My Wardrobe, Myself

The intersection of clothing, emotions, and life

It’s that time of year again… The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale – or NAS, for short – is under way. It actually began for cardholders the week of July 12 (in a tiered approach based upon dollars spent at Nordstrom each year), but it opened up to the public this past Wednesday.

I’ve been shopping the NAS for years, with the notable exception of one year (2013), when I chose to skip it and blogged about my reasons for doing so. Since I started blogging about wardrobe and shopping issues, I’ve learned to shop smarter and make better choices in general and at NAS, but I still have a tendency to spend too much time, energy, and sometimes money on this particular sale.

In today’s post, I write about getting sucked into the NAS frenzy yet again this year and why that’s a common occurrence for so many people. I also share my track record with this sale over the past few years, as well as what I’ve purchased this year. In my next post, I highlight what I’ve learned from my NAS shopping experience and what I plan to change moving forward to avoid wasting so many of my resources on the sale in the future.

nordstrom anniversary sale 2021

It Began with Just a Look…

Every year, Nordstrom makes some shifts in the way they handle their anniversary sale process. Some of those changes are for the better, while others are mostly frustrating for customers (and probably for salespeople as well). One positive shift that was made this year was allowing customers – both cardholders and non-cardholders – to peruse the sale offerings well in advance of the start of NAS. Although sale items were not yet available for purchase, customers were allowed to save them on their “wish lists” to revisit later. Although I’m sure this wasn’t Nordstrom’s intention, the sale preview enabled shoppers to do a “power pause” and more fully consider which potential purchases were in their best interest.

I appreciated having time to browse the NAS items without feeling any immediate pressure to buy anything. I originally made quite a few selections for my wish list, but as the time when I could make my purchases approached, I went back in and narrowed it all down. I could have saved myself time on this process, however, by reviewing and updating my shopping priorities list before even looking at the items that would be on sale. That way, I could have stayed “on task” and focused mainly on those pieces that would fulfill predefined wardrobe needs.

I say mainly because I like to be open to the possibility of adding a few “wow items” to my closet each year. These are the types of pieces that we may not actually need, but that make us smile every time we wear them. Such special items can be hard to find, but we usually know them when we see them. I allow myself the option to purchase one or two such items at NAS if I come across them.

A Sense of Scarcity

I definitely need to do a better job of curating my wish list because it’s preferable to start out with a smaller list rather than having to spend time paring it down. However, part of why I created a more “robust” wish list is because so many sale items sell out before I have the ability to buy them. In recent years, Nordstrom has created a tier system that gives preference to their big spenders for the first portion of the anniversary sale. Because I don’t spend a lot of money at Nordstrom anymore (which is a good thing), I’m in the standard cardholder tier, which is the third group that gets to shop the sale (non-cardholders shop last).

The number of days on which only the “high rollers” can shop has varied over the years. It started out being just one day, with all cardholders being able to shop for the next week before the sale opened up to the general public. But this year it was four full days before all cardholders could shop (the earlier days were reserved for those who spend $5000 or more per year at Nordstrom – I’ve never fit into that group!). During that time, some of my preferred items sold out, including a short silver pendant that I had my eye on to tick off the box I mentioned in my Tahoe packing debrief post.

I think knowing from past sales that many items sell out quickly contributed to my creating a larger wish list. I was worried that some of my top choices wouldn’t be available, so I also included “runner-up” selections on my list. Additionally, I allowed myself to get distracted by shiny, pretty items that have no place in my closet, as they don’t suit my casual lifestyle. As Bridgette Raes would say, “Where are you going in that?” Bridgette has a concept she calls “wishful wardrobing” (check out her short video on that topic) that applies to so many of us, including me at times. But if we ask ourselves where we would actually wear the item in question, it can often save us from purchasing pieces for a life that we just don’t live.

What’s the Big Deal About NAS?

