How I Shopped the 2016 Nordstrom Anniversary Sale

For many years, the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale (NAS) has been my absolute favorite sale.  I’d look forward to the sale all year and go online to check out the offerings shortly after midnight on the first day of “pre-selections” for Nordstrom cardholders.  I would usually make multiple purchases before the sale was over, both online and in the store. Over the years, I’ve spent far too much money at this sale and have often bought things that I later regretted purchasing.

2016 nordstrom anniversary sale

Do you shop the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale every year?

NAS Blog Posts Over the Years…

Every year since starting this blog, I’ve done a post about NAS.  The first year (2013), I opted to skip the sale entirely, which was empowering for me at the time and proved to myself that I could successfully resist shopping temptation.  The following year, I went back to the sale with good intentions, but encountered some of the same difficulties I had in the past, spending too much time, energy, and money on the process.

My NAS post last year was about FOMO and the marketing messages that Nordstrom used to trigger our fear of missing out and get us to shop more.  I shopped the sale last year, too, but ended up returning the lion’s share of what I bought.  Fortunately, however, I spent a lot less time on the experience and didn’t feel that I overdid it, even in the face of the intense marketing messages directed toward Nordstrom shoppers.

This year, I decided to approach the sale in a very different manner.  In today’s post, I’ll share what I did and how it worked out for me. This approach could be used for any type of sale, not just the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.  It can even be used for non-sale shopping, as the principles used are pretty much universal.

The Process I Used

The key to the process I used is something I’ve written about before on the blog, the “power pause.”  This great tool was coined by Jill Chivers of “Shop Your Wardrobe,” who recommends that we wait at least two hours and optimally as long as two days before we buy something that we identify we want.  The reason for this is that our desire for the item in question often cools off after some time has elapsed.

So here’s what I did… As usual, I went to the Nordstrom website shortly after midnight to view all of the sales offerings on the first day of NAS.  This was no big deal because I stay up late anyway (although I’m working to reform my “night owl” ways, as I last wrote about HERE).   I looked over the sale items in many key categories and placed anything that struck my fancy and was within the realm of reason for me to buy (within my price range and something I could see myself wearing) into my shopping cart. There were twenty such items, but I had no intention of buying them all.  After I did this, I went to bed.

I told myself I would wait at least two days before buying anything, but I ended up waiting longer than three days.  During that period, I looked at my cart items several times.  Each time, I noticed my fervor for some of them has started to wane.  A few items sold out in that short time frame, but I wasn’t upset by that.  I knew that they would either be re-stocked, as often happens during this sale, or it wouldn’t end up mattering.  There are always many great clothes, shoes, and accessories available.  There’s really no shortage of beautiful things that we can want, and many of them will suit our lives and be offered at an affordable price.

Visiting the Store

Since I ended up returning so many of my NAS purchases last year, I elected to go to the store and try things on this time around.  Before doing so, I printed out my shopping cart list and thought about the items on it in relation to my shopping priorities list.  Since I’m trying to focus more attention on my at-home wardrobe this year, I decided to locate and try on those types of items first before even looking at “out and about” wear. Fortunately for me, the active wear and lingerie departments are both on the same floor of my local Nordstrom and most of the other women’s departments are on a different floor.

I located as many at-home items from my cart list as I could and tried them on.  Some things didn’t work out at all, but I did manage to find one pair of workout Capri pants and one pair of lounge pants.  I also ordered a short, cozy cardigan that can serve as both a robe and a topper for my walks by the water or a casual outing.  I was very pleased with all three purchases, as they all meet real lifestyle needs of mine.

I then went downstairs to the main women’s clothing departments, where I was able to locate most of the other items on my cart list.  Many of them looked dramatically different in person than they did on the website.  Some of the fabrics were almost paper-thin and the quality was often sub-standard.  Also, some colors didn’t look the same as they did on my monitor, which led me to pass them up in the store.  I looked around at the general offerings for a short time, but I mostly focused on finding the pieces that I had identified online.  I didn’t even visit the shoe department, as the types of shoes available in the sale were either not on my list or out of my price range.

