NEW YORK — Retailers say they're selling more merchandise, including designer clothing, at full price these days. That means you won't find piles of deals at 70 percent off, but they're still out there. Here are some up-to-the-minute tips on bargain-hunting for coveted brands. Associated Press
Finding bargains at the mall: There are still department stores and mall chains offering broad discounts. They're just quieter about it than they were during the recession-fueled fire sales, so keep looking in stores and online. Dan de Grandpre, editor in chief of online shopping and discount guide dealnews.com, said the most efficient way to find store coupons is search online for the name of the store and the word "coupon," rather than jumping from one online coupon site to another.
Shop at off-price chains: There are two types of off-price chains — outlet stores connected to full-price chains such as Saks Fifth Avenue and stand-alone chains such as T.J. Maxx. Stores like T.J. Maxx get their merchandise from a variety of sources that want to get rid of excess merchandise. You can find good deals, but finding something specific can be hit-or-miss.
One thing to be wary of: Outlet stores don't always sell the same stuff as the big chain. For example, Nordstrom Rack gets only about 25 percent of its merchandise from the parent stores; the rest is purchased or made to sell at the outlet. So carefully assess the quality and price.
While you can consistently find branded goods at low prices at places like T.J. Maxx, if you want to put your hands on a specific top designer label, it's best to go to one of the designer stores' outlets, said Candace Corlett, principal at consulting firm WSL Strategic.
Corlett advises shoppers looking for top designer names to search for the items stocked in small quantities. "You should look for the treasures," she said.
Turn to private designer sales sites: Websites that offer deep discounts on status brands for a limited time to subscribing members, known as "private sales sites," are proliferating.
Of course, all you have to do to become a "member" is sign up.
Gilt.com, hautelook.com and ruelala.com are among the best-known fashion sites. Others include Totsy, which targets expecting moms and families with items like diaper bags and strollers.
You should sign up for sites that focus on the kind of merchandise you want, or the sites will bombard you with too many e-mails. These sites offer discounts of up to 70 percent, but the bad news is that the hottest items can sell out within a few minutes.
Scour items at consignment shops: Secondhand shops are proliferating, said Adele R. Meyer, executive director for the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, which counts more than 1,200 members, up from 900 a year ago.
Shoppers looking for top premium brands such as Prada and Chanel should pick consignment shops in wealthy areas, because they tend to get the best merchandise.
If you like a store, develop a rapport with the owner and get on the store's wish lists so that when what you want comes in, the store can contact you.
Carefully examine the shop's return policies — many don't accept returns. And check for stains on clothing and other problems.
The best deals can be found when consignment shops start clearing out seasonal goods. Markdowns can hit as much as 90 percent off retail. At Designer Resale, a consignment shop in Manhattan, the summer sale begins at the end of July.
Haggle for the deal you want: Dealnews.com's Grandpre noted that even as the economy recovers, "there's still room to haggle," particularly on the most expensive items. So if you want a 30 percent discount on an evening gown instead of 10 percent, ask. Hey, it can't hurt.