The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale (NAS) just ended this past Sunday. This is not only Nordstrom’s biggest sale of the year, it’s also my favorite sale and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival every summer for as long as I can remember. Longtime readers of this blog may remember that I opted to sit out the sale back in 2013 and that I spent too much time, attention, and money on it last year. This year, I set the intention of finding a happy medium between avoiding the sale altogether and overdoing it.
I ended up shopping the sale in person twice this year and also ordered some things online. I will debrief how I fared toward the end of today’s post, but there are other topics I would like to cover first that are far more relevant to all of us. Specifically, I would like to address how sales like NAS are marketed to customers and how the messages that consumers receive affect our buying habits. I will share my reactions to the messages I saw in the pre-NAS marketing materials this year, as well as to the signage within my local Nordstrom. I would also love to get your input on how retail sales are marketed and how you respond to the barrage of messages pressuring you to buy.
FOMO – Shop This Sale or Miss Out!
About two weeks before the NAS begins, catalogs are mailed out to both cardholders and the general public. This is of course to build interest and to encourage people to open Nordstrom charge accounts in order to be allowed to shop the sale a week earlier. There is a not so subtle message that some of the best items on offer will be snapped up by cardholders, so if you don’t want to miss out, you’ll hurry up and join that exclusive club. In case that FOMO isn’t enough, this page appeared within the catalog:
The message is strong – NAS is not just your ordinary, garden variety sale. It’s a major event that not only must be attended, but which requires pre-planning so that the experience can be maximized. This event includes a “beauty bash,” a custom hashtag to facilitate bragging to your “friends” about the deals you get, and “scan + shop” capabilities so you can buy anything in the catalog with a click of your iPhone or iPad, as well as the standard Nordstrom perks of free shipping and returns and on-site alterations. The sub-text of all of this is that if you’re “cool,” you are going to shop this sale.
Nordstrom has changed its tactics a bit each year. A few years back, shoppers couldn’t even look at the merchandise during the pre-sale period unless they were cardholders, and even the cardholders were encouraged to make an appointment to view the pieces on sale with a retail associate. This year, they loosened the reins quite a bit. While the sales areas were still cordoned off with sheer grey curtains, no one stood guard outside those areas and anyone could go in. In addition, anyone could view the NAS offerings in Nordstrom’s e-commerce store as well. They just couldn’t buy anything unless they opened up a Nordstrom charge account. I personally think this approach is smarter, as FOMO is much more effective when one can actually see what they might be missing out on.
My 2015 NAS Experience
As some of you may remember, I closed out my Nordstrom debit card account after NAS last year. The accounting process was painful and I was angry at the number of hours it took for me to reconcile all of my 2014 NAS purchases and returns. I didn’t plan to open another account this year, but I have to admit that “NAS fever” got to me like it does most years. In addition, my “shopping friend” asked if I wanted to shop with her on the first day of the pre-sale and I said yes. I knew I would likely find something I would want and would have to open a new Nordstrom charge account in order to snap up any coveted items. I was okay with that, as I no longer have any other store credit cards and Nordstrom is my favorite store. However, I vowed to open the standard charge card this year because the accounting is just far more streamlined.
So I went to the first day of NAS pre-shopping with my friend on July 9th. However, we learned that it wasn’t really the first day. There was yet another level of exclusivity of which we had previously been unaware. The “high-roller” Nordstrom shoppers, those who spend over $10,000 per year (at just this one retail establishment, mind you…), are allowed to shop the NAS merchandise one day earlier. I wonder how many people actually fall into that group. The mind boggles…
On the (sort of) first day of the sale, the store was very crowded, especially for midday on a Thursday. I’ve shopped the sale on the first day before, multiple times, but I was in a different frame of mind this year and noticed things I may not have seen before. One thing I noticed were the signs that were posted all throughout the store. I will share a few of them below, along with some of my thoughts on the messages being conveyed to shoppers.
Too Many Shoes?
This message is probably meant to be cute and somewhat tongue in cheek, but it encourages the “more is more” philosophy that is rampant in our society as of late. It’s also not really true. Back when I started this blog, I knew I had too many shoes at 56 pairs. I now have less than half that number, but it still feels like too much sometimes, mostly because I don’t wear some of them at all and others only get worn a few times per year. Sometimes I see photos of celebrities’ closets and notice hundreds of pairs of shoes lined up on pristine shoe racks. I wonder how often any of those shoes get worn. There is such a thing as too many shoes…
Mood Adjustment through Shopping
The concept of “retail therapy” is another thing that marketers capitalize on. I once wrote about how retail therapy is a ruse and I stand by that contention, but that doesn’t stop millions of shoppers from trying to improve their moods through buying new things. I am certainly not immune to this behavior, but now I know better. I realize that no matter how many new items of clothing or accessories I purchase, the problems I walked into the store with are still going to exist when I leave with all of my new treasures in hand.
