Top-brand fashion retailers were among the hardest hit during the recession with sales plummeting as customers found themselves with less money to spend than they had previously. With in-store purchases falling, the Internet has recently seen a growth in membership shopping sites that offer incredible discounts to members.

The majority of the websites are free to join and give great benefits to their customers. Membership shopping sites offer customers deply discounted prices on designer merchandise for limited amounts of time. Designer clothes, handbags, sunglasses and shoes are all up for grabs for a fraction of their usual retail prices. Those that are quick with their credit cards can grab a bargain and save anywhere from 50-75% on top brand designs.

Gilt was the first website to offer such a service back in 2007 and now has a membership base of over 2 million. Many other competitors have emerged since, such as HauteLook, Rue La La and Ideeli and the market is continuously growing as companies. Some of the websites are exclusive and have restricted memberships. People can only join if invited by someone who is already registered, or if they sign up to be on the waiting list.

Reviewers have found membership shopping sites to be highly addictive due to their constantly changing inventory. Each site lists current sales and also offers previews to upcoming sales, to keep members interested and checking back for products that they are interested in. There are also daily email updates available to members, containing information on the current and upcoming sales to ensure that members are kept in the loop. While the sites have proven to be addictive, they can also be frustrating as the discounts are so high that many in-demand items are gone within minutes. Members are also susceptible to impulse buys with prices so low.

Another downside to using membership shopping sites is that they very rarely offer cash refunds if you are unhappy with an item, and many are non-returnable unless the merchandise was damaged in transit. Delivery can also sometimes be slow and it can take a few weeks for some items to arrive as they are often ordered directly from designers.

Overall, the pros of membership shopping sites far outweigh the cons. With the economy being so bad and people desperate to save where they can, they are a great option for those who want to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and fashions.