As I mentioned in my last post, I definitely spent far too much time and energy on the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale (NAS) this year. Now that the experience is mostly behind me, save for receiving two orders and making a handful or keep vs. return decisions, I’ve been able to conduct a sort of “post-mortem” on the process. In today’s essay, I encapsulate nine key lessons that I learned from reviewing this year’s NAS experience, as well as what I plan to do differently the next time I shop NAS – or any other sale.
I know that not all of you shop NAS – or can even shop at Nordstrom if you’re not in the U.S. or Canada, but this post is not just about one store or one sale. Most of my lessons and tips can be applied to shopping any sale or at any store, so I hope you find some value in what I’ve learned and what I share below.
Lesson One: Don’t Shop Just Because There’s a Sale
The first thing to consider when there’s a big sale or shopping event on the horizon is whether or not you really need to shop at all. If we look at what’s out there in the stores or online, there will always be things to want, but we should ask ourselves if there are items that we particularly need to buy. This can be a gray area because when we really get down to the nitty-gritty of things, there isn’t a whole lot that we actually need in the realm of clothing and wardrobe.
Now, we don’t all need to be minimalists, and the definition for what is or isn’t minimalist is very individual anyway, but it can be helpful to look within and ask if we’re shopping for actual wardrobe needs or if we just want to shop. If it’s the latter, perhaps there’s something else in our lives that may be lacking, such as connection, growth, creativity, fulfillment, spirituality, or any number of other internal needs that cannot be purchased in any store.
I’ve written about the motivations for shopping quite a bit previously (check out the “Behavior & Psychology” posts on Recovering Shopaholic), but there are many, many reasons why we might shop that have nothing to do with clothes, shoes, accessories, home décor items, or any other type of tangible good. As I’ve examined my own personal reasons for shopping, it’s been much like peeling an onion, as I continue to identify additional layers of my over-shopping equation.
Some of my primary reasons for buying too much have to do with insecurity, poor body image, and the aging process. I have so often searched for the clothes that would help me to feel more confident and positive about my appearance. While our wardrobes and personal style can help us to feel better about the way we look and thus make interpersonal situations less anxiety-producing, we also need to do the deeper internal work on ourselves that will enable us to experience a sense of worth outside of our physical appearance. This is something that I’ll continue to work on and write about from time to time on this rebranded blog.
Lesson Two: Revisit Shopping Priorities Before a Sale or Shopping Trip
If you determine that there are non-wardrobe-related reasons why you shop (which can be true for so many of us), it’s important to examine and work on those (check out my Resources Page for some helpful books and courses). However, that doesn’t mean you can’t ever shop. You just need to be mindful of the possibility that you might buy things for the wrong reasons and then take steps to try to mitigate such tendencies.
One practice that has helped me a lot over the years is to maintain a shopping priorities list and review and update it regularly. This Recovering Shopaholic post provides an overview for how to create your list and also includes an example of one of my previous lists (from 2014!) and an explanation for how I constructed it. As I review that old list today, I realize that I never ended up purchasing some of the items on it. That may have been because I later decided that I didn’t really need or want certain things as a result of lifestyle or preference changes. But it’s also entirely possible that I might not have reviewed my list often enough before I made purchases.
When I shopped the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale last month, I didn’t take the time to revisit and refine my shopping priorities list beforehand. Thus, when I perused the NAS offerings during the pre-sale period, I allowed myself to be dazzled by all of the shiny, pretty things pictured, and I added many of them to my wish list. Fortunately, the “power pause” that was built into the way NAS was handled this year (the presale timeframe plus the tiered shopping rollout) allowed me to more carefully consider what would be my most sensible purchases, but using an actual list would have streamlined the process further.
Reviewing and updating my shopping priorities list before even looking at the NAS items would have helped me to focus on wardrobe gaps and “nice to have” items rather than just saving whatever caught my eye. It also would have been beneficial for me to look back at what I successfully purchased at previous Nordstrom Anniversary Sales (i.e., bras, sleepwear, basic tees, etc.) so I could place my attention on those areas first and foremost.
Lesson Three: Tune Out the Hype
Unfortunately, I allowed myself to be swayed by the hype surrounding this year’s NAS from social media influencers hawking their lists of “must-have items,” as well as fashion forum users showing what they want and what they bought. This was dangerous, as it opened me up to the temptation to buy things that had no real place in my life, most of which I hadn’t even been aware of prior to seeing what other people were posting.
As I was writing this post, I took a few minutes to jot down a list of NAS offerings that I either tried on or ordered as a result of the hype and influence of external forces, and there were at least eight such items! A few were never purchased and several more were returned, but I did end up holding on to the other items that I was “influenced” to check out. I have mixed feelings about this, as I’m happy with the pieces that I kept, but I also can see what a slippery slope the hype and influence can be.