A commenter on my last post asked what the big deal is about the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Since some of you may also be wondering that same thing, I’ll do my best to explain here. The main differentiating factor about NAS is that brand new merchandise for an upcoming season (in this case, fall) is being offered at lower prices right away rather than that merchandise being marked down at the end of a season, as is the usual practice for sales. The NAS prices are at least thirty percent lower than the “regular price,” and many designer items are included in the sale, enabling those who usually can’t afford such pieces to buy them.

But what Nordstrom doesn’t tell customers is that many of the NAS items are manufactured specifically for the sale, and often in a way that “cuts corners” so that the brand still makes a significant profit at the lower price point. This is by no means common knowledge, but I’ve read about it from many sources and it makes complete sense to me. After all, businesses aim to make a profit, so if designer brands provide items for NAS, they do what’s necessary to ensure that they’re still benefitting sufficiently from the sale.

This may involve using less “luxe” fabrics or cutting corners on the garment construction process. These types of practices are involved in the “designer collections” at Target and other stores, which is something I wrote about back in 2013 during the early days of Recovering Shopaholic. I mention this because it’s important to keep in mind that we may be getting pieces of lower quality when we make designer purchases at NAS. This can also be the case when we buy Nordstrom in-house brand items because Nordstrom wants to make a bigger profit, too.

All of the Hype Doesn’t Help

As you may have noticed, there’s a tremendous amount of hype around NAS. If you follow any of the major style bloggers, YouTubers, or Instagrammers in the U.S., you’ve probably seen a plethora of posts, videos, and stories about NAS over the past month or so. These “influencers” all share their “top picks” for the sale, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the wave, especially if one loves fashion, style, and shopping.

While the feedback provided by these influencers can be helpful to shoppers, we need to remember that those who post their recommendations earn commissions (I’ve heard that it’s 10% for Nordstrom) when people buy the items they link to. I’m sure some of them end up loving and wearing the pieces they showcase, but the likelihood that they return the bulk of their “hauls” definitely exists.

I wish I wouldn’t fall for any of the hype. I should just unfollow the people who heavily promote the sale, and also steer away from forums whose members discuss NAS and post photos of what they buy. I don’t need all of this “noise” shifting my focus away from my intention to shop more mindfully and purchase fewer items. This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t purchase anything from the sale, but I don’t want to be swayed by try-on photos and videos from people whose lives are probably dramatically different from mine. It’s okay for me to buy things that suit my needs and my budget, but that’s not usually what influencers who are young enough to be my daughters are trying to sell me!

My NAS Track Record

If I’m completely honest with myself, the main reasons that I continue to shop the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale are the hype and out of habit. I’ve shopped the sale for as long as I can remember, and it seems as if everyone and their sister also shops it each year. I know that’s not actually the case, but it sure can seem like it sometimes! Fear of missing out (FOMO) plays a big role in why so many of us get excited for NAS every year, even if our track record for the sale isn’t exactly stellar.

If I look back at my NAS purchases from 2017 through 2020, I clearly see that I’ve only kept a few items each year despite having placed a number of orders. Most of what I ordered was either immediately returned (usually for fit, fabric, or quality reasons) or returned shortly thereafter. I’ve fared better with shopping the sale in person, but many items are only available online, and the in-store stock seems to be getting smaller each year.

What I’ve ended up keeping from NAS has mostly been basic t-shirts, sleepwear, undergarments, and the occasional cosmetic or home-related item, so that’s probably what I should focus on if I shop the sale. I sometimes end up finding a non-basic “keeper” at the sale, but those instances are few and far between from looking at my actual purchase history.

Since summer weather has only just started in my neck of the woods during NAS time, I’m not generally in the mood to shop for cool weather pieces. I’m more excited to wear my warm weather garments that have been gathering dust in my closet for months on end, so I’m not usually thinking much about fall clothing and shopping when NAS rolls around.

Although there are some short-sleeved and sleeveless tops included in the sale, as well as a handful of sandals, the primary focus of NAS is on fall merchandise like sweaters, coats, and boots. I prefer to shop for the current season rather than for the future, as my needs and preferences may shift, so what I typically buy at NAS are either items that I can wear right away or things that are so basic (think solid long-sleeved t-shirts that I use for layering) that it’s not much of a risk for me to purchase them in advance.

