Sample Sale. Free Samples Does Not A Sample Sale Mean. Catching Those With Sticky Fingers. Second City Style Fashion Blog

December 12, 2006 • Fashion


While we are on the topic of sample sales…some people apparently attend sample sales looking for a five finger discount, according to WWD. As Second City Style reported last month, Adam + Eve is clearly not the only showroom experiencing problems.

No longer synonymous with discounted crappola, sample sales have
evolved, with many offering fresh-from-the-runway styles instead of
poor-selling basics. Some designers are even opening their showrooms
and lining up rolling racks for this seasonal occasion, rather than
holding them in vacant spaces. 

But the transformation of sample sales from low-key occasions meant for
a few family members and friends to serious revenue-generating
businesses has brought an unwelcome guest: thieves.

They have plenty of ways to find out about potential targets. Sample-sale
notices are routinely e-mailed, metioned in
newspapers and posted on Web sites like Until last month’s
arrests of three alleged shoplifters who tried to run off with
thousands of dollars of merchandise at an adam­pluseve sample sale,
there was little public discussion about the five-finger discounts that
are considered by many to be part of the cost of doing business.

Rebecca Taylor now only allows shoppers to carry wallets while
browsing. All bags must be checked at the entrance. In the past year,
the company has hired extra security guards who have the task of
checking everyone’s receipts with what is inside their respective
shopping bags.

Tocca holds sample sales three times a year, and,
inevitably, there is some shrinkage, according to vice president of
operations Joyce Ramos. Shoplifters have never been caught, but Tocca
interns wander around to help make sure people don’t slip any items
into their bags, she said. The company typically sells a few thousand
units at a sample sale so the good must outweigh the bad.

Another detriment of sample sales is having to deal with some customers
who try to return something they bought at one, Ramos said.

shoplifters have gotten more sophisticated, so must designers with
their security. Having been in the business of running sample sales for
two decades, Elysa Lazar said, "Twenty years ago a friend of a friend
was your security system. Now there are lots of eyes watching." "Shoplifting at sample sales is something everyone faces,
unfortunately," Lazar added. "But my sense is, it is getting better
than it was."

Theory prefers to outsource its sample sales to SSS
Sales, partially to help curb shoplifting. In addition to being
responsible for the inventory, SSS hires plainclothes and uniformed
security, limits the number of items allowed in a dressing room and
requires that all coats and oversized bags be checked, said Craig
Leavitt, president of retail.

Lutz & Patmos lost $18,000 worth of merchandise at
their sample sale in 2003. "It was just a slow morning, and we didn’t pay enough
attention. This group of women came in, and they didn’t really look
like sample-sale shoppers. They were too big to fit into sample sizes,
and they had all these plastic bags with them," Tina Lutz said. "It
seemed like they were organized because they were very good at
distracting us. They asked us for business cards and sent us looking
for different sizes. We turned our back one too many times."

After they left, she and her business partner, Marcia Patmos, realized
something was askew and chased after them, catching two. But the
shoppers’ plastic bags were empty so they let them go, only to realize
more was missing once they returned to their West 13th Street showroom.
The fact that the thieves only took items upon which
Lutz & Patmos had received editorial coverage made Lutz think they
were savvy. For the sale held earlier this month, all shoppers had to
check bags and coats, and ample security was on hand.

headache is shoppers stealing other shoppers’ personal belongings at
sample sales, as has happened at Yigal Azrouël. "Two sample sales ago,
they were even stealing from the people shopping. One woman had her
Blackberry stolen," said Reesa Toppel, a public relations executive for
the firm.

During last month’s sale at Yigal Azrouël, a group of
women tried to run off with some stolen merchandise down the stairwell,
but a receptionist warned them an alarm would sound if they opened the
door. They jumped on the next elevator, going up, but the group was
gone when it stopped moments later on the way down.

suspected another quartet of women as well. They shopped together and
always wore trenchcoats, whether it was May or November, she said.
Aside from their outerwear, their tendency to shop the size-2
merchandise also set off alarm bells with Toppel. "They’re obviously
not size 2s. That’s when I use the best customer skills I have," Toppel
said. "I ask them if they’re shopping for a gift or would like help
finding their sizes."

When browsing at Yigal Azrouël’s sale last
month, Toppel trailed them. "Basically, I follow them. I don’t care if
I’m blatantly following them. You never know how much they’re
stealing," she said. "One of the things they took was an archived
leather jumper, a very special item. I assume they get it and sell it
on eBay."

A spokeswoman for eBay said the company does work closely with law
enforcement agencies to try to prevent the online sales of stolen or
counterfeit merchandise. She advised any brand owners or designers who
have had merchandise stolen to start with law enforcement. "What we
hear consistently is that eBay is probably one of the dumbest places a
thief could go. We verify financial information, e-mail accounts and
mailing information," the spokeswoman said. "It’s not a question of if
you’re going to get caught, it’s more of a question of when."

Source: WWD

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