sale novice or a hearty shopaholic – be like Becky Sharp and follow our 10 steps to become the savviest Sample Sale Shopper there ever was. Just go easy on that credit card!
1. Do your homework
Research is key. You’ve just heard that a luxury brand is hosting a sample sale but you’ve never bought anything from them before. Go to the brand’s website and get familiar with their styles, prices etc. Better yet, pop into one of their stores or concessions and try a few pieces on. Most of the products at a sample sale are excess retail stock, over production samples or if you are lucky – one off pieces from their archives and catwalk collections. The majority of stock will be from previous seasons so don’t get hung up looking for exact pieces. Opt for classics and wardrobe staples that you wouldn’t normally buy at full price such as cashmere, designer handbags, coats and jackets, tailoring and designer shoes. Invest in quality fabrics and styles and you’ll never have to worry about what to wear again.
2. Check the fine print
Double check the opening times and the location of the sale. Brands can sometimes move around the city so their sample sales won’t always be in the same venue as last time. Also check whether you have to RSVP or book a time slot before you head down to avoid disappointment. Some brands may ask for a charity donation upon entry so have a few spare coins in your purse. Most venues will also have a mandatory cloakroom so don’t go laden with bags, suitcases etc. It will slow you down! And most importantly – check what sizing will be available. Is it true sample sizes (UK 6 or 8 or clothing) or will there be a full range? Most sales will list this on the venue or brand websites and social media so triple check before you make the journey.
3. Get a sneak peak
Do your research and follow the key venues and companies that host sample sales on Instagram (Us of course @themusicroommayfair as well as @chicmilondon @insidesamplesales @asample @hashtagsamplesales @bestirevents @ldnsamplesales @ldnfashion). Many of them will post previews of stock, price lists and most importantly…videos of the sale room so you’ll know what to make a beeline for when you get through doors. There are also Personal Shopping services on Instagram that will shop sample sales for customers (@thesamplesaleteam and @behindthesales). They are often the first ones in the door so follow them to see more detailed images and videos of stock. Bear in mind that that prices mentioned on their posts will include their commission rate and will be higher than if you bought the items directly at the sale.
4. Be money savvy
Most sales will take cash and card payments but there might be exceptions so check the venue website before you go. Take both cash and cards if you can and transfer any monies between accounts before you go inside the venue (4G phone signal might be a bit temperamental with 150 people in a room all trying to do the same thing). Set yourself a budget or a spending limit so you don’t go over the top. Ask yourself before you buy – Do I love it? Do I need it? Will I wear it? If the answer is yes then go forth and purchase. Remember most brands will sell pieces at anywhere between 50-80% off RRP (Recommended Retail Price) but that doesn’t mean you have to buy it. As Marie Kondo says, if it doesn’t bring you joy then it doesn’t belong in your life.
5. Set your alarm
Sample sales can get busy. Very busy. Remember that episode of Friends where Monica, Phoebe & Rachel go to a Wedding Dress Sale and Rachel gets caught up in the stampede when the store opens? Ok so it’s not as bad as that but Sample Sales do get extremely busy and there can be queues for everything (entry, cloakroom, fitting room, tills etc). If you are prone to claustrophobia then proceed with caution and try to go during the mid afternoon or towards closing time to avoid the biggest rush. If you are more of a hardy shopper and can handle a Black Friday-esque scenario then you’ll want to get in there first to shop the best selection of stock. Make sure you dress warm (don’t forget a brolly), download a podcast or two, grab a coffee en route and arrive super early to queue (some sales can have 1-2 hour queues even once open). The bigger the brand the bigger the queue. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
6. Dress to win
Now is not the time for glamour. In a hot, busy sale room with communal changing rooms (or none at all) you will want to be able to shop comfortably. Wear leggings, thin layers and comfortable shoes you can slip off easily so you can try things on. Wear a small across body bag to free up your hands for all the bargain grabbing. If you have to check your bag into the cloakroom bring a small pouch/ wallet to put your phone and purse in and keep it safe. Also, and trust us, bring deodorant and water. This will definitely be a work out.
7. Bring a friend…and make some!
Shopping a Sample Sale is a lot easier with a wingwoman (or wingman). You can you divide and conquer if you are looking to snap up specific pieces in a busy sale. Even better, bring a decisive friend with good taste who can talk you out of bad purchases when you go into panic buying mode. Sample Sale shoppers are also a loyal bunch. Chat to people in the queue and make new friends. We guarantee you’ll find out some juicy sample sale secrets and they might even share tips if they’ve been before. Equally it’s just as important to be nice and friendly to the staff inside the sale. Not only do they know where all the best pieces are (and if they’ll be re-stocked) they can even give you a heads up to future sales that might not be advertised yet!
8. Don’t think twice
You know that moment when you are browsing and see something you like but aren’t quite sure? Pick it up anyway as I promise it won’t be there if you come back later. Stock can be limited and most sales sell out of 50% of their stock within the first day so pop it in your basket and decide at the fitting room or till. But don’t hoard. No one likes a hoarder. Remember nearly every sample sale has a no refund or exchange policy so if it doesn’t fit or you change your mind you’ll be stuck with it and that’s not good for you or the planet. Unless you give it as a gift to someone else. Then that’s ok.
9. Come again
The best two occasions to shop a sample sale are on the opening morning where you will get the best selection of stock, and again on the last day when there may be additional discounts to help sell the remaining stock. Keep an eye on your email inbox and Instagram for updates. Some brands will either do blanket discounts (an extra 20% off) or discount every item by another few pounds on the final day. It’s a gamble but it could be worth it if something you had your eye on gets marked down an extra 20%!
10. Get out of your comfort zone
It’s not just big luxury brands that host sample sales. Sign up to the mailing lists for all the venues and be the first to know about collaborations sales between smaller designers and brands. Not only are these sales less busy but you can discover new favourite brands and support small businesses and designers all while nabbing a great discount on exclusive pieces. Who am I wearing? Well I’m glad you asked…!
We hope our guide helps you shop savvier! Don’t forget to tag us @themusicroommayfair and show us your favourite purchases!