How to Buy a Premier Designer Handbag for Less Than Retail

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A selection of louis vuitton bags

In Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series, Becky explains her obsession with Denny and George scarves. They’re super luxurious, super gorgeous, and every girl aspires to own one — and correspondingly, they’re super expensive. Accessorize, on the other hand, is a generic store that sells various accessories, much cheaper than the brand-name Denny and George.

“Usually what happens is, I spend half an hour lusting after scarves in Denny and George, then go off to Accessorize and buy myself something to cheer myself up. I’ve got a whole drawerful of Denny and George substitutes.”

If you’re anything of a strategic shopper with limited funds (practically the definition of a college girl), you may have paused here, like I did, to say… but wait! Why didn’t she stop buying junk at Accessorize, and save up for the Denny & George? Probably if she held off on 10 items from Accessorize, she’d be able to get the scarf!

Yes, it’s a classic fashion dilemma, to buy many cheaper, lower-quality items, or a few (or one) expensive, high-quality items? There are advantages and disadvantages either way, and most of the time it’s ultimately up to the type of shopper you are. I’m firmly in the latter camp, and am here to show you five routes through which you can purchase a premier designer bag for less than retail price!

Before We Begin…

To fully use my tips, however, you need to stop wasting money on substitute brands, i.e. doing what Becky did with Accessorize. Just because you can’t afford Chanel doesn’t mean you should continuously squander your money on Guess!

Premier designer bags (Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, etc) have classic designs that are still bought and sold today, many decades after their original release, and are also reinterpreted with new materials and variations. Non-premier designers (Coach, Guess, L.A.M.B., Juicy Couture, etc.) usually don’t have a “famous bag,” and so bags by those brands lose both their appeal and price value within a couple years time. Premier designer bags, on the other hand, often resell for at least 75% of their retail value (depending on the bag condition), and often much more than their retail value if the specific color/variation is prized or discontinued. They are a much better investment for your hard-earned dollars.

Now, on to the tips! There are typically five routes through which you can buy a premier designer bag for less than the retail price: designer boutiques, department stores, eBay/Bonanzle, consignment shops, and online stores.

1. The Designer Boutiques

Chanel boutique

Yes, it’s true: designer boutiques have sales. Unless you’re a regular shopper, however, you most likely do not receive special invites or notifications for sales at the boutiques — so you just need to be savvy enough to pay attention to store window signs.

Typically, most designer sales are mid-year, through May and June. Chloé just finished theirs, with 40% off many styles, and other boutiques are starting their sales within the next few weeks.

Why else is boutique shopping a good idea? The greatest benefit of purchasing your bag here is the customer service. There are many horror stories out there about snooty sales assistants, but it’s more likely that your SA will be friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to help you search the country for your specific style or color. Also, a bag purchased from a boutique can be brought in for repairs, i.e. a broken strap — and if it can’t be repaired, most will offer your a replacement. The customer service is a major selling point for buying at a boutique, but the sales are a definite bonus.

2. Online Stores

Online stores are great because brand authenticity is guaranteed, they’re very convenient, and often there are good discounts. Websites such as Net-a-Porter and sell a variety of brands. Be sure to at check these shops at least once in your shopping search!

3. Department Stores

Department store

Department stores such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Saks 5th Avenue are a major resource for lowered prices on premier designers, if you know when to buy.

The skill you need to master here is the art of shopping the pre-sale. These department stores always have mid-year sales that include premier designer shoes, handbags, etc. About a week before the actual sale date, however, you may see nonchalant, innocuous little signs on the shelves, quietly stating: Pre sale in progress. When you see that sign, please grab the bag you want in the most civilized manner possible, and ask an SA if it will be included in the sale. If it will be, the SA will offer to pre-sale it for you, meaning you may buy the bag at the sale price. The process varies slightly at different stores, and there are a few options you can choose from, but basically you’re getting the bag at the sale price — but technically, they cannot charge you the sale price until the day of the sale.