After trying on fifteen to twenty items in the main women’s departments, I settled on two casual short-sleeved t-shirts (which I will mostly wear at home) and two casual jackets. I had to order one of the jackets in the color I wanted and I may not end up keeping both of them, as I want to see how they will work with what’s in my closet.  All of the items I bought were on my cart list, none were expensive, and all are things that I can see myself wearing in the very near future.  I considered purchasing a skirt as well, but when I asked myself Bridgette Raes’ pivotal question, “Where are you going in that?,” I didn’t have a good enough answer!   I left the skirt in the store and am very glad I did, as it may have ended up becoming a “wardrobe benchwarmer.”

My NAS Experience Was a Success

I feel that my NAS shopping experience this year was a success for the following reasons:

  1. I used the “power pause” to eliminate any impulse buys.
  2. I focused my shopping on true wardrobe needs for my real lifestyle.
  3. I didn’t spend a large amount of time, energy, and money on my shopping.
  4. I would have bought all of the times at full price, so they weren’t “sales goggles” purchases.
  5. Even though NAS is focused on fall merchandise, I can see myself wearing all of the things I bought within the next month or so.
  6. My brain ran the show rather than my emotions.
  7. I stayed within my clothing budget.

Summing Up My Process

As I mentioned earlier, the process I used for NAS can be applied to other sales, as well as general shopping.  Here’s a summary of what I did in case you want to try it yourself:

  1. Review your shopping priorities list or take a few moments to review your wardrobe and jot down what you need.
  2. Go on the store’s website, look through the offerings, and add anything you see that meets your needs (or simply “sparks joy”) to your shopping cart.
  3. Leave the website. This step is very critical!   Take a walk, call a friend, or do whatever you need to do to distract yourself, but don’t buy anything at this time.
  4. You can look at the cart again over the next two days but don’t buy anything until that much time or longer has elapsed.
  5. After the “power pause” is over, you can do one of two things. If you prefer to shop online, pare down your cart by asking yourself questions like these:
    • “Where are you going in that?” (which basically gets at whether or not the item suits your lifestyle)
    • “Do I already own something similar that meets this same need?” (this will help to avoid “splitting your wears,” another Bridgette Raes concept). 
    • “Would I buy this at full price?” (to avoid the all too common phenomenon of buying something just because it’s on sale)
    • “Is this in my budget?” (consider that you may have the budget to buy these items but then you might not be able to get something else that you need more)
  6. If you prefer to shop in the store, print out your shopping cart list and take it with you.
  7. Whether shopping online or in person, focus your efforts primarily on your cart list. If you look around too much, you will likely find more things that you like, which may result in impulse buys. Try to avoid that as much as possible!  If you see other things you like, I recommend that you do another “power pause” for those items, even if it’s a short one.  Allow some time to reflect and ask yourself the questions under #5 above.

If you’re unable to review a retailer’s merchandise before going to the store (or if they don’t have a website), you can still use the power pause.  One option is to take photos of the items you’re interested in with your phone (or jot down some notes about them) and ask the store to hold them for you for a day or two (or at least a couple of hours).   Basically, any time that you have between the stimulus (seeing the items you want) and your response (buying or not buying) is helpful, as it allows time for your rational mind to potentially override your emotions.  Even taking a few minutes to visit the restroom, get some air, or enjoy a beverage or snack can make a difference. Try it and see for yourself!

Your Thoughts?

I hope you found this post interesting and helpful.  Now I’d like to get your input.

  • Do you shop the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale? Is it a successful experience for you?  Why or why not?
  • What issues do you have with sales shopping?
  • What strategies do you have for successfully shopping at sales? For shopping in general?
  • Have you used the “power pause”? If so, did you find it helpful? 