We may feel better temporarily after we snap up some “bargains” at NAS or another sale, but how will we feel the next day or week? I would venture to state that many of us end up feeling worse instead of better because our guilt around overshopping only serves to compound our previous discontent. “Retail therapy” is a trap and it doesn’t solve anything. If we fulfill actual wardrobe needs, we may experience lasting satisfaction with what we bought, but for other life problems, shopping won’t cut it – never has, never will. I learned that the hard way and am still learning it…
Find Yourself at Nordstrom
Can you find yourself at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale? That’s what this message seems to suggest, that if you buy enough new fall merchandise, you’ll have a better sense of who you are. Now I don’t doubt the importance of discovering and cultivating our personal style, but there is a lot more to who we are than what we look like and what we wear. For years, however, I didn’t realize this and placed my appearance on a pedestal. I really believed that if I looked good enough, my life would be better and I would feel happier with who I was. I think a lot of people have similar mistaken notions and marketers capitalize on our insecurity. We may find fabulous clothes, shoes, and accessories at NAS, but we’re not going to find ourselves or the meaning of life there. Such important discoveries cannot be made in any mall, retail establishment, or online store.
We all know this message isn’t true. I’m sure everyone reading this has regretted at least a few purchases that she’s made. In my case, those regrets number in the hundreds or thousands. I can unequivocally state that I have regretted far more of the things I have bought than those items I’ve left behind. This message really draws upon the concept of FOMO and encourages shoppers to snap up everything they fancy, lest they later wish they had bought something that is no longer available. I have definitely fallen prey to this notion when shopping NAS in the past, and I even struggled with it to some extent this year. Old habits die hard, especially when one is dealing with stress and up against expert marketers who are trying to separate us from our hard-earned dollars. But when I have my wits about me, I know full well that I experience many more regrets about what I did buy than about what I didn’t buy.
So How Did My NAS Shopping Go?
As I mentioned previously, I shopped NAS on the first day of pre-selections (except for those high-rollers…) and a second time about a week later. I also placed three small online orders of one to two items each. The online orders were for items I wasn’t able to try on in the store because my local Nordstrom didn’t have them or were online-only offerings. In the past, I pre-shopped the sale online, but I ended up returning most of what I ordered. If you’re difficult to fit or highly selective (I am both…), it’s usually better to just go to the store. That way, you can try things on and have a better chance of your purchases working out.
On my first day of shopping the sale, I made sure to get two of my favorite bras, which I was happy to purchase for a third off the regular price. I also bought two pairs of shoes, both of which I later returned. In one case, the salesman had given me the wrong color sandals, and in the other case, I simply decided that the shoes weren’t right for me. In terms of clothing, I purchased several pieces that were later returned, as well as about the same number of items that I opted to keep. The items I kept will be highlighted in my July accountability update, which will go live within the next week or so. The returns were made after trying my purchases on again at home (which I always recommend doing – store mirrors can be deceptive) and deciding they either didn’t look as good as I thought or didn’t work well with the rest of my wardrobe.
When I went back to the store to make my returns, I did a quick second perusal of the NAS offerings. I bought one item at that time and ordered another (they didn’t have my size in stock). Over the next few days, I also made the online orders that I referenced above. About half of what I ordered worked out and the rest went back to the store. I haven’t finalized all of my decisions as of yet and may opt to return one or two additional purchases.
I know it sounds like I did a lot of shopping at the NAS, but the truth is that I spent far less time and attention on the process this year than last year (and probably less money, too). I mostly focused on defined wardrobe needs (bras, pants, t-shirts) or pieces that wowed me or were very different from what I already owned. I tried on very few items that didn’t fit into one of those categories. Yes, I ended up making some returns, but that is not uncommon for items bought when shopping with a friend (like I did for the NAS pre-selection) or online.
I don’t feel that I overdid it with NAS this year, even in the face of all of the marketing messages I outlined earlier in this post. Could I have done better? Of course, and I intend to plan more carefully and streamline the process next year. But overall, I feel pretty good about how my NAS shopping went this year. One thing I plan to do differently next year is to allocate a larger percentage of my shopping budget to July and the third quarter. I haven’t finalized all of my accounting yet, but it’s likely that I have come close to exceeding my quarterly budget after my NAS shopping. I want to avoid that next year and will do so through better planning.
So that about does it for my 2015 NAS wrap-up. I covered the way the sale is presented to customers leading up to it and in the stores, and I gave my perspective on the various marketing messages that are conveyed to consumers. I also shared my personal experience of shopping what has long been my favorite sale of the year. I will share my actual purchases when I do my July accountability update and I will let you know why I decided to buy those particular items. Hopefully, I have made wise choices that will serve me well in the coming months and years. Time will tell, as always, but I’ve already been enjoying a few of my new pieces. So far, so good…
Now it may seem like I was picking on Nordstrom in my commentary on retail marketing messages, but I was merely using them as an example. They may be slightly shrewder in their marketing than other stores, but all retail establishments use the same types of messaging. They do it because it’s effective. Playing upon FOMO and shoppers’ scarcity mentality – as well as promoting exclusivity and the “cool factor” – works. Just look at how popular Apple products are and how jam-packed the Apple stores are at every mall.
Retailers know how to get people to buy and those of us who want to shop more wisely and consciously would be well-served to understand the ways in which they manipulate us. Knowledge is power, after all. Once we know how we’re being “played,” we can better choose whether or not we want to allow that to happen.
Now it’s your turn to weigh in… I’d love to get your thoughts on sales, marketing messages, FOMO, and related topics:
- What do you notice about how retailers pressure us to buy?
- How do you resist the temptation to overshop?
- Did you shop the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale? If so, did you notice the same things I did?
I invite you to share your input on these subjects, as well as anything else you want to say to me and your fellow readers.