Nordstrom Anniversary Sale 2021

As for this year’s Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, my shopping is done, with the exception of waiting for one of my orders to arrive and deciding upon any additional returns I might make. Overall, I’ve had a better shopping experience with the sale this time around than I’ve had in the past few years, partly because I made more non-clothing-related purchases. I was able to pick up two comfortable throw blankets that my cats are already making great use of. I also found a cozy and adorable sweater for my stepson’s dog, and I got a great deal on an eyebrow makeup set. When I browsed the sale in person with my friend last week, I came across an inexpensive but cute moon and star charm necklace that was almost sold out at the time (we bought the last two in the store).

I also purchased a replacement for the robe that I’ve worn into the ground over the past few years, a new bra (my favorite style is always included in the sale), a pair of lounge pants, and a few basic tees in both short and long sleeves. The one non-basic item that I’m definitely keeping is a black and white print crew-neck sweater that I only learned about on a fashion forum before I was eligible to shop the sale (so I was influenced to buy one item). Actually, the style of that sweater is very basic, but it’s the print that makes it special and what led me to order it.

Below is a look at the clothing-related NAS purchases that I’m for sure keeping:

2021 NAS purchases

These are the 2021 NAS purchases that I’m definitely keeping – mostly basics. 

Conclusion

Once my final order comes in next week, I’ll make up my mind about a handful of other items. Since my birthday is in early August (I’m turning 55 – where does the time go?!), I usually get a few presents from my husband at the sale, so those will be chosen from among the remaining items (with his input). July and August tend to be my biggest shopping months of the year, but because I bought so much this month, I plan to take a pause on shopping next month (and probably longer) and focus on wearing and enjoying what I have. I’ll likely do some sort of wardrobe challenge soon to help me with that effort, so stay tuned on that…

Since this post was becoming quite lengthy, I decided to save my “lessons learned” for a part two, which will go live next week. I’m not doing so well with writing shorter posts, but breaking some of the longer ones into two – or even three – parts will hopefully make them easier for you to read and “digest.”

I hope you found this post interesting and useful. If you want to share your experiences with shopping the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale or other similar sales, please feel free to comment. I think NAS is unique in a lot of ways in terms of the frenzy that it seems to generate, but there may be other sales that have the same effect (I’m curious…). In any event, you’re welcome to share your thoughts.

14 thoughts on “I Got Sucked Into the NAS Vortex Once Again…

  1. Krissie says:

    I’ve never been in or shopped at Nordstrom, obviously as I dont live in the US, but I do watch a lot of youtube and see sooo many influencers all spruiking about the sale at NAS. Some buy so much I wonder why they have and its almost not nice to see that many purchases, and I have often wondered how some can afford it. I then began to see that many of them eventually sent most of they “bought “back to the store and thats what probaby causes all the hype and buying competition. Speaking for myself only of course, a shop that treated their customers unequally, ie the ones who spend a lot of money there, get first choice, would put me off in the first place. Surely all customers count not just the big spenders and shouldnt it be on a first come first served basis? Ive not come across this type of merchandising here so cant really comment, but I do have an opinion on what I would do if they did!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      It’s not too surprising that even those in other countries have seen the NAS hype, Krissie. It’s really over the top! I think many of the influencers purchase a lot of items just to show on their blogs and social media. Much of it gets returned, as is also the case with so many other items that they’re hawking. It’s hard to take them at their word for how “amazing” something is when they’re making money off of their recommendations and they make SO many of them. I agree with you with what you said about Nordstrom treating their customers unequally. They’re offered “perks” to those who buy more for a while, but it mostly didn’t extend to the sale, so it was less visible to most. The way they’re handling the sale leaves a bad taste in my mouth for sure. Not only might I want to minimize the time and energy I spend on the sale, but I might want to just skip it in the future. We shall see!

