Sales vs. Clearance — Do You Know the Difference?

Woman shopping a sale

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

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

Maxi dress on 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

Green down jacket

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

Distressed Skinny Jeans on Sale

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

LOFT Sale Items

Grey tank top on sale

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

Gray work dressWho 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

Striped blazer and short set on sale

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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Catherine Brock

Catherine Brock is a writer, editor and marketer who's been sharing wisdom online since 2002. She's been featured on DrLaura.com, Wellness.com and ABC7 Chicago, FOX2News St. Louis and KCAL9 Los Angeles. Connect with Catherine on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter. Learn more about Catherine.
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