What Is a Sample Sale?

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In its most basic form, a sample sale is a sales campaign launched with the specific intent of selling the sample pieces used in a store. In a clothing store, this may be the items displayed on mannequins and in shop windows; in a furniture store, these are the floor models. However, this is not the extent of the sample sale meaning. The term has evolved to also be used to describe sales of overstock items.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

A sample sale is a short sale where a designer offers sample items for steep discounts.

Because the sample products were on display for a prolonged period, they can't be sold for the same price they'd have commanded when they were new. For shoppers, a sample sale can mean getting designer items for a steep discount.

Understanding the Sample Sale Definition

To understand the sample sale meaning, it’s necessary to first understand the sample sale definition. A sample sale, quite simply, is where a retailer sells excess merchandise at a steep discount to move it out of the store quickly. Beyond being the items displayed within a store, these excess pieces of merchandise may be the pieces used for promotional photoshoots or at trade and trunk shows and pieces that are irregular sizes or damaged in some way.

Sample sales are not the same as clearance sales, though there are similarities. Traditionally, a sample sale was meant to get rid of items that couldn't be sold in a retail setting, such as prototypes and garments made for runway models. These items sometimes differ from the items found on store racks and shelves and may differ by:

  • Being made of a different material than the retail version of the product.
  • Not having designer labels.
  • Being altered to fit the models who wore them.
  • Being cut in slightly different silhouettes than the retail version of the product, such as a straighter leg for a pair of pants.

Today, however, many retailers and manufacturers sell clearance items under the term “sample sale”. Sometimes, these items are sold alongside genuine sample pieces. Other phrases used to describe this kind of sale are “warehouse cleanout sale,” “blowout sale” and “end of season sale”.

Types of Sample Sales

Some sample sales are held by retailers while others are held by designers and manufacturers themselves. With the latter type of sample sale, the items are sold directly to the public from their manufacturers and designers. This means the items are not shipped to stores and instead are made available in a temporary shopping location like a vacant retail space, an office or a section of a warehouse.

Not all sample sales are held by the items’ original designers or retailers. In many cases, samples and overstock items are sold to third-party sellers who then host sample sales featuring multiple brands. Well-known third-party sample sale companies include 260 Sample Sale, Soiffer Haskin and Clothingline.

Holding a Sample Sale Online

A sample sale does not have to take place in a physical location. For many designers, the most efficient way to sell off excess merchandise is to hold a sample sale online, shipping excess items directly from their warehouses to the buyers. Some hold sample sales at their own websites, while others find the most efficient way to hold a sample sale online is to sell excess inventory through a fashion sales website like Gilt and Rue La La.

Just like a brick-and-mortar sample sale, an online sample sale generally will not offer returns or refunds. Also like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, online sample sales offer a limited quantity of merchandise and when the merchandise is clothing, a limited range of sizes.