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Sales vs. Clearance — Do You Know the Difference?

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You’re no stranger to shopping, and you could probably find your way blindfolded to the sale section at your favorite department store. But when you navigate those bustling aisles and thumb through the racks with the urgency of a woman determined to find The Perfect Deal, you may not even realize that you could very well be trawling the clearance department.

So what exactly is the difference between a clearance and a sale? After all, both set off serious alarm bells — the excited, vigorous, run-for-it-right-now type. And you can usually anticipate the thrill of the chase when you envision those price tags with low, low prices. Both clearances and sales are shoppers’ paradises.

Sale — It’s Only Temporary

In the simplest terms, a sale offers items marked down for a temporary period. Big-ticket items tend to remain at their retail price unless a holiday pops up on the calendar. Then, well, you know the drill. Whether it’s Memorial Day or Black Friday or Arbor Day, prices get slashed for three or four days.

Once the sale ends, prices go back up. And if you missed the sale, you’re stuck waiting for the next big event.

Clearance — On ‘Til It’s Gone

A clearance, meanwhile, offers items with permanently slashed prices. Clearance sections in most stores often feel picked over. That’s because the prices are so crazy low that these pieces just don’t last.

You may find an amazing top that’s only in an XXS, or a fabulous maxi dress with make-up stains on it. But when you a piece you love that fits on the clearance rack? Well, that’s a budget shopper’s dream.

Note that most clearance items are final sale, so be sure that it fits you perfectly and is defect-free.

Where to Shop Clearance

Maxi dress on clearance
Green down jacket
Distressed Skinny Jeans on Sale

If you’re feeling a little inspired, who can blame you? Here are our favorite online clearance and sale departments to scoop up everything from wardrobe basics to shoes to accessories.

Nordstrom Rack Clearance

Absurdly great deals abound from brands both low- and high-end at Nordstrom Rack, including this Band of Gypsies Tropical Mixed Print Maxi Dress (was $89, now $17.49).

Target Clearance

There’s plenty to love in this digital catalog full of the best that Target has to offer. Add this Olive Button-down Jacket to your wardrobe for only $12.60 (originally $42).

Macy’s Clearance

Evening gowns? Check. Handbags? Yep. Tees? Absolutely. Macy’s has it all for less, including these Free People Sharkbite Skinny Jeans (was $78, now $39).

Where to Shop Sales

Grey tank top on sale
Gray work dress
Striped blazer and short set on sale

LOFT Sale Items

In the mood for a steal? Um, always. Find them in the LOFT sale section, which is filled with classics like this Tunic Tank (was $39.88, now $8.88).

Banana Republic Sale Items

Who can refuse the possibility of adding a fabulous work dress to their closet? This Banana Republic Stretch Racer-Neck Sheath (was $128, now $82.99) ticks all the boxes.

Francesca’s Sale Items

For relaxed clothes with a trendy twist, turn to Francesca’s sale department. The Dally Striped Blazer (was $38, now $26.98) adds laid-back charm to your wardrobe.

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Tuesday 18th of September 2007

Macy’s must read your blog! :) This concept of sale/clearance bothers me. I understand that it’s not clearance..but a lot of the time, you have to get things on sale, because by clearance time, there’s little left. That’s my experience. When things go on sale, you can bet they just hiked up the original price, and then brought it down just enough for people to feel like they’re saving money. I’m a bit jaded, I think. Now, when things go on sale at a DRAMATICALLY lower price, I just feel like they were way overpriced, they had way more in stock than they expected to, and it’s a way of duping the customer. I realize they have to make money..but it seems to take advantage of our emotional responses to money. Bleh.


Tuesday 18th of September 2007

Just a note about Macy’s sales - they are often much different in store than on the web.  I bought the featured bag about two months ago at a Macy’s store where it was on sale for $39.99.  After getting home, I double-checked the website… and there it was $75.  An excuse to actually visit the mall… to find sales!

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