Members-only sites woo impulsive shoppers

The latest tactic to motivate shoppers to spend: the members-only sale site. These online outlets require “membership” (usually just a matter of signing up but sometimes a bit more involved), then run flash sales of designer goods or services. The concept started a decade ago with French fashion site Vente-Privee, according to The New York Times, but is a more recent phenomenon in the U.S.—one that makes a lot of sense at a time when most shoppers are still hesitant to shell out for higher-end brands.

It started about three years ago with fashion, a category now largely dominated by Gilt Groupe and ideeli but getting more crowded and expansive (beauty offerings are a new feature). More recently, members-only has spread to travel (Gilt-owned Jetsetter, among others), home furnishings (Décor Insider) and mom-and-kids stuff (e.g., bTrendie and The Mini Social).

The concept is a smart one, providing not only the thrill that bargain lovers seek but a sense of urgency that can help override a shopper’s more cautious instincts. For brands, it’s a great way to discount when necessary without cheapening their image (since only members see sale prices, these don’t pop up in Google or aggregator sites). Plus, happy customers may well come back at full price. “We’ve had brands tell us that after one of our sales, the traffic on their own sites has increased in the double digits,” the VP for beauty at HauteLook told The New York Times.

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