For those planning on avoiding the mall this Boxing Day, online shopping is no longer restricted to eBay and Kijiji.

These days, web-only stores and private sellers are offering big discounts in unconventional ways: flash sales that disappear in minutes, secret deals for social media friends, and sales that you can only access if you’ve been invited.

Gilt, the original online flash-sale site, offers customers discounted designer clothing in sales that last only a couple days but sometimes sell out in minutes. A range of other fashion sites, such as Hautelook, Rue La La, The Outnet, and Montreal-based Beyond the Rack follow similar business models.

Beyond fashion, sites such as or Amazon’s My Habit also offer flash sales on home décor and electronics. Groupon Getaways offers limited-time deals on vacations.

And sellers—including individuals cleaning out their closets—are increasingly cutting out the middle man altogether and directly buying, selling, and swapping products using Instagram and invite-only Facebook groups.

Here are five tips for navigating the world of online shopping this Boxing Day - all from the comfort of your armchair:

1. Get a head start: Sign up for flash sale websites at least a week before Dec. 26.

Getting on a website’s email list will help you stay updated on upcoming sales. That way, when the clock strikes the hour and the sale begins, you’ll be able to grab what you want before it’s sold out. Knowing exactly which items you want also reduces your likelihood of getting distracted and blowing your budget.

Depending on the site, membership may also have other advantages. Some sites offer free shipping or other discounts on a member’s first purchase. Gilt lets its Facebook fans and mobile users preview sale items before the sale starts.


A photo posted by Get the Gilt Look (@gilt) on

2. Be social media savvy: Many designers, consignment stores, and individual sellers, use social media to advertise products and sales. On Instagram, you can seek out sellers by searching hashtags, such as #shopmycloset, #ootd (outfit of the day), #vintage, or #dress. Once you start following accounts, and commenting on and liking photos, other sellers in the community will begin reaching out to you.

In most cities, there are also closed Facebook groups for locals looking to sell or purchase products. Try searching for these groups on Facebook using terms such as “buy and sell,” “sale,” “used,” or “exchange,” along with your city’s name. To get more specific, try terms such as “fashion,” “electronics,” or “home.” If you find a network that looks promising, you can request to join the group. Then, depending on members’ privacy settings, you may be able to see which other groups they belong to and request invitations to those as well.

A photo posted by Shopaholic (@from_closet_2_closet) on

3. Contact the sender: If you like an item sold by an individual or small store, email or message the seller directly. There’s a chance they will reply offering the item at a lower price if corresponding with you privately. If you don't want to waste time negotiating, ask directly what their lowest price is. You won't be the first nor the last shopper doing so, so don't be shy.


A photo posted by @shopmyclosetlv on

4. Check the shipping policy: Many online retailers are based in the U.S. Check if they ship to Canada, and make sure the cost of shipping doesn’t cancel out the discount. The website compiles a daily list of companies with deals for shipping to Canada.

If you really want an item that doesn’t ship to Canada, websites such as Shipito or will (for a fee) provide you with the address for their U.S. warehouse, and then forward the items from there to your doorstep.

5. Make sure it’s the real deal: If you’ve spotted a Facebook photo of an unbelievably cheap designer purse, make sure you’re not spending your money on a pleather knock-off.

For less than $10, the website Authenticate First will examine photos of your item and tell you whether they are able to authenticate the product. Merely asking for additional photos to send to Authenticate First might be enough to scare away phoney sellers. If you never hear from the vendor again, chances are likely the item was a fake.

It’s also helpful to check out online reviews of websites and products. In 2013, Dotcom Distribution analyzed at more than 2,700 Facebook comments from consumers to flash sale websites. It found that 44 per cent of comments were negative, and that one in five was a complaint about shipping.

Where to look for…

Fashion: Gilt and The Outnet
Household items: Beyond the Rack,
Electronics: Newegg Canada
Kids’ items: Zulily
Travel: Groupon Getaways, Jetsetter