Last weekend I went on a weekend getaway with one of my besties, Erica. Erica is a former runway model, although by looking at her you’d never guess that she wasn’t still in the game. She’s got great style, and once a year she travels to Arizona to shop at the cult favorite, Nordstrom’s Last Chance outlet, as part of an annual shopping trip with her mother-in-law.
And this year, I was going to get the chance to experience first-hand the mecca that is Last Chance. THE Last Chance!
Now, I love to bargain shop. I mean, who doesn’t love a great deal? But shopping at Last Chance is less like bargain shopping, and more like bargain hunting. Everyone there is on the hunt for the perfect kill.
If you’re not familiar, Last Chance is the aptly named store where the public gets the opportunity to pick through the returned and overstocked merchandise from the Nordstrom stores across the USA. All merchandise is sold as-is, with no opportunity to return or exchange goods.
While I pride myself on being a very good shopper, Last Chance is a haven for the pros. People line up outside the store as early as 8:00 a.m. before the metal gates open at 10:00 a.m. They are on the hunt for designer handbags and shoes that are slightly scuffed, but sold at a deep discount that allows for them to make a killing on the resale, which is usually done online through popular sites like Poshmark.
Luckily for me, I was travelling with experienced shoppers that had a plan. A plan that started with a map.
Erica and her mother-in-law, Ann, sat me down at the kitchen table to share with me the next day’s shopping strategy. Ann got out a notebook and very confidently drew out a map of the inside of the store. She knew I was on the lookout for dresses that could pull double duty as work-wear.
“You’re going to want to make a bee line for the dresses, over here,” she said and pointed to the far-left side of the sketching.
“In the meantime, I will grab the baskets while Erica goes directly to purses and shoes,” she concluded like a seasoned pro.
Erica jumped in with some more sage advice. “If there’s ANYTHING that you think you might even remotely like, stick in your cart. We’ll gather at the end to go through all the baskets to see what we want to keep.” From there, we all shared our shoe sizes, personal style preferences, and vowed to pull things off the racks that we thought the others in our trio might like.
I was starting to get nervous.
The next morning, we got to the store 30 minutes before it opened. Already, 4 lines had formed that were each 10 people deep, spilling out from behind the group of shoppers that stood dutifully at the metal gate. Strategically, there was discounted swimwear placed just outside of the store, keeping the shoppers preoccupied while giving them a little taste of what was to come.
Almost instantly, I could feel the tension as people meandered through the racks, intruding on the space of those holding their place in line. As I settled into a my own comfortable spot in line, a stout woman in a pink t-shirt squeezed her way right in front of me.
“What just happened there?” the man standing behind me asked sarcastically.
“It looks like she just cut in front of us,” I responded.
Without missing a beat, the lady turned her head to the side and declared that there was, in fact, no line at all. Could have fooled me, considering I was standing in it and now, so was she. But I took a deep breathe and tried to just – Let it go! Let it go! (Which is hard for me – especially when dealing with rude strangers.)
10:00 a.m. on the dot, the metal gates lifted and we were off! What ensued next reminded me of the scary images you often see of frenzied Black Friday shoppers. Being mad, anxious, and nervous is not a great cocktail of emotion, so I quickly let go of any lingering anger toward pink-shirt lady and moved carefully toward the entrance.
As soon as I broke past the check-out counters that lined the store’s entrance, I hooked a left-turn to hit up the dresses. There were at least 4 racks that held dresses on either side. I went straight to the rack with my marked size and found out pretty quickly that those markers were useless.
Even now at the begging of the day, the merchandise was pretty much just strewn about. There is some order to it, but you can’t expect to find the perfect size 8 dress in the actual size 8 dress rack. I started to imagine what it must be like in the afternoon, after hours of panicked shoppers have clawed through the merchandise.
Then I realized that time was ticking and I needed to stop dreaming and start hunting.
Fast forward 2.5 hours. During that time I gathered a shopping basket full of clothes for me, and a few items I thought Erica might like. I had even managed to get into the dressing room to try on some of my finds.
Most importantly, I had successfully stayed out of the way of the most aggressive shoppers, and managed to keep calm when others relentlessly bumped or clawed over me. After all, no one has really has time for apologies or forgiveness in this game.
It was in the waiting line that I met a trio of nice ladies that, much like me and my friends, had come to hunt in a pack. The three women seemed to all be related. A mother and daughter accompanied by the favorite aunt, I surmised.
One of the ladies admitted to coming to the store on a weekly basis, adding “I don’t know what I would do if they closed this store!” Just the week prior she had dropped $1,000 on merchandise, so my guess is that she would save a lot of money in they did indeed close the store.
I walked out of Last Chance having spent just under $100. Now, my goal wasn’t to get out of there cheaply. My goal was to simply pick up quality brand items that I knew would work with my existing wardrobe. I held fast to the rule that I would not get brand euphoria and shop on an impulse.
In the end, I picked up:
- 2 pairs of shoes: a red pair with a t-strap and small wedge heel, and a suede pair of Franco Sarto flats.
- 1 Trina Turk skirt with leather waistband
- 1 cute clutch in a neutral color (not pictured)
And then I went to Nordstrom Rack and spent an additional $400. Turns out I am much more skilled at bargain shopping than bargain hunting.
I’d love to hear your own stories about bargain hunting. What’s been your favorite find?