A slinky black cami dress at Rs19,900 doesn’t sound like much of a bargain. But when the tag reads Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) and the price has been discounted from Rs1.19 lakh, it is enough to make any fashion lover’s heart beat faster. You might not really need another black dress, but when the markdown is this high, it doesn’t feel like money spent but money saved. Buying merchandise in limited-period “flash" sales can be even more exciting.

Bag it: (Clockwise from top right) Jewelled bangle bag on Desicouture.net, Rs2,965; a black Luella purse for Rs47,000 that is part of a promotional give-away on Brandmile.com; and a blue Adam dress on Brandmile.com, Rs7,500.

This dress is just one of the offerings on www.gilt.com, an American online retailer and one of the most popular websites that works on the model of holding sales of designerwear at high discounts for members. The website, which sells designs of several high fashion labels, including Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, Emanuel Ungaro and Vera Wang, was launched two years ago. It cashed in on the economic downturn and benefited designers who were left with unsold merchandise. Shoppers logged on because in lean times this felt like guilt-free shopping.

Net-a-porter.com, the pioneering and most popular website for the online retail of luxury and high fashion, launched a discount website, www.theoutnet.com, in April. Other websites such as www.ruelala.com and www.vent-privee.com have made discount shopping a rage in the US and Europe.

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In India, Pearl Uppal is bringing her experience in e-commerce to an online retail address called Fashionandyou.com. Uppal was the director of sales at Yahoo before joining hands with Harish Bahl, founder of Smile Interactive, an Internet business solutions company. Their concept remains the same as Gilt Groupe’s, the company that runs www.gilt.com. Uppal calls it a private shopping club. A team of buyers picks the merchandise, a stylist and photographer shoot the clothes and accessories, and the photographs are then uploaded for buyers to browse.

Log on: 1. Pearl Uppal (far right) shoots sale merchandise on a model; 2. a draped gold dress at Desicouture.net, Rs6,100; and 3. a silver Rocky S bag at 99labels.com, Rs3,500. Photographs by Sanjay Gupta / Mint

Uppal’s site will soon face competition from Brandmile.com, which, starting February, will offer labels such as D&G and Burberry, as well as Indian designers such as Satya Paul, on discount. The online portal has already begun its publicity drive on Facebook and Twitter. The Facebook fan page currently has a promotional give-away contest where users have to tag themselves on a picture of a Rs47,000 Luella purse and one lucky person wins it.

The working professionals that these “e-tailers" are targeting have easy access to the Internet. “Our research showed that the online penetration in urban India is about 70-80%. Our target audience of 20-35 years spends more time online than watching TV," says Uppal.

Retailers say making the site user-friendly is important. Shoppers need to experience the product as much as it is virtually possible before entering their credit card details. Desicouture.net is currently doing the best job of making the customer’s Internet shopping experience comfortable. The photos of garments are well shot and neatly lined up; you can click for a larger image, zoom in, view from different angles, get a detailed description and tips from their in-house stylist. You can sort the clothes by price or by categories such as Pret tops, Premium Indian wear and DesiCouture Line.

Meghna Pradipak Reddy, the woman behind the website, has got designers to make lower-cost pret collections for her. She wants to promote low-profile designers but also on offer are saris, tunics and dresses by Shantanu and Nikhil, and Neeta Lulla. An orange chiffon cocktail dress by Swapnil Shinde, whose designs are worn by the likes of actors Priyanka Chopra and Amrita Rao, costs just Rs4,950.

Designer duo Shantanu Mehra and Nikhil Mehra have been selling their past seasons’ merchandise with First Row, a travelling boutique that holds exhibitions of designer garments in smaller cities. “We need to get rid of our old stock and now e-commerce is a good strategy for doing that. It’s been a rage abroad and I think it will do well in India," says Shantanu Mehra. But the designers don’t sell their Indian wear online. Since the garments are heavily embellished, they have a high “feel factor"—the customer needs to touch and try them before buying. First Row sales will go online in March.

Another e-tailer 99labels sells previous seasons’ garments by designers such as Ashish Soni, Satya Paul and Rocky S. Entrepreneur Ishita Swarup says, “It’s like an end-of-season sale, but not clothes that are out of fashion. We want repeat purchases so we make sure our merchandise is good." Swarup partnered with Anchal Jain and Ankur Prakash, co-founders of the NUN lifestyle brand, to launch this website.

Mehra doesn’t believe that selling designer clothes for less will lead to brand dilution. “It’s not like what I’m selling at a high price currently in my store is being sold cheaper online," he says. He believes that Indians will take some time to get comfortable with shopping for clothes online, but till then these websites are a great marketing tool for them. “It’s a great way to build brand familiarity with our target audience."

Pavitra Jayaraman contributed to this story.