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Warm up with winter sales

You can find the best deals on winter goods online. By Teri Goldberg

Ever notice how winter goods disappear from the shelves just when you really need them? On a recent reconnaissance mission in search of an extra pair of gloves and a warm wool sweater, I discovered next season’s bright green spring line already on display at many brick-and-mortar stores. I also noticed winter sale items were in shorter supply than usual, and what was left on the racks was priced way too high. What ever happened to those great winter sales of the past?

“Retailers are on one calendar. Consumers are on another,” says Marshal Cohen, retail analyst at The NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based sales and marketing research company.

Fashion forward retailers are way ahead of the consumer, he adds. “They’re thinking about swimming in January,” he says. Ten years ago, swim ware surfaced in the stores in March, now its front and center in mid-January, says Cohen. The reason is the earlier next season’s wares hit the shelves, the longer retailers can sell the merchandise at full price.

Trend setters are not only willing to pay full price, but also gobble up more than their share of the goods. “They buy the red and the blue pair,” says Cohen. So many consumers never even get to see some of the season’s hot items.

This season, retailers drew bargain hunters in the stores earlier with aggressive sales marketing. Remember those shoppers who lined up at Macy’s and other department stores at 7 a.m. the day after Christmas? Thought they were nuts, right? Well, this year, the early bird did get the worm.

Retailers also were better able to predict how much merchandise to stock this season. So after the holidays, there was less to markdown. Just two days after Christmas at one Gap in lower Manhattan, consumers pushed and shoved their way to the lonely rack of wool socks on sale for $1.99, reduced from $7.50, like it was the only deal in town.

Fewer goods also meant rock-bottom prices were harder to find. On the sale rack at a J.Crew store near Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, I eyed a simple cable knit cashmere sweater for $99.99. Shouldn’t it be at least $69.99 by now?

Dig deep for hot deals
Like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, many cyber retailers had already moved the winter sale items to the “back” of the store or Web site. “Early signs of spring” welcomed cyber shoppers to the jcrew.com Web site. A note about the winter sale, “Don’t forget about winter sale,” trailed at the bottom of the screen.

I knew, though, if I dug deep, there were deals to be had. At jcrew.com, I found wool/cashmere blend gloves for $6.99, reduced from $18, available in nine colors, including lapis with an avocado trim. 

Several styles of sale sweaters in both the men’s and women’s department were available in an assortment of colors and sizes. One women’s cable knit crewneck sweater, marked down to $49.99 from $68, came in five colors. A men’s lambswool rollneck sweater, reduced to $29.99 from $59.50, was available in seven colors.

Winter items were also still plentiful at semi-annual or annuals sales at Victoria’s Secret, Talbots and Liz Claiborne and Brooks Brothers. Victoria’s Secret and Liz Claiborne stores had smartly organized the sale items by size. Liz Claiborne even had some of the sale selection sorted into outfits.

Designer outlets to national chains
January is also the best time to shop the outlets, says Cohen. Since retailers just dumped this season’s inventory, there’s a chance you may be able to pick up “true Ralph Lauren or J.Crew merchandise” marked down rather than goods specifically made for the outlet stores or from previous seasons — a common practice at brick-and-mortar outlets.

Designer outlet bluefly.com had already cleared its homepage of its winter sale items. But new arrivals are from this season, confirms a bluefly.com company spokesperson.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are national chains, such as Target and Kmart. Catering to consumers who shop later in the season, these stores stock winter goods longer, says Cohen.

And now that some of these mass-market retailers have designer wares, why shop elsewhere? Check out the pink gloves a la Isaac Mizrahi at Target for $14.99. Compare them to the fuchsia cashmere gloves at bluefly.com, marked down to $24.99 from $50. Why pluck down $99.95 for a Portolano hat, glove and scarf set at bluefly.com, when mix-and-match hats, gloves, mittens, scarves or headbands sell for as little as $4.19 to $9.09?

Traditional white sales

Of course, there are traditional winter white sales. Whether named after winter’s fluffy white snow or plain old white sheets, white sales used to be limited to white household goods, from fine table linens to bulky appliances, such as refrigerators, washers and dryers. These days, however, white sales include much more than white wares.

Flannel sheets and combed cotton towels on sale at La Crosse, Wis.-based thecompanystore.com come in red, purple and yellow. Down comforters, available in blush, taupe and celadon, at Tampa, Fla.-based linensource.com are marked down to $89.99 from $99.99. Other hot spots for winter white sales include eddiebauer.com and Garnet Hill.

Winter, too, is a great time to shop for off-season products. So if it doesn’t send chills up your spine, you can start shopping now for some splashy new patio furniture or a state-of-the-art air conditioner.