My advice for those who have a tendency to spend too much time and money on NAS and other sales would be to unfollow any influencers who heavily hype these events – or unsubscribe from their blogs or YouTube channels, at least around the sales time, if not permanently. It can be difficult to avoid such posts when we see them in our feeds, but that’s another option for those who have the discipline to do it. I often let my curiosity get the best of me in these types of situations, so unfollowing or unsubscribing is likely my best course of action. Even though the presale time period enabled me to more carefully consider each potential purchase, it would have been better for me to only be influenced by my own wardrobe needs and shopping priorities list.
Lesson Four: Limit Your “Stalking” of Out-of-Stock Items
One aspect of NAS that can become quite time-consuming is “stalking” items that have sold out, trying to catch when they come back in stock as a result of returns. This activity usually pays off if one is persistent, but it’s also distracting and takes more time than we think because of the need to continually get back on track with what we were doing previously.
It’s okay to stalk an item (or maybe two) if it’s something that we really need or want, but I’m talking about checking in here and there rather than refreshing the page all day long (which I’ve been known to do!). The Nordstrom smart phone app can streamline the process by notifying users when items on their wish list come back in stock (I’m sure other stores have similar apps), but of course such notifications can also be distracting, which is why I usually disable all phone notifications except for text and voice messages.
Only you can decide if stalking sale items is a good use of your time. I think I’m going to minimize this practice moving forward, to limit my frustration, improve my focus, and save time. After all, saving money isn’t the only thing that’s important! As The Minimalists often say, our time and attention are our most precious resources.
Lesson Five: Use the “Power Pause” As Much as Possible
I mentioned above that the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale had a built-in “power pause” as a result of the lengthy presale period. Most sales don’t include a de facto “cooling off” period, but even when they do, it can still be helpful to take another pause before actually hitting the buy button or presenting your credit card at a store. Although Jill Chivers, who coined the term “power pause” recommends waiting at least two hours or optimally two days before making a purchase, even a shorter break before buying can be beneficial.
If you’re shopping online, step away from your computer or phone for a few minutes before completing your purchase. If you’re in a brick-and-mortar store, take a restroom break or grab a cup of coffee or a glass of water. Most stores will hold your prospective purchases for a little while (or even a day or two), so you won’t lose out on anything by taking a short timeout to regroup. The brief time away will give you the space to consider whether or not the items in question will truly serve your needs. Ideally, you can review your shopping priorities list or check in with your budget during your break.
If you have an app on your phone that includes photos of your wardrobe pieces, you can also do a quick perusal to make sure that what you’re thinking of buying fits in well with your current closet and isn’t too similar to what you already own. If you find that you have to purchase additional items just to make something new work, then it’s probably not worth it, particularly if you already have a large wardrobe. I always say that I don’t want to take on a “project” when shopping. If it requires too much effort to make something work, it’s probably not worth it! I like to remind myself that just because something is beautiful, it doesn’t mean that I need to own it.
Lesson Six: Set a Budget for the Sale or Your Shopping Trip
It’s all too easy for our shopping to go “off the rails,” especially when there’s a big sale going on where the impression of scarcity is being presented. We fear that if we don’t buy something now, we might miss out forever. FOMO can be extremely strong at “exclusive” types of sales like NAS, so we have to plan for the type of buying frenzy that can be elicited by that common phenomenon.
Although I have a yearly clothing budget that I also try to divide into twelve months and stick to, my track record for doing so hasn’t been that great. I frequently get ahead of myself and need to have a few months of austerity toward the end of the year because I’ve bought too much in earlier months. The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale and summer shopping in general have been particularly problematic for me in terms of getting ahead of my budget.
A good way for me to mitigate this common occurrence would be to allocate a larger portion of my budget for traditionally higher shopping months, as well as set aside a special fund for NAS shopping. While I’ve often considered no longer shopping NAS, the truth is that I’ve continued to shop it almost every single year, so I would do helpful to plan accordingly.
If you have sales that you like to shop at a particular time of year, such as Amazon Prime Day or “Black Friday” (which now occupies most of the latter half of November), consider either saving up for those events or devoting a special budget toward shopping them. If you don’t end up using up that budget, you can always transfer the funds to later months or use them for other purposes, but at least you’ll save yourself the stress of having spent too much money and wondering how you’re going to pay off your credit cards.
Lesson Seven: Buy for Your Real Life
So many of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale items are geared toward women who work in an office or socialize a lot in the evenings. I’ve always loved dressy clothing, but my current reality is that I very rarely dress up. I’m frequently a bit over-dressed for the activities that I do, but I’ve made peace with that because I want to dress in a way that makes me happy. However, I don’t want to look extremely out-of-place for the activities I’m doing, so I need to just say no to a large proportion of the NAS merchandise. Much of it is for someone else’s life, not mine.
It’s easy to get excited about the “great deals” to be had at NAS and other sales, but something is only a “deal” if we actually wear it or use it. The items that I purchased at this year’s NAS (shown in last week’s post) work well for my casual lifestyle. They may not be as exciting as some of the other pieces I saw while browsing the sale online and in person, but that’s okay. What I bought is comfortable and works for my life and my personal style, and that’s what’s most important.