Shopping pre-sale is a great way to see what bags will be on sale, as well as secure yours before the crowds! Huge tip: Nordstrom and Saks 5th are having their (pre-) sales now through June. I myself pre-saled a bag two days ago.

4. eBay

I know what you’re thinking: yes, there will be fakes. This is where you’re going to need to be a bit of a connoisseur about your bag, because even a little bit of knowledge about its leather or hardware will help you avoid most of the fakes. That said, many of the sellers are just like you and I, in that they bought a nice bag and want to sell it (maybe to fund their next bag). In fact, some people shop at eBay not for the prices but solely because they’re seeking a bag that’s sold out in stores, or discontinued.

Most of these bags you find on these sites will be used. However, since we’re talking premier designer here, they will be cared for to some minimum, such as conditioning the leather or storing the bags within dustbags. The key here is to get the bag you’re considering authenticated at The Purse Forum, where members who are experts about miniscule details of the brand will help you identify whether the bag you’re considering is authentic. There’s some risk involved with shopping at eBay or Bonanzle, but if you’re smart about the process, you can score big.

5. Consignment Shops

Consignment store

The RealReal, Ann’s Fabulous Finds, etc. these are the places where rich people sell their bags when they’re too lazy (or unlearned) to attempt eBay.

The prices may be a little bit higher, since now there is a middle man: the consignment shop who takes in the goods and sells them for the owner. However, authenticity is much less of an issue here. Customer service is also up. This is because consignment shops have an incentive — like regular businesses, they want things to run smoothly, and to maintain their reputation. Thus, they will take the pains to authenticate their bags, clean them up, and provide good customer service.

Your Thoughts?

I believe a premier designer bag is really worth it, and giving up three lesser-brand purses will usually get you one! All you need to do is save up – it might take a while, but it’s totally possible, even on a college budget.

Now go utilize these tips to their utmost! Namely, various designer boutiques and those three department stores are having their mid-year (pre-) sales now! But first, leave a comment about this article — do you have your own tips that you’d like to share with us? Now… go go go!

21 thoughts on “How to Buy a Premier Designer Handbag for Less Than Retail”

  1. Wow this is a great article! I’ve been saving up money so that I can buy myself a Chanel 2.55 before I graduate (hopefully!) and you gave great tips. I’m a firm believer in never paying full price for something, especially something that can cost thousands of dollars!

  2. Another suggestion would be factory outlet stores. I know that Coach has several in premium outlet malls around the country. It’s where I bought my Coach bag, and while still a little pricey, it was at least 50% off the original price. I then signed up on their website, and they send me coupons every few weeks for 20-30% at the outlet store.

  3. Sometimes you find them in the most unusual places.. last year I got a quad-colored leather Chanel bag for $3 at a garage sell in perfect condition, and just last week I was in a local thrift store on thursday (which is 50% off day) and on my way out, noticed a scarlet handbag, I stopped and went back to further inspect and called a saleswoman over and asked to see the bag (it was in a locked display case that ran around the register area because I couldn’t believe what I thought I was seeing.. well turns out it was a scarlet suede Prada bag with silver link straps that ran into red leather at the top… the saleslady told me it had been there for more than 5 months and they couldn’t sell it, well with all the mark downs because they hadn’t been able to see it, and the 50% off… I got this bag in excellent condition for only $19.98… The lady in front of me paid twice that for a queen size comforter that was hideous… I mean.. a chanel bag and a prada… together less than $25, at a yard sale and a thrift store

  4. I bought a coach and mk bags with some gift cards I had . Those r only so designer bags I have. I use them daily and I have a couple of no designer clutches for parties . Nothing ever happened to them. They r still in great condition . I think I got more worth for just 100$ I paid ( I bought them on sale) . Why do I need to buy high end designer. If you buy for quality these bags are just enough . Buying high end designer means you r paying for luxury, brand name , maintenance of boutique and brand etc. it’s more for status in my opinion. If I wore a MK bag nobody would look at me, if I wore an LV or Chanel bag people would look at me: if it’s only for quality then low end 100$ give you that. I m not willing to pay thousands for handbags or any brand name as my goals are different .

