Love to shop? Join the club; in 2011 we spent about $4.7 trillion (yes, trillon!) in retail sales, according the U.S. Commerce Department.
And who hasn't overspent at one time or another? With new merchandise refreshed every season, every month--or, at discount retailers like Target and T.J. Maxx, every week--department stores can be a minefield if you go in uninformed. Especially since stores are designed to make you drop as much cash as possible.
Floor layouts, salespeople's strategies and even storewide sales tap into our most basic consumer impulses. But not this fall: To help you engage in smarter retail therapy, we asked two former department store employees to reveal their juiciest secrets so you save more.
1. Start at the Back of the Store
One evergreen retail strategy is to bury the best discounts-clearance items, especially-in the rear of the store, so you'll encounter racks of beautiful new merchandise before you get to the real nuggets.
Furthermore, stores will try to influence your purchases by advertising their current sales, even the smallest ones, heavily throughout the store, says Abby*, a former salesperson at a high-end New York City department store. "A lot of times, the best deals are not during the big advertised sales," she says. "Usually the best sales items are on a rack toward the back or slightly hidden."
2. Befriend Your Salesperson
Salespeople aren't just trying to make sales on the spot. They're motivated to keep customers apprised of future deals, too, because they have sales goals to meet during those promotions. Ask a clerk to put you in her client book and to call or email you about other sales as they happen.
A lot of stores will let even let you come in a week or so before the actual promotion and hold the merchandise you're interested in, then email you when the sale begins. That way, you get the item at a discounted price before the sale officially starts; the industry term for this is a 'pre-sell.' "They'll swipe your card, save the info, keep your merchandise packaged up in a special area, and give you a claim ticket to come back once the sale begins," says Abby. Of course, the secondary motivation for a pre-sell is to get you back in the store to spend more, so make sure to return armed with the will power to pick up only what you already purchased.
3. Aim to Save at Least 30%
"Generally speaking, a sale isn't really worth it unless you're saving at least 30%," says Abby. "And there's always a sale happening in which you can save at least 30%." So if you're the type to cringe when you have to pay full retail, wait for the stuff you're coveting to be introduced into the sale rotation. (Again, getting extra chummy with your salesperson means you might get tipped off to just when that is.)
4. Request a Price Adjustment
If you spent more on a full-price item than you're comfortable with and having retail remorse, go back within seven days and check to see if that item's been marked down, says Lisa*, a former high-end department store manager. Most stores will honor a price adjustment within that time frame, as long as you've kept your receipt and it's a hard markdown (meaning the sale price is clearly indicated on the tag). The most foolproof way to avoid losing your receipt? Ask to have it emailed to you, and pull it up on your smartphone when you need it.
5. Beware of Bundled Promotions
Avoid buy one, get one deals (known in the industry as BOGOs) and similar bulk sales that are designed to encourage you to buy more merchandise than you ordinarily would. If you're spending more than you intended to, you're not really saving, Lisa reminds us.
6. Don't Look to the Right
Research shows that most shoppers are right-handed and instinctively look to the right, so that's where stores put the newest and most expensive stuff. To encourage that instinct, stores will often add extra lights and music to that area to entice you to come closer. The answer? Go into the store with an idea of what you need, and don't get distracted by display tricks!
*Names have been changed.
More From LearnVest
Take Charge of Your Money With Our Free Bootcamp!
LearnVest is the leading personal finance site for women. Need help managing your money? Our free Money Center will help you create a budget. Our free bootcamps will help you take control of your money, cut your costs or get out of debt. And our premium financial plans--managed by LearnVest Certified Financial Planners--can help you chart a course for the future you want.