Confession: I Shopped the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale this Year

Exactly a year ago today, I wrote a post titled “Why I’m Skipping the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.”  This has become one of the most popular posts on my blog, probably because so many people search for the term “Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.”  In a nutshell, the post outlines the five reasons why I decided to sit out what had been my favorite sale for many years.  My decision to avoid that “holy grail” of sales was a big turning point in my recovery process, although I’ve clearly experienced a number of ups and downs since that time.

Nordstrom Anniversary Sale

So I shopped the sale this year…. (image: Nordstrom.com)

Fast forward a year…  I have a confession to make.  This year, I did shop the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, or NAS for short.  While that may seem like a bit of a “backslide,” so to speak, it’s not necessarily that black and white.  In today’s post, I outline why I shopped the NAS this year, what was different about how I approached it this time around, and what I still need to learn and improve before I revisit this sale next time.

The “Sandwich Method”

I’m going to present this post by means of what has been termed the “sandwich method.”  I was a member of Toastmasters International, a public speaking organization, for many years.  Anytime a speech was given at a club meeting, another member would present a spoken evaluation.  We were taught to use the sandwich method as a means of giving an effective and constructive critique.  In essence, this process involved stating some positive feedback at the outset, then outlining areas in which the speech could be improved.  The evaluation would conclude on a high note, with the evaluator affirming a previous positive statement or offering additional praise of some element of the speech.

I’m going to use the same process to recount my Nordstrom Anniversary Sale shopping experience.  I have a tendency to be extremely hard on myself and focus excessively on the negative.  Forcing myself to adhere to the sandwich method will push me to highlight the positive elements to a larger degree than I might do otherwise.

My Reasons for Skipping Last Year’s NAS

In my post about the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale last year, I gave the following five reasons for sitting out the sale:

  1. Fall is months away (the sale focuses on fall merchandise).
  2. My priority list should be what guides my shopping.
  3. I returned most of what I bought last year.
  4. I already have too many clothes!
  5. Why should I shop on Nordstrom’s timeline?

For more details about each of the above reasons, go back and read last year’s post.  I still stand by each and every one of those reasons.  Shopping NAS in previous years was mostly an unproductive experience for me.  I bought too many things just because they were on sale and/or caught my eye as being pretty or stylish.

All too often, those pieces sat in my closet unworn because they were off-season and didn’t suit my casual lifestyle.  Because Nordstrom has such a liberal return policy, I was able to mitigate many of my losses, but some items had been altered and could no longer be returned.  Many of those garments gathered dust until they were either consigned or donated months or years later.  Not a very smart investment on my part!

Weighing My NAS Options This Year

Weighing the options

To shop or not to shop… that is the question.

When the sale approached this year, I considered my options.  I could sit it out once again or potentially use it to my advantage.  What if I were able to find some items on my shopping priority list at NAS?  What if those pieces were things that I could wear now instead of many months later?  I ultimately decided that if I could find items that met those criteria, it could be smart for me to shop the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.

I have to confess that I browsed the sale online just after midnight on the first day of pre-selections for cardholders.  Although I had cancelled my Nordstrom credit card in early 2013, I enrolled in their debit card option toward the end of last year.  With this option, the money I spend is deducted from my checking account, so it’s much easier to keep tabs on how much shopping I do, as I update all of my transactions in QuickBooks on a weekly basis.  In the past, I wouldn’t update my credit card accounts until I received my bills, so I was often floored by how much debt I’d accrued during the previous month.

What Was Different – and Positive – This Time Around

So I browsed the sale offerings in the wee hours of the morning (I usually stay up that late anyway), but I did not buy anything at that time.  I took the wise advice of Jill Chivers and used what she has termed the “power pause.”  I opted to wait until the next day before clicking the buy button for any of the NAS items.  I didn’t even add anything to my shopping cart, as I wanted to review the site with fresh eyes the following day.

When I did purchase sale items late on the first day of the sale, I made sure that they all met actual identified gaps in my wardrobe.  With the exception of one item (a warm jacket to wear on my evening walks), I also ensured that everything I bought could be worn now – or very soon – as opposed to months from now.  It’s far too risky to buy things for later or “just in case,” as our style preferences evolve and our lifestyle needs change.  What we thought was a wise buy can often end up being money thrown down the toilet, as it were.

Why I Shopped Online Instead of in the Store

Online shopping

Sometimes shopping online is the right choice.

I feel it’s important to explain why I shopped online instead of in the store.  Not only was I able to explore the various offerings from the comfort of my home, I also avoided unnecessary pressure from Nordstrom sales associates.  In previous years, customers had to make an appointment with a salesperson in order to pre-shop the sale.  This salesperson would either pull items upon the customer’s request or accompany them as they browsed the various sale offerings, which were typically housed in a cordoned off area.  This year, things were a bit different and no appointment was required, but I wasn’t aware of that fact when I first browsed the sale items.

Anyone who has shopped at Nordstrom can attest to their exemplary customer service, but it can be a mixed blessing for shopaholics (read more of my thoughts about this issue here).  We can often feel compelled to buy things we’d otherwise leave in the store simply because a sales associate gave us so much time and attention.  Shopping online allows us to avoid such pressure and take our time with the decision-making process.  Of course, not being able to try things on can lead to a lot of returns, but I felt it was the better option for me this year.

