"I bought it on sale" has taken on the same ring as "I jogged before breakfast." Everyone can do it, but not everyone does. The rewards, though -- even if not visible to others -- are many.
Many shoppers have never paid full price for anything they buy. In the current economy, that's getting to be something to brag about.
There isn't a month, a week (a day, even, in some stores) that something isn't on sale. However, there are times when some things generally are on sale in larger quantities in more stores. (Take a cue from the calendar above.)
Items are put on sale for many reasons. If something isn't selling well, often it will get marked down. So, too, if it arrives too late in the store. If some parts of a sportswear outfit sell faster than others, the remaining pieces will be put on sale.
Promotional items can be as big a boon to the customer as something that once hung on the racks and is marked down. Brought in for the store promotion, these items may have been made at a quiet time for the factory -- and in special fabrics and quantities -- which makes the price an advantage to store as well as customer.
Certain holidays -- when the kids are out of school -- can be counted on for storewide promotions and sales.
End-of-season sales, in store terms, are often precisely the times that the customer would only start wearing the garment. Bathing suit sales, for example, usually kick off on the Fourth of July. (A boon to bargain shoppers, it can be a nuisance to someone wnting a new swimsuit in mid-season when leather jackets have replaced the bikini selection.)
Stores used to seek out places like Filene's basement to "dump" clothes when it became embarrassing to mark them down any further. Now most stores figure, rightly, that their own customers deserve such a bonus. And so at end-of-season sales they may reduce items by 75 percent. A $700 designer dress might go for $180.
Shopping sales is such a pervasive sport, it's easy to forget that there are reasons why someone would buy at regular prices:
The first shirt from Kenzo, the first Krizia knit, the first Calvin Klein coat go into stores at full price. Some clothes are brought in months in advance and orders taken for delivery when the season begins. Occasionally, if you wait beyond the original offer, you miss out on the original fabrics.
Items at regular price reflect the best selection by store buyers from everything available. You may gain from their specific point of view in selection. Discounted items often reflect only what is available to the discounter, not what is the discounter's first choice.
When clothes first arrive in stores, the color and size range is in the greatest depth. Once on sale, some sizes and colors may not be available.
For a successful shopping tour, shopping your own closet to see what you need to stretch your wardrobe may be the most essential preparation -- along with a good night's sleep. Don't hesitate to bring a change of shoes (not just for tired feet but for different types of clothes, belts, and even the skirt or shirt you hope to match to top or tie).
Serious sale shoppers can be most successful when they do not lock themselves into the search for a specific item, but are game to look at lots of things.
Remember: If it is going to end up in the back of your closet, it is no bargain at any price.