  2. Susan Loughnane says:

    I can relate to the hype and excitement around a ‘big sale’ or big event. I have always enjoyed the Amazon Prime Days but the last two or three years, I have had experiences that have actually soured the whole event for me. More and more merchandise is cheap, coming from China and just not the greatest quality. Last year, I had to return everything I got and this year, I think I kept one item from the orders I placed. So, I am finding that I can find great deals by just following sites throughout the year and waiting for low sales points (40% off, etc..). These companies know how the human psyche works – just watch QVC or HSN. The other night I was scrolling through and they had these really nice wallet sets…and yep, you guessed it, I bought one. It hasn’t arrived yet but I wonder how I will feel once it arrives. It is the thrill of the purchase for me more than anything. I use wish lists and carts also to help put the ‘pause’ on impulse spending. Often, by the time I go back, the item is either sold out or I look at it and realize that I may not have been as crazy about it as I thought. Thanks for sharing your experiences Debbie.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I agree with you, Susan, that many of these sales don’t live up to the hype surrounding them. I’ve never shopped on the Amazon Prime Days, but I’ve seen a lot of the ads about those events. It’s quite similar to the NAS hype for sure. I’m glad you’ve found alternate ways of getting good deals. I agree with you about the thrill of the purchase being a primary motivator, and the companies know how to tap into that. I enjoy getting a package in the mail, but my excitement is often followed by a letdown. Pausing before making a purchase helps a lot, and I very often forget about the things I pause on.

    2. Krissie says:

      Hope you dont mind a reply from me…. but i too get those * i need this now, this is just what i wanted…* feelings at shops? So now like you i often find that if i leave it for a while and hold off with the purchase i look at things again and think, oh im glad i didnt buy that, or i leave it a while longer. Why do we get these?whats the psychology behind that?fomo?

      1. Debbie Roes says:

        I definitely think it has a lot to do with FOMO, Krissie, as well as a feeling of scarcity. When people think “it’s now or never” regarding prospective purchases, they’re more likely to buy. Also, retailers play into people’s feelings of lack/what’s missing, and they present the sense that buying their products will help to overcome those lacks. If you watch commercials (I know you live in another country, but I think it’s similar all over), you can start to notice some of the tactics used to get people to buy things. Maybe I’ll have to write a post about this issue sometime soon!

        1. Krissie says:

          Yes please Debbie, an insight on these tactics would be useful and interesting.

      2. SUSAN E. LOUGHNANE says:

        Hi Krissie, The psychology behind purchasing is quite intriguing. I believe there is research that has looked at how the act of seeing new things can light up pleasure centers in our brain. We literally can get a shopper’s “high” from seeing the new sights, colors, etc. I am also an emotional shopper so certain emotions seem to trigger my efforts (feeling good, go shop; feeling sad – let’s go look at some new and pretty things; want to avoid doing work, yep, you get the idea)

  3. Katrina B says:

    I’m glad you address this sale every year because it is not only a big deal in itself but it is also representative of all of the other hyped-up retail perfect storms of low prices and limited availability. The science of how to get people to buy goes far beyond price and there are probably many more forces at work than we can guess at. However the addition of influencers is really changing the game. While the concept is still very strange to me, I can’t deny that these people are incredibly effective. I have followed a few but soon unfollowed because I just don’t like what they’re wearing/selling and I get sick of being shown the same ugly styles over and over again. But I can tell from comments on these influencers’ IG or blogs that people are absolutely dying to get what they’re showing! I know this probably shows my age but I find myself just shaking my head in puzzlement over this influencing thing.

    Just because I’m immune to fashion influencing and the NAS hype, doesn’t mean I don’t get caught up in merchandising tricks like everyone else! There’s always something I’m dreaming of, whether it’s a collection of beautifully coordinated fabrics, or a long wishlist of houseplants, or a lot of furniture. And as my focus changes from one thing to another, I tend to look at more websites and related blogs, which in turn causes more ads to pop up, which causes me to look at even more new shopping sites, and soon 20 or 30 businesses are sending urgent emails about discounts just for me, huge season-end sales, or shortages of popular items (interesting how there’s always just one left – of everything!). And there are influencers everywhere – so many home and garden channels on YouTube are doing unboxing videos to tempt viewers into shopping at the same store, and the quilting/sewing/crafting bloggers are absolutely out of control with their beautiful materials and fancy gadgets that we can get a whole 5% off if we click on their link.

