Overwhelmed by massive members-only flash sales sites like Gilt Groupe and Ideeli? If you’re looking for good value on a boutique selection of high quality handbags and jewelry, a visit to The Guiltless Purse might be worth your while. Founded by Paula Thompson, a former buyer at Bloomingdale’s, and her handbag-loving daughter, The Guiltless Purse currently offers 16 brands including Abaco, Bulga, Furla and Tylie Malibu. Although Thompson’s daughter is no longer involved in the business, we were lucky to have the opportunity to chat with Thompson about how the magic started and where it’s going (it’s definitely going somewhere).
The High Low: How did The Guiltless Purse start?
Paula Thompson: It started out three years ago as a mother-daughter operation. Basically, my daughter and I went to a sample sale, and neither one of us could decide which bag we really wanted, so we ended up buying way too many. My daughter said, “Well, I’ll just put them on eBay, and whatever doesn’t sell – that’ll be our bag.” We put them up at a reasonable markup, but certainly not anywhere near the retail price, and in one day they were gone. So the two of us marched around town to sample sales with no idea what we were doing, one thing led to another, and we started Guiltless Purse, first as an eBay business and then as a dedicated website.
HL: Do you still sell designer bags that you find at sample sales?
PT: No, we stopped doing sample sales because there weren’t enough of them, and it wasn’t a reliable flow of stuff. Now, we go directly to manufacturers, but we buy end-of-the-season merchandise from select brands. Our prices are much sharper than if you were to try to buy them marked down at the store. We’re usually at least 50 to 65 percent off the retail price, which is a huge savings for the customer.
HL: What is the philosophy behind The Guiltless Purse?
PT: Quality trends at the right price for the sophisticated customer. We’re not Gilt Groupe; we’re a very focused business dedicated to a very specific customer. We’re where you find that really special bag, and it may be one or two of a kind.
HL: Who is that specific customer?
PT: A relatively young customer, somewhere in her mid-20s, who wants quality handbags and who is not looking for the typical status bag. She’s looking for something special. She recognizes a beautiful bag when she sees it.
The Guiltless Purse offers a variety of unique contemporary designer handbags at steep discounts.
HL: What is your most popular brand?
PT: Abaco is our number one resource. We’ve been very successful with them. It’s a French brand that has a very dedicated following.
HL: Are there other designers you hope to add to your repertoire?
PT: I’m always looking for new lines. But in my case, the customer has to have some experience with the line; I can’t really sell a bag if she doesn’t know the brand enough.
HL: What are the benefits of being an online sample sale retailer?
PT: I can control the business in terms of size and quantity so that we can be profitable. I don’t have a huge overhead, and it’s a very clean business to run. We’re not carrying a lot of one style, so if something doesn’t work, we can mark it down and get out of it – and that’s a huge advantage for a small store. I don’t have the highest risk.
HL: How much inventory of each style do you stock?
PT: Just two or three. It’s a site that you check out on a regular basis to see if there’s something new
HL: How long do you keep each style up for sale?
PT: Usually until they sell out.
HL: What exciting developments are happening at The Guiltless Purse?
PT: We will have new stock and a better selection of stock somewhere around mid-August. And we’ll also have some jewelry that we’ve never had before, which will be very interesting. We’re looking to offer value on jewelry, too, because we think there’s a real market there for a customer to buy just a fun piece to wear.
(Note: This interview has been edited and condensed.)