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Slim Pickings Among the Discount Clickings

March 15, 2001|JENNIFER LOWE | jennifer.lowe@latimes.com

There it lay, pilloried by the analysts, exposed by the media, bloodied and beaten in the e-tail world. EToys.com, once touted as the new way to shop for toys--and a site I really liked--had all but folded. The "sale" sign was out; the end was near.

What else could a shopper do but swoop in like a vulture and pick the site clean?

Picking over Internet sites that are closing is a lot like heading to a going-out-of-business sale at a nearby store.

I was glowing a few weeks ago after snagging a Sesame Street Elmo racetrack set from EToys for $18.99. It had been $49.99. (Last week, EToys declared bankruptcy and closed its Web site.)

So then, the bug bit: What else could I find online at a deep discount? I probably wouldn't run across more sites closing down right then, but what about outlets and sales? Could I skip the searching among racks at off-price retailers? Could I avoid clearance crowds? I set my sights high--I'd buy only if an item was 75% off or more. A friend had gotten a bag at 75% off from Lucy.com before the women's workout-wear site folded. So it could be done.

Shopping 101: There's a reason it's on sale.

My mother's words echoed in my mind as I began surfing. While there are plenty of discount opportunities on the Web, what they sell isn't always top-drawer. As the minutes ticked away while I waited for pages to load, I wondered why I was looking at items such as a terry cloth women's shower wrap "with free headband," (well, it was more than 60% off).

This was on Overstock.com, a site selling manufacturers' overstocks on which a colleague claimed to have scored a North Face parka for 80% off. I diligently cruised its items, a mishmash of stuff including housewares, luggage and clothing, the latter of which ranged from surfer-style board shorts to the shower wrap. But did anything catch my fancy?

More Shopping 101: Don't buy just because it's on sale.

I learned that lesson some years ago when buying oddly colored shoes at outlet malls. They were great deals, but they didn't match a thing I owned once I got home.

Straining to think of something I needed (the Sesame Street race track goes to my nephew for his birthday), I landed on the idea of plain turtlenecks--good for skiing. In previous visits to REI's site, I'd noticed the site's outlet, so I clicked through.

Not bad: a mock turtleneck on close-out, from $36 to $9.93, close to my 75%-off goal. I checked the sizes, or should I say size. Available only in extra-small. In plum.

What you find on sale is never your size.

I did sign up to use the site's "Bargain Sleuth," which said it would send me e-mail updates telling me when new items were added in certain categories. But in the two weeks since I signed up, I haven't received one e-mail. Checking the site the other day, though, I saw new turtlenecks.

I skipped over to Landsend.com, which has an overstocks department, but I had to reread the introduction several times to understand the markdown methods. New items are posted Wednesdays and Saturdays. Markdowns become greater with each passing day, but quantities shrink too.

A women's $128 cashmere sweater, in petite sizes only, was first on the counter at $89, then $66.50. The site said that by Saturday, if still in stock, it would be 75% off. The only turtleneck I could find had a Christmas tree sewn on the neck and was down to $14.50 from $19.50. Well, maybe I'd come back Saturday.

By now, I was using several search engines to hunt for close-out sites and checking daily at Landsend.com and Reioutlet.com.

I considered deals such as the squeegee for $2.18 on Amazon.com's outlet, and wondered whether I could fit my foot into a size 5 pair of DKNY running shoes priced down from $65 to $18.99 on Ultimateoutlet.com, the name of the Spiegel catalog's clearance site. (Uh, not even close).

Don't get desperate. Wait for good markdowns, then pounce.

Last but not least, I visited Nordstrom Rack online, which I'd forgotten about. On this site, manufacturers' names were familiar, and I remembered seeing some of the sale items previously at full price on the regular Nordstrom site.

It took some more looking--45 minutes or so--but I found what I needed for a birthday gift: a set of beaded stretch bracelets, originally $68, for $16.50. Shipping was $6.95.

I was done and as exhausted as if I'd hunted all over town for bargains.

Always end a day of shopping with a cup of coffee. My mom taught me that one too.

*

Jennifer Lowe is deputy food editor of The Times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Vulture Shopping

EToys.com

Too late. Already gone.

Overstock.com

http://www.overstock.com

Lands' End Overstocks

http://www.landsend.com

Nordstrom Rack

http://www.nordstromrack.com

REI Outlet

http://www.reioutlet.com

The Ultimate Outlet

http://www.ultimateoutlet.com

Amazon.com Outlet

http://www.amazon.com

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