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young women looking at clothing getting help from sales associate

If I had a dime for every email or text from clients, readers, and TV viewers about which wardrobe pieces I like best, or how to find affordable outfits to suit a particular size or figure, I could buy a new wardrobe! Below, I share a few shopping tips for those who want to work with a sales associate to choose the best wardrobe essentials.

Small Talk Yields Big Bargains

First things first, engage the salesperson in conversation to get a sense of whether she’s the shopping sherpa for you. But be fair with her time, especially if the store is crowded. Try to pick low-traffic periods. During late mornings or early afternoons on weekdays your sales associate can lavish more time and attention on you.

Develop some questions to ask your potential partner-in-fashion. In the abstract, you want to know:

  • How long has she worked there?
  • Which other departments has she worked in?
  • Does she have other retail experience?
  • What are the sales cycles in the department?

Obviously, you don’t want to sound like you’re interrogating a witness, so you’ll need to ease into the conversation. Perhaps you could say, “Oh, I’ve always loved how this store is laid out with the shoe department right next to the handbags,” or “I haven’t been here in years, but I used to shop here with my mother when I was a little girl!” to gauge whether the associate is a Chatty Cathy or Silent Sarah.

This friendly introduction makes your casual, “Were you working here when the store was called [original name]?” or “Have you been in this department for a while?” seem more natural. From her initial answers, you can build on the conversation to find out where else she’s worked and what type of clients she’s dealt with.

Think of your initial consultation as a blind date. But instead of a future life with a stable and successful partner, you’re laying the groundwork for a relationship that will supply a stunning but affordable wardrobe.

(Although I’m using the pronoun “she,” your boutique bestie might very well be a male friend. Men can certainly have an eye for fashion, footwear, or accessories. They can turn that skill into a professional calling that benefits discerning customers like you.)

Once you’ve built some retail camaraderie, you’ll know how to proceed. If she’s a newbie, or doesn’t seem willing to build rapport, you’ll know that its time to move on. But if it’s clear she’s familiar with the store, its policies and markdown cycles, it will feel more natural to build an acquaintanceship and inquire about issues that will be useful to you as a shopper.

Finding the Right Fit

Maybe you’re used to shopping discount department stores and shops with frequent turnover of teenage staffers. If so, engaging an associate in conversation may seem may seem like a journey to a foreign land. Ease yourself into it by observing your target sales associate before approaching. I’ve found it beneficial to note:

  • Are there other faithful customers that value her opinion and advice?
  • Do they beckon her into the dressing room to comment upon an outfit’s appropriateness for their physique or coloring?
  • Does the associate seem eager to offer advice rather than merely close a sale?

If your salesperson passes these initial tests, it’s time to head for graduate-level studies. Find out:

  • Does the associate make inquiries about your lifestyle or the events you’re attending to get a better understanding of your needs?
  • Is she capable of selling outside her department? (Ask, “Can you help me find the right heels to wear with these slacks?”)
  • Is she willing to snap photos of garments and text them to you? This is a key question to determine whether you’ve found a salesperson willing (and able) to build a relationship that extends beyond one shopping day.

If you get answers to your questions, you’ll know you’ve found someone who will keep your best interests in mind, even when you’re not present and able to make an immediate purchase.

Geralin’s Gems: An Anecdote for Shopping Success

My wardrobe (which is typically casual and comfortable) is a testament to the successful relationships I’ve built with sales associates in department stores throughout the country. Cultivating these relationships has saved me time and money, and has enhanced my productivity.

I live in North Carolina, but travel nationwide. There are different sales associates around the country who know my size (shhh!), shape, fashion preferences, budget, and lifestyle. They keep an eye out for wardrobe items they know will suit my budget and social calendar.

As an example, one sales associate, Amanda, was aware that I had an upcoming event. She knew I’d need a dress that would travel at least as well as I do. She also knew I’d have to be able to accessorize to dress it up or down for other events — it couldn’t be a one-hit-wonder. Amanda kept up her researching role, emailing me photos of likely choices as they were marked down. Not only did she find me the perfect dress, but she managed to save me $200 off the original price!

Of course, I cherish Amanda’s talents and efforts. Over time, I’ve purchased several more items – based on her selections, descriptions and emailed photos. I’ve saved a considerable amount of money! Whenever I return to Amanda’s zip code, I stop by, describe my upcoming plans (regarding work, travel and special occasions) and we discuss what aspects of my wardrobe need updating or replacing.

Yes, it takes some planning, effort, and time to achieve the desired results, but it saved a lot of time, money, and frustration. I encourage you to embrace these tips, and I hope you’ll find sales associates and department stores that fit you beautifully.

More of Geralin’s Gems

If you’d like to build a practical and elegant wardrobe that fits you and your lifestyle perfectly, check out my Wardrobe Wisdom Workbook, download my free Clothing Capsule Planning Worksheets and Checklist to Pack for a Vacation or Business Trip. Also, make sure to listen to these interviews on planning a ‘Capsule Wardrobe’  – part of the Smead ‘Keeping You Organized’ video/podcast series:

Need more help? Book a one-on-one wardrobe, closet, and clothing coaching call to answer your specific questions and get my one-on-one advice.

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