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Who Says No One is Shopping? In just three years, entrepreneurs like Adam Bernhard have created a new retail niche--private sample-sale websites--that has grown into a $1 billion business and changed the way America shops.

By Booth Moore

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Adam Bernhard still has the secondhand sofa he was sleeping on when he started his company three years ago--it's right across from his desk in the downtown Los Angeles offices of HauteLook. Downstairs, in a maze of studios, photographers and stylists are shooting the high-end skinny jeans and slouchy handbags that are making Bernhard a fortune.

Improbably, that fortune is in retail. It's no secret that during the past three years, the retail category has tanked--and no part of it more so than luxury. But during this time frame, a new breed of entrepreneurs has sprung up and seized the opportunity: They took the glut of luxury goods and created membership-only, sample-sale websites that bring the excitement of a door-buster sale online, with prices as much as 80 percent off.

To say that these sites have become the hottest area in retail is almost a ridiculous understatement: While second-quarter sales at brick-and-mortar luxury and department stores increased a disappointing 4.5 percent over the year before, HauteLook's sales zoomed up 275 percent. The online private sample-sale category generated $1 billion in revenue last year, and some say it could grow to $8 billion in the next five years.

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