A white sale is a marketing strategy where a store steeply discounts its merchandise to increase sales during a short period of time. Historically, white sales were held in January, when sales were slower to generate more traffic in the store, and applied mainly to white items (such as linen, towels and drapes. Today, the term is used somewhat more openly, and can be applied to non-white goods. In some cases, some companies have applied the term to services.
In 1878, John Wanamaker of Philadelphia department store fame decreed January to be the time for a white sale. Bed linens, which were available in white only, were sold at a discount. It is believed he might have done so to keep linen makers in business during a slow time of year.
Today, white sales usually revolve around household items. However, they no longer only involve items that are white in color, and they are not restricted to take place in the month of January. Also, it is possible to have a white sale on durable goods or services.
Some authors have mentioned that white sales do not incur any incremental out-of-pocket costs for stores which conduct these events. Since a store is always conducting advertising through pamphlets and media, labeling a sale a white sale does not cost more for the company, while generating higher awareness in consumers. Hence, many stores will employ the terminology during slower months in a effort to generate sales.