There was a time when you could only find Cartier’s Pasha C automatic watch in the jeweler’s showroom but, these days, fashion-conscious shoppers don’t have to look any farther than Costco (Stock Quote: COST) to find this and other luxury items for as much as 60% off.
“It’s like seeing Hermes in a Costco,” says Stephen K. Platt, director and research fellow for the Platt Retail Institute, in Hinsdale, Ill. “If I had one of these super-premium brands and saw them there, I’d have a heart attack.”
Costco isn’t the only retailer hawking luxury goods. TJ Maxx (Stock Quote: TJX) is also getting a piece of the action.
Runway at The Maxx, the company’s store-within-a-store, has been hawking silk Marc Jacobs dresses and Dolce & Gabanna cigarette pants for as little as $40 since they opened in 2005. The 42 Runway locations have done so well that the company plans to open six more locations nationwide in March.
Department stores such as Macy’s (Stock Quote: M), Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom (Stock Quote: JWN) buy thousands of clothes, shoes and home goods every year. They generally buy everything for a season at once, several months early. (For example, they order their summer selections in December.) But off-price retailers like TJ Maxx order continuously throughout the year. So, if a vendor has 1,500 bathing suits, and only sells 1,000 to a department store that winter, the vendor can get rid of the extra inventory by selling it at a discount to Marshalls.
Vendors usually sell only a small portion of their total stock to a TJ Maxx, Costco or Burlington Coat Factory. However, as retail sales have declined, some retailers are canceling orders for high-end fare, leaving off-price shops awash in luxury products.
“A lot of retailers are cutting orders for the fall,” says Laura McDowell, a TJ Maxx spokesperson. “And if a department store cancels an order, then the vendor’s stock can go to any of our 900 stores.”
You Get What You Pay For
Even at a time when retail sales are down as much as 9.7% from the first quarter of 2008, the thought of finding a pair of Ralph Lauren (Stock Quote: RL) Slim Cut Jeans, which retail for $245, for as little as $80 can be a bit shocking, even for the most jaded consumer. However, just because there are deals to be had doesn’t mean they’re always as earth-shattering as some would expect.
“You can go to Costco and, in the men’s department, they’ll have tables full of designer jeans, Polo shirts and khakis,” says Christopher Lundgren, a private school teacher in New York. “You can buy them for two-thirds the price, but you can get the same rate at a Macy’s sale.”
Yes, shoppers are getting high-end fashion for far less than what they would usually pay at a boutique or department store but, before you head out for a cut-rate Vera Wang pleated, strapless dress, keep in mind that you’ll have to search for it among all the other deals.
“You can get great stuff at a store like TJ Maxx for $70 or $80,” says Janine Fezcko, a New York-based editor. “But you’re going to have to pick through everything that 100 other women have gone through already.”
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