I invite you to share your thoughts on the above questions, as well as anything else you’d like to say about this post.  I may take a while for me to respond (and I may not respond to all comments), as I’m going on a trip Thursday for five days (my first trip since last September).  I’m hoping to schedule a photography interlude post for later in the week, but we’ll have to see how things go for me tomorrow.

My updates on my 2016 goals (balance | wardrobe & shopping) will have to wait until after I return from my trip, as a lot goes into writing those types of posts. I want to allow myself enough time to reflect and compile data (you know my love of numbers and stats…).  I’m also going to do another “lead up to 50” post (see the first two HERE and HERE) before the big day arrives (less than three months now).   Hope your summer is going well so far (or winter for my friends in Australia and New Zealand)!

23 thoughts on “How I Shopped the 2016 Nordstrom Anniversary Sale

  1. Wow Debbie, very proud and happy for you and your progress! The analytical way you handled the NAS is wonderful and inspiring to me. Will definitely use this when shopping for workout tops and bras (a priority need); all of mine are relics from 2011/2013 that don’t fit anymore (one of them’s also a men’s sports top. And it’s mine. No really). The power pause has always stuck with me because it’s simple, concise and easy to remember. I’ll try and remember your other incredible tips though. If I don’t, it’s more because of my sometimes bad memory rather than anything else =)

    Having a shopping list of what to get is great because it gives me purpose when shopping; I’m not looking at random racks of clothing, “to see what’s out there” and getting angry and frustrated because the quality is so low and because I’m wondering why I’m wasting my time shopping pointlessly when I could be doing something else that doesn’t result in me becoming angry and frustrated. This happened yesterday, actually, and shopping got exhausting and frustrating without a purpose.

    Also, have fun on your trip! Looking forward to more articles from you; I find them hugely relatable and insightful.

    • First of all, I apologize for my delay in responding to this and the other comments on this post! The post went live the day before my trip and although I have been back for over a week, I wasn’t feeling well for much of that time and got behind on everything. I really appreciate those who commented on this post (and all posts) and I’m responding today because I believe, “better late than never!”

      I’m glad you liked this post and my blog, Vivien, and I thank you for your comment and praise. Yes, the power pause and having a shopping list are two of the shopping tips that have helped me the most. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the moment and buy what we don’t really need. There’s no shortage of beautiful things out there for us to want, that’s for sure! I agree that shopping can be quite frustrating, especially since quality has taken a nosedive. As for your remembering the tips in this post, I probably won’t even remember them all and I wrote them! I sometimes refer back to my own posts and I hope you will bookmark the ones you like most and do the same 🙂

    • Thank you, Ruthie! It has taken me a long time to come up with this type of plan, but it’s how I’m going to shop NAS and all big sales moving forward. I think it’s a good way to shop in general, too. Perhaps I should try it for a year and see if my success rate goes way up!

  2. Another WoW from me! You show how you can achieve your realistic shopping goals through persistent efforts year by year. It’s a wonderful lesson to be patient with ourselves and not linger in discouragement.

    I wasn’t aware of the NAS until I started noticing it in the You Look Fab blog and forum. For me, it’s never been a danger because it violates so many of my personal Rools. It’s hard enough dealing with a false feeling of scarcity without adding in the ginned up marketing gimmicks of creating even more false scarcity. I don’t want to look bizarre but at the same time I resist copycat looks – what everybody’s wearing all over the internet. In fact, this is one positive I get from the sale event – I mentally note all the must have items that I want to steer clear of – that double-seamed Halogen pencil skirt that was so wildly popular a few years back. I only want to use my credit cards for actual emergencies – like car repair- or if ordering something from an unknown merchant and Paypal isn’t available. I try not to shop out of season. This used to apply to end of season sales vs pre-season. I found that I couldn’t really predict what I would like the next summer or next winter or how things would fit. Plus I tend to have different palettes and moods to my wardrobes for hot and cold weather. So I’m in a different mindset during a season than I would be in the following season, as regards pre-season. Though I will agree with a fellow thrift store shopper that “some of my best coats were purchased in June.”