    I think all we can do is stay the course – be aware of possible temptations and weaknesses, make planned purchases (your shopping priorities list is a perfect example), and allow for the occasional lapse. Thanks for revisiting this very complex topic. I look forward to your lessons learned.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I agree that NAS is representative of lots of other retail “perfect storms,” Katrina. It’s similar to Black Friday, which is now more like an entire MONTH rather than just one day. We’ve all seen footage of the frenzy that can tend to erupt when stores open on Black Friday. I’ve never actually done early morning Black Friday shopping (mostly because I’m not a morning person, but also because I don’t want to be in the types of situations I’ve seen depicted on TV!). It can be mayhem for sure! Thanks for sharing non-fashion-related examples of the impact of influencers. They are all over now, as they have seen there there can be a lot of money to be made by pushing products online. I’m not saying that all influencing is BAD per se, but it’s gotten out of hand, and NAS is one glaring example of that. I’m glad that the height of my compulsive shopping was before online shopping and influencers were commonplace. I can only imagine how much worse things might have gotten! It’s harder these days to shop mindfully and resist temptation. I fell prey to too much NAS temptation this year, but fortunately it’s very easy to return things to Nordstrom (especially now that I live only about a mile away from a store). But I can’t get my time back and as I get older, my time is all the more precious to me!

  4. Sue says:

    Not living in the US, I too have never shopped at Nordstrom. But what a clever sales tactic they appear to have developed! By creating frenzied FOMO hype for next season’s clothes, I expect that many buyers will be unlikely to notice until it’s too late that clothes do not fit their bodies and/or needs well. And when the fall season does arrive, customers will see new ‘must haves’ and buy again anyway.

    As for the low quality items mentioned in Nordstrom’s sale, I definitely recognise this global tendency of chain stores to generate turnover by passing off inferior versions of brands as sales bargains. These versions are often easy to recognise because they are marked ‘only available online’ or are new in store when sales start. At some stores, I even see sales items appearing back on shelves months after being offered in previous sales!

    To save money, I like to use independent (sales) price comparison sites, make my own judgement of what constitutes a bargain (rather than relying on the store to tell me what they consider a bargain) and buy items second hand.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I know that many of my readers aren’t able to shop at Nordstrom, Sue, but I’m sure there are many other stores that use similar tactics. As I said to my husband the other day, Nordstrom could have solved some of the issues with NAS supply and demand by now, but I think they LIKE to have the frenzied environment of the sale, as it gets a lot of people to buy more. And you’re right in that many shoppers don’t realize until much later that the “must have” items weren’t that great after all. Nordstrom does have a very generous return policy, but as I commented to Katrina above, they can’t give me back the time I lost to the sale on “stalking” items, buying and returning things, etc. Your suggestions at the end of your comment are very sound. I haven’t used the price comparison sites, but perhaps I need to seek them out to help save both time and money.

      1. Vildy says:

        I don’t know if it is behind a paywall or can be read free or with registering but here is an incredible article focused on the frenzy for hard to get or exclusive items, including what’s seen
        on influencers.
        https://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/style/exclusive-drops-secret-bargain-hunters-smart-way-shop-instagram/

        1. Debbie Roes says:

          Thank you for sharing this article, Vildy! It is behind a paywall, but I was able to get 24-hour access by entering my email address. I learned a lot from what I read for sure. I didn’t know about the raffles for “hot” items or the Instagram accounts sourcing particular items, but none of it surprises me. I’ve mostly encountered lots of “swipe ups” on Instagram stories and affiliate links on blogs and YouTube description boxes. Some of that is fine, but it all seems to be getting really out of hand. I wonder if and when the Influencer bubble might burst…

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