I gave MOUNTAINS of money to REI this time - got some trekking poles, merino wool socks and baselayers, climbing shoes, ice axes, assorted other climbing gear, down jacket (30 freakin' bucks!), a massive amount of assorted clothing, those nifty folding origami dinner sets, a standard sized downmat 7, and a bunch of little odds and ends.
I added a bunch of stuff to my cart early in the week, and was ready to pull the trigger on the purchase as soon as the discounts went live. I was also regularly checking back to the site, because they often add a bunch of stuff to the site right before the sale, and that's how I noticed that the discount prices were showing up early, which gave me a chance to place the order early and get the majority of the stuff I'd picked out.
Then, to sweeten the deal even more, I arrived at my local REI about half an hour before it opened, and was around 20th in line. By opening time, there were well over a hundred people in line. I had already scoped out the clearance bins a few days beforehand, so I made a beeline towards the items I really wanted and made sure to snag those ASAP.
So the trick for getting the good deals seems to be a mix of patience, preparation, and a job where you can show up at 11:30 am on a friday and not get punished