I’ve gotten much better at buying for my authentic lifestyle needs, so I no longer make the laughable mistakes of yesteryear. Although I still get excited when I see dressy pieces, I’ve mostly learned to just appreciate them for their artistic appeal and move on. Jill Chivers wrote a post about “The Art Gallery Method,” which is a shopping strategy where you pretend that you’re in an art gallery instead of a store. As such, you admire the pieces you see as if they were objects of art that aren’t for sale. You enjoy and appreciate the many “feasts for the eyes,” but you don’t feel the need to take them home.
The Art Gallery Method requires a perspective shift, but it can be a helpful exercise. This is basically how I approach browsing in certain designer stores. I never expect to buy anything there due to their high prices, but I still enjoy looking at the merchandise. I also gain inspiration about colors, styles, and garment pairings through the experience, which I can then apply to shopping my closet and less expensive establishments.
This lesson pairs well with Lesson Two about revisiting your shopping priorities list. When creating or updating your list, it’s important to consider your lifestyle and the types of pieces you need for the activities you engage in on a regular basis. Likewise, before you put yourself into a shopping situation (either online or in person), reviewing your shopping priorities list will help you to remember what you actually need, which will hopefully focus your browsing and buying.
Lesson Eight: Shop In-Season for the Most Part
Unless your life and your body are extremely stable, it’s best to shop for the current season rather than well in advance of when you might wear something. Sales typically take place at the end of a given season, so when you purchase items at those sales, they usually won’t be worn until many months later. This means that it can be risky to buy wardrobe items on sale because a lot of factors may be subject to change, including where you live, the type of work you do, the way you spend your time, and your body shape and size. I’m sure a lot of women purchased items in late 2019 or early 2020 that they’ve rarely or never worn as a result of the pandemic and its associated lifestyle changes.
The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale takes place in July/August and is geared toward fall and winter clothing. This works well for those whose fall weather actually begins around that time or shortly thereafter, but the seasons where I live are quite different. Cooler temperatures don’t usually begin until November or December here, so much of what I might buy at NAS could end up gathering dust for three to five months. This makes my NAS purchases riskier because my preferences, lifestyle, or body could shift during that time frame.
I usually try to buy in-season items during NAS and other sales as much as possible, which isn’t that hard to do since I live in a temperate climate. Items like short-sleeved and sleeveless tops work for me most of the year, either on their own or as layering pieces, and there are many options in these categories at NAS. Undergarments, sleepwear, and lounge wear are also a safe bet to purchase at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.
Sometimes I’m willing to take the risk and purchase long-sleeved tops and sweaters at NAS, but I usually stick with basics or tried-and-true styles in those instances, such as the long-sleeved black tee and black-and-white printed sweater that I acquired at this year’s NAS. I believe that both tops will get a lot of wear once the cooler weather rolls around towards the end of the year.
Lesson Nine: Do Regular Closet Reviews
So often, we don’t know what we have in our closets, as our focus tends to be directed toward what’s “out there” rather than on what we already own. This is why it’s a good idea to conduct regular closet reviews to gain a better understanding of what’s in our wardrobes. I usually like to go through my closet at least twice a year, typically at the change of seasons from “not summer” to summer and vice versa.
The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale occurs during a seasonal switchover time for me, but not the one that the sale is geared toward. Whereas for many people, NAS takes place right around the cusp of summer and fall, that time of year is when the warm weather is just beginning in Southern California (we often experience “May Gray” and “June Gloom” in the coastal regions). For this reason, I feel that it would be a good idea for me to do a closet edit and wardrobe analysis in late June or early July if I’m going to shop the sale.
Doing such a closet review would enable me to easily identify what my wardrobe gaps are, so I could look to fill some of them at NAS. Even though the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale primarily focuses on fall and winter merchandise, those seasons look different in various locales, so there are still plenty of pieces on offer that could work for the more moderate summer temperatures where I live.
Additionally, because basic pieces have been my most successful NAS purchases, I should focus the lion’s share of my attention there. I’ve rarely regretted buying bras, t-shirts, sleepwear, and cosmetics at the sale. Those items have usually been smart purchases, whereas a lot of what I’ve bought that doesn’t fit those categories was later returned.
I was hoping to come up with another lesson to make it an even ten, but I tapped out at nine. Perhaps you can chime in with some lessons you’ve learned during previous sales shopping experiences. The bottom line is that while sales can help us to save money on pieces that we either need or want, they can also be a veritable mine field. In order to be a successful sales shopper, it’s a good idea to do some advance planning to reduce the risk of “going rogue” and over-shopping.
Not only did this blog post hopefully give you some valuable tips that can help you to shop smarter, it has also set the stage for a few future essays. Stay tuned for posts on my updated shopping priorities list and my seasonal switchover closet review, among other topics. The discussion in the comments section of last week’s post sparked interest in an exploration of shopping psychology and the tactics stores and brands use to entice us to buy, so I’ll be writing more about that in the not-too-distant future, too. As always, I’m open to reader suggestions and I welcome your comments on this post.