  5. I wanted to confirm that this is a quote from one of your blog post:
    Malleries, Ann’s Fabulous Finds, Nyankovivi… these are the places where rich people sell their bags when they’re too lazy (or unlearned) to attempt eBay/Bonanzle.

    My comment:
    The above mentioned websites are places to buy AUTHENTIC designer handbags. I do not believe any of these are lazy and most prefer not to sell on ebay or Bonanzle.

    Please if you are going to post a blog, there are many people who depend on good writers with good information.

  6. Consignment shops are great, because sometimes they don’t realize the item is designer (therefore they price it cheaper!)
    Bought a pair of Frye boots for $50 on Etsy once because the girl wasn’t 100% sure they were brand name boots — but the details and stitching was the same, and it turns out they were real!

  7. Thank you for clearing this up. Here is my take.

    Ebay & Bonazle
    Pre-owned designer bags, designer jewelry ect.
    Consignment: yes
    Reputation for authenticity: Poor reputation

    Pre-owned and new designer bags, jewelry etc
    Reputation for authenticity: Excellent
    Authenticity Guarantee: yes

    Anns Fabulous finds
    Pre-owned designer bags
    Single seller
    Reputation for authenticity: excellent
    Authenticity Guarantee: yes

    Sorry no experience with this seller.
    Authenticity Guarantee: Looked but could not find any statement of guarantee

    You will find some beautiful pre-owned bags in consignment shops and online shops. Styles that are no longer produced but highly coveted. If you are going to buy a designer bag online know what you are buying, know how to authenticate.

    Thanks again.

  8. Hi — I can understand why that quote might be misinterpreted in an upsetting way. I think I could have definitely phrased that better… by saying that Malleries ( and the like) are places where “rich people go to sell… when they’re lazy (or unlearned),” I didn’t mean anything negative. I meant that typically when you want to sell your own designer bag, you have two routes: selling it yourself, or using a consignment store to sell for you. When I used “lazy” I meant that using a consignment store definitely lightens the load of having to clean, research market prices, take photos, deal with customer inquiries, ship, charge, etc. When I used “unlearned” I meant that some people aren’t comfortable using eBay because they’ve never used it before, or some older generation people just don’t want to deal with it.

    Again, sorry for the misunderstanding!

  9. I don’t know if Ross is a national store, but for those on the East Coast: Ross is great place for cheap, professional looking bags. I just bought a Nine West bag there originally marked for $90 but I paid $24! It’s in perfect condition so for the poor girls out there like me, this is a great place to look!

  10. I like these ideas in theory, but I just can’t afford real designer bags. Furthermore, I’m too practical; I could never imagine spending so much money on something so unimportant.

  11. Ebay and Bonanzle are so full of fakes and you are directing your readers to these places?

    Malleries, Ann’s Fabulous Finds, Nyankovivi… these are the places where rich people sell their bags when they’re too lazy (or unlearned) to attempt eBay/Bonanzle.

    If you want to direct your readers to good information direct them to the link that shows 44 pages (the last I looked) where the purse forum members try to clean up Bonanzle having to tell them which shops sell fakes. The girls help them because to sell there is almost free.

    The above mentioned websites are places to buy AUTHENTIC designer handbags. I do not believe any of these are lazy and most prefer not to sell on ebay or Bonanzle.

    I could not believe how you stated that those sites were too lazy.

  12. This article was great! I agree with Erin, I’ve been going in this direction lately, and I was really happy to see this and would like to see more!

  13. I like the overall idea of this piece. Ever since I’ve had to start building a professional wardrobe, my purchasing habits have changed to “oh! its on sale! cha-ching!” to saving up for quality pieces. I hope to see more articles like this for other items.


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