I later ended up shopping the sale in person this past weekend, as I went to return the bulk of the items I bought in my first online order.  Most of what I had ordered didn’t work out, so I outlined some other pieces to assess in person.  What helped me to avoid sales pressure in the store was to basically refuse assistance.  When a salesperson asked if needed help, I’d simply say “no, thank you.”  I also turned down offers to start a fitting room for me until I was finished gathering the items I wished to try on.  I didn’t take up much of any sales associate’s time so I wouldn’t feel at all guilty if I left empty-handed.  While I did end up making a few purchases that day, I didn’t feel obligated to do so because of any assistance I had received.

Now for the Downside

So I shared most of the positive aspects of my NAS shopping experience this year, but there are some negatives to report as well.  I have two major criticisms of the way in which I shopped the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale this time:

  1. I spent too much time browsing the sale items online.
  2. I purchased too many things.

I’m embarrassed to write that I made three separate online orders from Nordstrom and I shopped the sale once in person.  While I have already returned the bulk of my first online order and will likely return a lot of the other pieces I purchased via the website, I still spent too much time and money shopping the sale.  While I didn’t lose myself in the experience like I used to and my brain was running the show instead of my emotions, my goal is to shop less often and expend far less energy on the process overall.

There were definitely some elements of escapism in my NAS shopping this year and that’s not something I’m proud of.   I was again exhibiting the type of avoidance behavior that I wrote about in “The Reasons We Shop Too Much.”  Rather than facing and dealing with the unpleasant situations in my life, I was avoiding them and focusing my attention instead on shopping.  Old habits can die hard, so I won’t beat myself up too much for this.  It’s just good to be aware of our behavioral tendencies so we can address them and make better choices the next time we’re faced with similar circumstances.

Buying too much and having to return

A familiar situation and feeling I’d like to avoid! 

At this point, I don’t know how much I spent on NAS purchases or how many of them I will keep.  Some of the items will end up being birthday presents (my birthday is just over two weeks away) and some will be applied toward my clothing budget and item limit for the year (gifts don’t count toward either of these restrictions, but I don’t receive very many gifts).  I may need to make some difficult decisions and do some course-correction in order to remain on track to achieve my shopping and wardrobe goals for 2014.

Ending on a High Note – The Silver Lining

As I’ve written in previous posts and in response to readers’ comments, recovery doesn’t occur in a straight line.  Rather, there are lots of ups and downs and hills and valleys.  Sometimes we take three steps forward and one step back, and sometimes it’s one step forward and three steps back.  But if we look at the overall trajectory of our recovery process over time, we can often clearly see we’re making solid progress.

I don’t pretend to be perfect or to be completely recovered from my compulsive shopping problem.  While I’ve made great strides, I am still struggling in some aspects of my recovery.  I still make purchasing mistakes and I still have times when I devote too much time, attention, and money to shopping.  Perhaps I wasn’t fully ready to dive into shopping the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale again.  Maybe I should have sat it out another year in order to give my recovery more time to solidify.

But I did shop the sale and there were both good and bad aspects to that experience, as I highlighted above.  While I definitely bought too much and immersed myself too fully in the process, I didn’t go crazy and I didn’t let my emotions run the show.  All of the items I bought were in line with what was outlined on my shopping priorities list.   Although I saw lots of other pieces that caught my eye, I didn’t add them to my shopping cart or try them on when I was in the store.  Instead I used the “art gallery method” recommended by Jill Chivers.  I allowed myself to admire and enjoy beautiful clothes without feeling the need to take them home with me.

Once the dust settles and I decide what I’m actually going to keep, I will share my NAS acquisitions in my next accountability update.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll also let you know how many items ended up being returned to the store.  I don’t always include that information in my updates, but I think it’s important this time around.  It isn’t easy for me to spill the beans about my shopping, but I remain convinced that the truth shall set me free – and it has.   I believe that the honesty and vulnerability I’ve committed to in this blog have played a very important role in my recovery thus far.   I definitely plan to continue the same openness you’ve come to expect from me here!

Another Perspective and a Thank You

I’m not the only one writing about shopping the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.  Lisa of “Shopping Brake” recently posted an interesting retrospective of how her shopping at this sale has evolved over a four year period.   Clearly, she’s also made excellent progress in the way she approaches what she termed her favorite sale of the year.  She has not yet shared her actual experience of shopping the sale this year, but I look forward to reading that recap soon.

I’d like to thank everyone who congratulated me on the recent Real Simple feature about me and my journey (called “Spent,” on page 158 of the August issue).  I know that some of you who would like to read the article have not yet been able to do so.  I’m working on getting online access to the feature so I can share it on the blog, or at least permission to share a PDF version here (like I did with the article I wrote for “Complete Wellbeing” magazine).   I hope to be able to post the article very soon – stay tuned.

Please Share Your Stories of Recovery

In addition, I would love to be able to feature more of your experiences in my “Stories of Recovery” series. We’ve already heard from Lisa and Terra, who have had very different journeys but were equally eloquent and inspiring.  You don’t need to have been a full-fledged shopaholic in order to share your story.  If you’ve learned to shop more consciously and wisely and/or have cultivated a wardrobe that works for you, we’d love to hear from you, too!

Your story can be long or short.  You can be anonymous if you wish or link to your blog as Lisa and Terra have done.  The important thing is to add new perspectives to the mix and inspire each other along the way.  If you’re interested in contributing to the “Stories of Recovery” series, please contact me.

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