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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Insider shopping tips: retail

The Bargain Queen has been running a series on using insider information to get the best deals. So far, there are posts on how to get insider info and insider op shopping tips. Today, we'll add some tips for retail.

But first, a disclaimer: The Bargain Queen has never personally worked in retail, but as an avid bargain-hunter she's picked up a lot from friends on the inside, shop assistants she's talked to and things she's noticed while prowling the shoe displays. If you've got more retail experience than The Bargain Queen, please leave a comment with some tips!

Now on to the tips:
  • Take advantage of employee discounts. If a friend or family member works in a store whose stock you like, ask them nicely if you can use their employee discount occasionally. Sometimes this even extends to other stores owned by the same company too, and if you're really lucky they might issue extra cards to other family members. (In Australia, Coles Myer do this.)

  • Hedge your bets. The Bargain Queen keeps a sorted folder of receipts, and usually has a few swing tags sitting on her dressing table. The receipts make it easy to return things that break, even if they were purchased months beforehand. The swing tags are for clothes that look just-right on the rack and in the changeroom, but reveal their problems the first time they're worn. Itchy, uncomfortable, rides up, static, just-not-me... these issues all take a few hours' wear to reveal themselves and potentially consign a new purchase to the back of the wardrobe forever. While these could turn into expensive fashion blunders, if you have the tags and the garment has no signs of wear yet, you can air it and take it back... so long as the return policy includes change of mind refunds. For this reason alone, The Bargain Queen favours big department stores for some items. While you might get a lower price elsewhere, if you change your mind and can't return your mistake, it works out considerably more expensive.

  • Don't buy full-price extras. Most stores are arranged with tantalising displays of full-price merchandise out the front, a sale rack out the back and extras or accessories next to the register. The sale racks aren't just there to get rid of merchandise that hasn't sold at full price; they also help cost-conscious customers decide to buy from the store. And once you've decided to buy, it's much easier for them to up-sell to you. If you buy full-priced items with your bargain the store makes great money, and you can easily over-pay for the convenience of buying the extras at the same time. If you're aware of this, it's easier to leave the other stuff on the shelf.

  • Find out how they clear stock. Some bigger department or chain stores run discount outlets to clear their excess stock; some send their stock to third-party clearance outlets; others clear the lot on the shop floor. In The Bargain Queen's experience, if the store runs their own outlets, it's barely worth attending the sales in their regular stores. The discounts are often puny because they don't care whether they sell their discounted stock. In fact, a cynical observer might speculate that they have an incentive not to sell deeply discounted stock in their regular stores - better to keep the customers who'll pay full price in those stores and direct people interested in discounts to the clearance outlets. In Australia, since David Jones opened their outlets, there's been no point attending in-store sales - the outlet always has better deals. By contrast, David Jones' main competition, Myer, clears most of their stock in-store and sells a small quantity of leftovers as auction lots. They have a strong incentive to discount, and 75% off is common towards the end of their sales. And you don't have to trek to an outlet or endure discount outlet service to get it.

  • Shop before the sales. When department stores hold their big sales, the sales assistants have a lot of extra work marking everything down. In many stores, they start on it the afternoon before the sale starts. So if you're after something in particular in the post-Christmas sales, try going in just before the store closes on Christmas Eve to see if it's marked down already. That it, unless you're too busy drinking eggnog...

  • Know which sale days to attend. Some big retailers discounts popular items during the first day of their sale to entice people in - for example, fashion items like designer jeans, shoes and sunglasses. They don't need to discount this stock as it would sell at full price, but offering it half-price attracts lots of customers. If you want this stuff you'd better buy it then - some of the deals are one-day only. For example, in the post-Christmas sales, The Bargain Queen bought only two things: Seven For All Mankind jeans at 50% off and Marc Jacobs shoes at 75% off. Both were first-day-only deals, and in the case of the shoes, the deal ran for one hour out of the whole day. There was nothing else worth buying though, as The Bargain Queen is unimpressed by 20% off last season's trendy top. If you're are looking for more run-of-the-mill items, you're better off waiting til late in the sale. The less-popular stuff makes it through to later rounds of discounting, which happens after the initial spending frenzy. That's when they're trying to get rid of EVERYTHING at 75% off, so you get the best deals.
If you have any other tips to share, leave a comment!

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  • At 10:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi, I just found your blog and I love it! Another good bargain shopper tip is to shop around the days before a sale and ask a sales associate to hold merchandise for you until it's marked down. Most major department store sales associates will be happy to do so, and that way you have better selection and less of a hassle with crowds but still get the sale price. - Sarah :-)

  • At 2:27 am, Blogger Rebecca said…

    Great tips! I buy most of my shoes at Nordstrom or the Nordstrom Rack because, even if you have worn them, they will accept returns if you just don't like them.

    And it's always good to ask if an item will be going any lower. I thought my winter coat was a good deal at $80, until I found out it would be half of that the next day.:)

  • At 8:14 am, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Thank you Rebecca and anonymous - fantastic tips!


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