From the Book Bitches on a Budget

  Retailing Lessons

Once upon time, before shopping became theater; before our identities were defined by what we wore; before we became alienated from our core values of family, friends, and charity; before we became the buy-buy-buy, need-it-now generation; before shopping became a substitute for other kinds of pleasure, life was lustier.

Proof?  Weren’t families a whole lot bigger?

Sixty years ago Wal-Mart didn’t exist. Neiman Marcus was only in Texas. Victoria’s Secret was just that—some horny guy’s wet dream. There were few indoor malls, massive chains, or outlet centers. Hard to get your head around, huh? Like fashion itself, the business is in constant flux. It’s hard for even the savviest bitch to keep up. How to deal? Learn the stores. Understand their strategies. Know when merchandise rolls in and when it must go out.

Take back the power!

Brick and Mortar Flows

Bloomie’s, Target, Zara, Nordstom . . . all major stores start each new season with fresh inventories. Planning and buying of merchandise is done based on past season’s sales. Depending on the business, fresh goods roll in at the start of each season and are replenished either monthly or bimonthly. To maintain a fresh feel and to finance future purchases, the merchandise must flow. New goods in—old goods out. This is critical shopping intelligence.

Couple this knowledge with the fact that, at most big chains, seasonal goods arriving on the floor are out of sync with real life. For instance, you live in Chicago. It’s February, zero degrees, and you’re wearing a winter coat as you cruise through your favorite store freaking out at how small the bottoms are on the new bikinis. Hello, it’s February! Months and months away from summer. Yet here’s the summer stock, already beckoning.

Make this craziness work for you. Remember the goods keep flowing, and the merchants must make space for the new stuff by marking the old stuff down. So the winter jacket that arrived in August will be getting marked down just about the time you need it for winter, while the teeny-tiny bikini should be on its second markdown by the time you can go swimming in the lake. This is called clearance.

Don’t be fooled, though. There’s a difference between seasonal clearance and goods bought to be sold on promotion. When the latter happens, a big slug of goods are bought, marked too high, and put on the floor to establish a “regular” price (usually for four to six weeks, but this depends on laws state to state). Later they’re marked down to trick all you budget-minded bitches into thinking you’re getting a bargain.

Be suspicious. If there’s a whole lot of one item on the floor, marked at, say, 20 percent off regular price, chances are it was jacked up and you’re not getting a bargain. Be wary of circulars and catalogs “promoting” items—think about it; you’re a smart B: They bought and planned to promote these goods at “sale: prices months in advance.

Recognize the difference between a clear-out-the-stuff-because-the-season-is-aging kind of sale and a general business-is-so-sucky-we-need-to-motivate-people sale. Normal bitches should respond to a one-day-only-everything-is-on-sale sale only if they need things.

Likewise, take a pass on the stores that offer $50 off a purchase three weeks from now if you spend $250 or more today. See this for what it is—a sleazy seduction to get you into bed again. Succumb only knowing what they are doing to you and only if you have tremendous discipline. Plan precisely how you will spend that $50 three weeks hence—say on sorely needed underwear or bras. Better still, just say no. Since you’re a normal person lacking discipline, you’re likely to be a promotional victim and either miss your seven-day shopping window, or, if you get back in time, spend more than that $50 certificate.

Use the stores—don’t let them use you. The best way is to know what you want (recon) and to keep an eye out for those magical days when clearance and promotions happen simultaneously. Only on these days do we allow ourselves to shop at the high temples of fashion. Say you have been watching a fabulous pair of Robert Clegerie shoes, a Jil Sander sweater, or a Marc Jacobs coat that arrived in August—all orgasmically gorgeous but also hideously expensive, so in this economy they’re still hanging around. Now it’s December/January (May/June for spring merch) and they’re marked down for clearance. Wait. Keep watching. Soon the store needs to do a general promotion to make room for new goods (they just keep coming) and raise some cash. What happens? The waiting pays off. Now you get another 20 or 30 percent on top of the already marked-down price. Pounce. This is the absolute perfect storm of a smart-bitch buy.

In the end, if all else fails, stores still need to move the goods out. They need the space, and any cash in hand is better than an old schmatte sitting on a hanger in the stockroom.