Getting the Best Out of Your Shopping Experience

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One of my favorite methods of procrastination is to read reviews of men’s clothing stores on sites like Yelp. I especially like to read the reviews of stores that I am familiar with, and those I am about to visit. By and large, the reviews confirm my opinions of the stores and the service, though there are some surprises. For example, Kitson in L.A. gets thoroughly panned, and having been there, I would agree with the generally panning. The store is full of tired trends at a ridiculous markup. I think that I may sign up for Yelp just to join the pile on.

Some stores, however, have mixed reviews. Usually, these are for large, department store/boutiques like Ron Herman in L.A.’s famous Fred Segal mini-mall, and Louis Boston, which get mixed reviews. There are invariably two very different experiences at these places. One customer raves about the selection and personalized service, the other moans about the bad attitude and high prices. On Yelp, one dissatisfied customer who fancies himself a social commentator and comedian writes that the store is for people who don’t like to think and like to waste money, and that airheads are welcome there. On the other hand, another reviewer says that she had good experiences there even tough she was transparently a college student.

No one who works for money can dispute that a store like Louis is pricey. Recently, I’ve also noticed that their markup is rather high compared to other stores. However, your satisfaction with customer service depends on you as much as on the sales associate who serves you. Here are a few pointers I usually give people I am doing personal shopping for.

1) Choose a compatible sales associate. Not every sales associate is right for everyone. If you are completely green, and want to be schooled from the ground up, you may want a different sales associate than someone who knows clothes and has a well-defined style and just wants to gab and have off the cuff feedback about the fit of particular pieces. If you are a conservative dresser, do you really want the guy wearing head-to-toe Versace? When you go into a store, you are not obligated to work with the sales associate whose rotation it may be. And it serves neither of you if you are not compatible.

2) Ask and answer questions because you want to learn something or genuinely want to solicit an opinion. I find that shoppers often ask questions to “test” the sales associate, whether they are quiz questions about a brand or manufacturing technique that the customer already knows, or questions that have nothing to do with the product. The sales associate has no good answer for “Don’t you think that this is really overpriced?” And if the SA is also the proprietor, you are clearly just aching for a fight.

3) Be honest about your budget. Sales associates (at least good ones) will respect this. Of course, if you walk into Maxfield, and ask for a jacket, and then say that your budget is $100, you are not giving the Sales Associate anything to work with. But sales associates will work within your budget if you give them something reasonable.

4) If you are just browsing, it’s fine to say so.

5) Show respect. Sales associates are people. And service people in all industries hate customers who approach them with an air of entitlement. In a restaurant, you are liable to get a spitter. Look at the retail store as practice for the restaurant.

Of course, some stores are just terrible, whether it’s the sales staff or the product. In that case, I’m not sure why you are wasting your time at Kitson.


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Fok-Yan Leung can be found discussing men’s style at Styleforum.net.