How to maneuver the legendary Nordstrom Anniversary Sale

Among our fashion maven's tips: Make a list of things you want, then grab and buy and worry about size later.
Among our fashion maven's tips: Make a list of things you want, then grab and buy and worry about size later.

The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale is on the horizon, and there are still many folks who want to know: "What's the big deal, anyway?" The Anniversary Sale is rather unorthodox. Nordstrom brings in all new fall and winter merchandise and marks it down before the season starts. After the sale, the remaining merchandise is raised to regular retail prices. The reason this sale is my favorite is because there are full size runs and colors available in each item at the sale price. I also know that for those of us in the Northwest, we get the most use out of our fall/winter wardrobe, so the price-per wear-ratio is excellent. This unusual approach to a sale originated in the 1940s with Best Apparel and was designed to increase sales in the "dog days" of summer. Nordstrom acquired Best Apparel in the 1960s and decided to expand the scope of the sale, which now includes all store departments. Apparently that was a savvy business decision, because the first day of the Anniversary Sale is one of Nordstrom's biggest single day revenue generators of the year. Nordstrom has only three sales per year, and this is by far their biggest. I worked at Nordstrom on and off throughout college and I always found the sight of tens of thousands of pieces of new merchandise being put out in the dark of night impressive. There were always big store "pep rallies" before the first day of the Anniversary Sale. I remember my first Anniversary Sale at the flagship store in downtown Seattle: Blake Nordstrom (at the time the store manager) made a very inspiring speech. The next day I hadn't really sold very much and went home crying because I felt like such a chump: I had let the team down. I pulled it together that night and my sales commissions averaged $75/hour for the next three days. Not bad for a 19-year-old college student in the late 1980s. Last year, the downtown Seattle store was a bustling hive of "shopper bees" by 8 a.m. on the first day of the sale. The lines for the dressing rooms can be more than an hour long on the first two days, but people say it is worth it because there are some items that are purchased only for the sale and once they are gone, that's it. So if you do brave the first days, leave extra time for shopping. Another method for making the most of your time and the sale is to grab and pay. Just grab the items you are interested in and buy them. Find a salesperson who is willing to help you and get their card. You can always exchange for the correct size and color later. If this is an item that Nordstrom carries year round, they will likely get more in after the sale. I especially use this method for bras and men's Smartcare shirts. Last year the Le Mystere bras that Nordstrom always carries were $24 off the regular price. I didn't worry that my size wasn't readily available. I just grabbed a couple (kept the tags and receipts) and exchanged them a month or so later when they got more sizes in. If it isn't an item they normally carry, have a salesperson try to find them for you in the correct size. They can print out a list of stores that carry the right size and colors. Note that the salespeople are not allowed to actually contact other stores on your behalf until a few days into the sale. If you are worried that they might run out of your item, you can call other stores yourself and have it shipped to your home for $8.95. If you want to try to find the item yourself, I would recommend calling first thing in the morning (try one half hour before store opens), ask for the appropriate department, and be as kind and respectful as possible to the harried salesperson on the other end of the line. If they say they can't help you, kindly ask for someone who can (they will make commission off your sale if it is shipped to your home). I tell my clients to have a look at their closet and make a list of items before they head out shopping. Concentrate on these items first and then look for fun items to fill in after you have snagged your great wardrobe basics at sale prices. The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale begins nationwide on Friday, July 20, and lasts through Sunday, Aug. 5.


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