    I am experimenting with leaving most of my opposite season wardrobe in the closet – mostly because the seasonal changes have been so erratic and dragged out. So I can visually register that I really have plenty, anyway. I also seem to have an inbuilt resistance to paying a lot for items because, as you’ve said, there’s always more out there.

    The kind of sales I have a little trouble with are the end-of-season thrift shop sales. I purposely limit myself to 3 main church thrift shops. Been going for years and they even know my taste. Two of those close in June and don’t reopen until well into September. So, just like retail, you can’t buy summer clothes when you want and need them. And they tend to delay putting out summer stuff, plus summer clothes have harder wear and there seem to be naturally less of them. What you often do see are extremely dated items that were purchased in multiples and mostly or entirely unworn. In the small stores I prefer, this kind of thing takes up a lot of the limited display space!

    Another thing I find is that because I do my own alterations – and I’m five feet tall so there are constant alterations of at least length – I need to be working/completing something every day or I will feel overwhelmed plus I have a bad mental habit of seeing an as-yet unworn item and concluding automatically that there’s something wrong with it – probably too small or uncomfortable in some way. I can’t remember a time when this turned out to be true but there it is. So I have to force myself to try it again, make the necessary fixes and then usually find I am happy to wear it. This makes my wardrobe options for the season increase. Which leads me to think there are only so many days and so very many good options. Which leads to more judicious shopping.

    I did use the power pause recently. I happened upon a vintage skirt on ebay and I was very taken with it. It was priced way too high for me to take a flyer with it but I could have afforded it. Plus, I don’t like shopping online because there are too many unanswered questions about the real color, the drape of it, the weight of it, the feel of it. If I’d seen it at the thrift store for two dollars, I would’ve bought it on the spot, no question (all questions having been answered satisfactorily). But I didn’t buy it, though I visited it often trying to figure out why I liked this. I even considered making one myself. It was a maxi skirt with madras patches – I love checks and plaids – each bordered with a thick band of black (or of course could be navy). What a lot of work and expense! But I kept trying to suss out what it is that attracted me. I figured out it was the emphatic black banding – I ended up getting a five dollar wide braided seed bead necklace from Walmart because I recognized some of my favorite tops had this banding. I also reasoned that I would want a weightiness to that skirt. I wouldn’t have been happy if it were the equivalent of a quilt top. I have been trying to work out my preferences in fabric weight and firmness for various garments. I seem to like both a weighty skirt and a floaty one but less fond of an between like a typical rayon print.

    I was surprised, though, that this ebay skirt was the second item I had refused/postponed buying that I definitely calmed down about. It took more than a few hours or days but it did happen over time and this was a valuable thing learned.

    • I always appreciate your detailed comments, Vildy. You have a lot of wisdom to share! Yes, there is a lot of hype about NAS on the You Look Fab blog and forums and it can be easy to get carried away, as many do. I’m like you in that I don’t really want to wear the same things that everyone else is wearing – and some of the trends I just plain don’t like! Good for you for only using your credit cards for emergencies! I use mine for lots of things, but we do pay them off every month. I have my entire wardrobe in my closet at all times now and I like that. Although I rarely wear the out of season items, we do have unseasonably warm or cold days here on the regular. I didn’t realize that thrift stores have seasons, too, but that makes sense. I guess because of where I live, they are a lot less strict about what they stock at any given time. I’m impressed by how much you learned with your power pause on the vintage skirt. How great that you were able to figure out what drew you in about the skirt and come up with alternate ways to express those elements in your wardrobe for less money.

  3. I agree that the power pause is a most useful tool. Creating incentives to buy and follow-through are entireley too easy, and I have fallen prey to it many times. Acknowledging this is key. And as I am typing this I receive an email notification that Eileen Fisher has 15% off selected items… This email will be deleted as soon as possible to ward off any temptation. I made a few purchases this year to update my wark wardrobe prior to NAS and I should be good to go for a long while. Good strategies, Debbie.

