How-To: Shop Retail & Get the Best Discounts



Graphic by Noemi Gonzalez

With nearly two years of retail experience under my belt, I’ve seen it all. I’ve returned obviously used lingerie, mopped up the worst of the worst from the store bathroom, and kept my composure when a woman plopped 50 alcohol-soaked receipts on my register for a one-item return.

Through all of this, I’ve learned the dos and don’ts of retail shopping. If you want the best help you can get from a sales associate, try out these tips.

Say hello!

“Hello and welcome to Wal-Mart.” Sound familiarly dry? Part of the retail worker’s job is to greet everyone and check back with them to make sure they’re having a pleasant shopping experience. It might annoy you, you may just want to be left alone and that’s totally fine. But when a retail employee greets you, a sincere smile or a friendly reply can literally turn his or her day around. (Plus when push comes to shove, he or she is more likely to vouch for that discount you want to their managers if you’ve been nice to them.)




While only large department stores pay their employees on commission, regular retail stores heavily encourage their employees to strengthen the store’s daily revenue. Every hour, most managers announce three things to the sales associates: how much overall revenue the store made, how much each customer spent on average and how many items they purchased on average. They then suggest how to up these numbers in order to increase sales that day. Often, the ultimate goal is to have each customer purchase at least three items that cost at least $10 each in order to maximize revenue. Therefore, compliments and opinions will usually sway toward the positive. If you want honesty, you might want to take a friend or family member along with you because the ever-helpful retail associate will almost always give you a thumbs-up.


These things happen. Trust me, I am super clumsy and have had my share of dribbling drinks and condiments. Don’t worry about cleaning up the mess yourself, but please notify an associate when a spill occurs. People can get hurt and merchandise can be stained. (The worst offender by far is the leftover Chipotle burrito. Watch that bad boy! I’ve had a table smell like onions for weeks thanks to that potent pico de gallo.) Most stores have stockpiles of cleaning supplies to erase any accident that occurs – the sooner associates know, the better.

The Fitting Rooms

There’s a reason some of the larger retail chains started giving guests numbered cards that count the number of items they bring in and out of the fitting rooms. Opening the door to a messy fitting room is as annoying to fellow shoppers as it is to sales associates. Hang up garments as best you can and if you really don’t remember where you got it from (or you are in a rush) locate the closest attendant or hang it up on the put-back rack just outside. No one likes walking into World War III just to try on one tank top.


Discounts are awesome. Retailers have made millions offering sales and discounted clearance sections in their stores. However, more and more retail stores don’t allow their employees to give discounts. If there’s something seriously wrong with the garment or item, they’ll mark it out of stock or offer to find a replacement for you. More often than not, the sales associate that helped you and is cashing you out can’t give you more than 10 percent off – if that. If something is truly wrong, request a manager for the best offer, state your case and take what they offer you. It doesn’t hurt to ask!


There is no worse place to hit on someone than at his or her job. These days, most stores require associates to ask for a guest’s phone number in order to track their transactions within the company. So a “Yeah, you should call me sometime,” retort might be funny if you are within their age range, but is seriously creepy from someone who’s much older - especially when your given email is and you won’t stop talking about your series of romantic novels. It might be late in the evening, but save those lines for later (or even never).

At the Register

From personal experience, I can almost guarantee that your cashier is not going to try to steal your pin number. Hiding the already out-of-view screen is inconvenient to you and slightly off-putting to the associate. Most associates don’t know what to do with a pin number if they somehow saw it anyway. Plus, they’re not about to hurdle over the cash rack, snatch the card from your hands and run out of the store with it. (That’s way too much physical activity for a person who’s been on his or her feet in closed-toed shoes for eight hours.)

Bonuses, Rewards & Offers

The most difficult part of a sales associate’s job is trying to sell additional items to guests. From credit cards to magazine subscriptions, it’s often their job to let each and every customer know about any special items they have available. A polite decline will generally end any promotional offers. If not, just be firm and restate that you’re not interested. Chances are, the retail worker is just as enthused as you are about the “special offer” and will drop it.

Closing Time

It’s that three o’clock feeling. Except more often than not, retail stores stay open until around 9 p.m. You know that saying that the early bird catches the worm? It’s true! Retail workers are much more energetic and upbeat in the morning and midday. In other words, try to avoid running into stores when it’s almost closing time. Associates can be grumpy near close since they often have chores and cleaning duties to attend to. If you really need that last-minute item, just be courteous. Retail workers are human. They understand even when they’re ready to run home and hit the hay.

If All Else Fails, Be Friendly!

In the end, smiles and small talk go a long way. Be sincere, try to clean up after yourself as best you can and sales associates will be much more likely to let you have that discount or exchange that broken item. We work in retail for a reason, we like to help people out, but courtesy makes it that much easier to get you the best deal.

Reach the writer at or on Twitter @AlexDersch.


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