Suzanne O'Connor is president of BargainsLA.com. She shops for deals in Southern California and posts her discoveries on her site. Her best advice:
Hold out for a 35% markdown (at least). Then you can be pretty sure it's a deal. Most retailers set their initial offering price 20% above the price they expect to get, says O'Connor.
Find out why it's discounted. If it's out of season or overstock, no problem. If products are fake or imperfect (seconds or irregulars), be careful. Most stores at outlet malls sell "special purchase" products, which may simply be "cheap stuff for cheap," says O'Connor. Look for higher-quality merchandise marked down.
Shop manufacturers' end-of-season warehouse and sample sales. That's where you'll find prices 35% to 90% below suggested retail. (Use the Internet to locate ones you're interested in and to add your name to e-mail lists, and call to ask about sales that are open to the public.) Also look for sale notices on Twitter.com and Craigslist.org.
Look for online "flash" sales. Web sites such as EditorsCloset.com, HauteLook.com and RueLaLa.com let you register as a member free (sometimes you must be invited to join by a member). Sales may be limited to a few days, and you may have only a few minutes to purchase an item once you add it to your shopping cart.