    • You’re right that the stores are quite adept at creating reasons for us to buy, Cornelia. Most people don’t realize it and fall for the scarcity and FOMO they create. Good for you for deleting the EF email and resisting temptation with their sale and NAS. Sales can be helpful for those who need to fill wardrobe gaps, but it’s great that you didn’t have any and recognized that!

  4. I shopped this sale for the 1st time in my life (got a nordy debit card in order to do it). I did it because I need shoes (flats & ankle boots and a pair of nude heels particularly) and they had excellent sales on the exact types I wanted. I did go a little overboard though, since it’s online and I have no close store nearby to try anything on. I ordered the heels, 4 pairs of ankle boots, a blouse, a jacket, and 2 pairs of flats. The good news about the ankle boots- I will only keep a light and a dark pair at the most. The blouse and jacket are very different from what I already have/not dupes. If the heels and flats work out I’ll be very happy as well.

    • Good to see you commenting here, Meli, and I’m glad you’ve done a few blog posts as of late. It sounds like you had a good NAS shopping experience. I used to order everything online, too, but since I have 4 Nordstrom stores within an hour of me (shopping kryptonite for sure!), I have found it easier to shop in person, at least for most of it (some items are ONLY available online). Good for you for choosing wisely and finding items to fill actual wardrobe gaps!

  5. Excellent job, Debbie. You are a master of shopping the sales!

    My technique begins with planning the basic wardrobe. I have just two seasons to plan. One is short and warm (and occasionally hot) and the other is long and cool (sometimes cold). Work takes most of my time. I have colors worked out and my general shapes as well as types of clothes. I look for what is missing first in the basics (neutrals) and then in the accent colors (red, pale pink, and pale blue).

    Unfortunately, I allowed my weight to go up and (fortunately) now I am moving to a smaller size. My clothes are getting baggy, and just about everything needs replacement. But I suspect that I will go down one more size to get to my preferred weight. I need basic clothes but I do not want to purchase too many. Getting those basics nailed is crucial. Since my basics are black, true grays, some dark denim items, and white …. these neutrals are usually the easiest to find. I won’t be looking for many accent pieces yet; I want the most useful clothing with the best fit. I am not looking for variety.

    Once I do the analysis, then I am ready to go looking on-line to get an idea of what is out there. Sometimes I do get something unexpected (rarely) and I do purchase on-line (but items do get returned). I do prefer shopping in person for all the reasons you mentioned but the selection is so limited.

    The other thing is that when I am done, I am done. I don’t browse for entertainment. I consider shopping to be work.

    Finally, I do try to up-date my look in a subtle way. I find that the most important changes have to do with shape, fit and fabric. It can be difficult to see what will be the longer trend and what lasts one or two seasons. The other frustration is lack of quality in the clothes that are available.

    • Thanks, Susan! I don’t know if I’m a master yet, but I’m getting there. I live in a two-season climate, too, and I often err in buying too many pieces for the shorter warm season, which is really only 1/3 of the year and shouldn’t represent half of my wardrobe. Good for you for dropping some excess weight and being reasonable about how many pieces you buy during the in-between time. It sounds like you have a very sound plan in place. The advice about being done when you’re done and not browsing for entertainment is excellent! I share your frustration with lack of quality and sadly, it only seems to be getting worse. I guess it’s fine for those who dress ultra-trendy, but most of us want our clothes to last for more than a season or two 😦

  6. Nice! Giant leap into recovery and into your day-to-day real life. I no longer shop the pre sale but do plan to pick up a few pair of replacement underwear and jeans, if they have what I want on sale.
    Glad to see you feeling accomplished!

    • Thank you, Terra! I do feel proud of how I shopped the sale this year and intend to follow the same plan in future years. I hope you were able to find the jeans and underwear you needed at NAS.

