I prefer to shop alone. I am a very focused, directed shopper and don’t like to be distracted by idle chit-chat or unrelated browsing. So I generally go alone and keep to myself. The people I am most likely to speak with while shopping? Sales associates.
Now, sales associates sometimes get a bad rep. It’s frustrating to ask a question about merchandise or availability and be met with blank stares and disinterest. But sales associates cannot be expected to know everything about the merch. Boutique owners and managers at smaller shops, yes. Associates at large department stores, no. And even if you encounter a sales associate who can’t help you, hopefully she or he can point you toward other resources.
But sales associates often know more than you’d expect, and they’re often bored out of their skulls. They’re gatekeepers, both of products and of information. And if you’re kind and patient and know what to ask, sales associates can transform shopping into a rewarding experience.
Here are some questions that the average SA should be able to answer, and that you should never be afraid to ask:
Sizing and Stock
I can’t find my size. Is it in a stockroom somewhere? You just never know. Even small boutiques have back rooms, and if things get busy, the floor may get depleted. ALWAYS ask if your size is hiding in the back.
Will you be getting more? No luck in the stockroom? Find out if further shipments are on their way.
Can you check another store for me? Can it be sent to THIS store? STILL no luck? Any chain store should be able to call around or check their computer system to see if what you need is elsewhere in the chain. And many will have the item sent to the store that is most convenient for you.
Is it available on the store’s website? If so, can you waive shipping? OK, this is your last resort. If the dad-gum sweater is absolutely nowhere in the state, ask your friendly SA to check the company site. Not all shops are equipped, but many will look up the item, order it for you, and comp the shipping costs.
Does this come in petites or tall sizes? Plus sizes are generally separated and marked as such, since few lines stock full-figured versions of non-plus clothing. (Can I just mention how WEIRD I think that is?) But height-related sizing can sometimes be hidden. If you find a dress or pair of pants that would work if it were just a hair longer/shorter, grab a passing SA and make sure there aren’t petite or tall versions lurking elsewhere.
Application and Fit
How is this item meant to fit? We’ve all come across them: Items that look intriguing, but cannot be deciphered off-the-rack. Even if you nab an SA who has no idea how that sarong is supposed to wrap, working it out together will be easier than puzzling it out on your own.
How is this cosmetic applied? I’m sure you makeup lovers know all about this one. But just as a reminder: If you’re delving into liquid eyeliner for the first time, or trying a new cream blush, make the SA show you how to apply it. ON YOU.
Are samples available? If only this question worked for shoes … but sadly, this is cosmetics-specific, too. Sometimes places like The Body Shop and Bath & Body Works will hand out product samples, but it works best at department store cosmetics counters. Don’t feel guilty. Why should you commit cash to a product without making sure it still works after 8 hours of wear, doesn’t give you hives, etc.?
Pricing and Payment
This item has a visible flaw. Can I get an additional discount? I have never been denied additional money off for a flaw. Even at a thrift store on a $3 skirt. If it’s something you know you can fix yourself, ask for a better deal. You’re likely to get another 10% or 15% off, even on sale merch.
Is layaway available? More and more shops are doing this for big- and medium-ticket items, and it’s a great option if you want something badly, know it’s gonna sell out, and don’t have the cash in hand. Put it on your credit card and you’ll be paying interest. Put it on layaway, and all you have to do is wait and pay.
Image courtesy Jorge Franganillo