  7. Wow, amazing progress in just a few short years! I’m going to go back and read your first NAS post, just for kicks. I sense an assurance of self in this that is clearly the result of a lot of diligent work.

    • I appreciate your kind words, Jane. In 2013 (the year I started the blog), as you probably saw, I skipped the NAS altogether, which was a major win for me. In both 2014 ad 2015, I tried to shop it again but had limited success. I did the best with it this year and I am feeling more self-assured. I still have shopping issues for sure, but I do acknowledge myself for my progress.

  8. Excellent post!!!
    I live in France, and we have 2 sales for 6 weeks: winter and summer. We have still 2 weeks left of summer sales.
    I make a list, check on the website of my favorite shops if they have one, go to the shop to try on, lately I have made photos of me wearing the items, than went out from the shop and after wisiting all my shops I checked my photos and went back to the shop if I was still happy with the item.
    During the summer sales I have bought 2 items online after trying them in the shop to have the right size. And also 2 items in a new shop where the quality is better and the prices are affordables during the sales.
    So the “power pause” is working for me, especially when I take photos.
    I am happy with all my purchases of this year.

    • Dory, this was a fascinating account. I’ve never understood how the French sale season could work. I would have thought it was the worst time for a power pause because I imagined the pieces someone could want or the sizes they need would be sucked up fast like a vacuum cleaner.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your sales shopping process, Dory. Like Vildy, I was fascinated by what you wrote and am in awe of your restraint and use of the power pause. It sounds like you did very well with your shopping and hopefully are enjoying your new pieces. I love your idea of taking photos of you wearing the items you’re considering and revisiting them later to help make your decisions.

  9. Hi Debbie. Great post. Your new resolve is incredible! Well done. I rarely venture into the world of sales shopping as I experience total overwhelm. I dislike crowds and find online shopping problematic as I have quite definitive needs in terms of exact color palette and texture. However I can relate to the more focused element to your shopping. Shopping is very different these days as I usually have an exact item in mind & I use laser focus looking for this. My husband laughingly refers this to a military operation, (he says I am an sniper shopper!) I’ve purged so many items that I rarely make purchase errors now. I wish I’d had this defined palette and structured, focused style of shopping years ago as I shudder to think of the wasted money & hours. I am comforted by the fact everything I’ve done previously has led to this new me. I’m even applying the power pause to home items as I’ve bought & purged so much crystal I can now visualise myself bubble wrapping the item for donation before I’ve even purchased it!

    • Shopping the big sales can definitely be overwhelming, Sharon! I have traditionally shopped the first day of NAS and it was a total zoo. This year, I went to the store 5 days into the sale and it was like shopping any other day (it was a weekday afternoon, which helped). I love the characterization of you as a “sniper shopper”! That’s great that you rarely make purchase errors now! Like you, I sometimes shudder at the thought of the many hours and dollars that I wasted on shopping, but we can’t turn back the clock and at least we are doing much better now. Good for you for applying the power pause to home items, too!

  10. Good for you!
    I’m not a NAS shopper. Come late July I’m usually just starting to enjoy summer and am getting ready to go on vacation. Shopping for Fall just isn’t on my radar or in my budget.

    I particularly like that you went to the store. Comparing things you’re attracted to online against their reality seems like a good way to bring your shopping experience back to reality. Trying things on before you’ve bought them makes sense — even if you are a diligent returner of things.

    • I know what you mean about just starting to enjoy summer in late July, Ginger. Surprisingly, I do find items at NAS that I can start wearing right away, like short-sleeved tops and workout clothes. I actually think I can wear everything I bought this year before fall begins, but I may not because I generally wear skirts and dresses all summer long. I agree with you that it’s better to go to the store. In the past, it was a return maelstrom and quite overwhelming. This year, I was able to eliminate many possible purchases before even trying them on after seeing and feeling the fabric.

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