Never underestimate the power of a fantastic store associate to turn your entire day around. I learned that lesson five years ago, back when I was still a young professional working from 8-5 every day and coming home to my husband and our little dog. It was 5:00 on a Friday afternoon. Everyone was tired, cranky and ready to go home from work and I shared that sentiment. Yet, unlike everyone else, I wasn’t rushing home right away to get the weekend started. Oh no, I had something much more exciting on the horizon: a trip to the thrift store! I made plans to meet my husband an hour later for dinner and I treated myself to 60 minutes of browsing my favorite racks. The in-store associate must have known I was eager to find a treasure, because she offered me a basket right as I walked in.
Then, it happened. I started feeling nauseous, dizzy and overwhelmed. I hadn’t eaten much that day and the combination of the overhead lights plus the continuous, repetitive motion of browsing the racks was all too much. I had to sit down for a second near the dressing rooms and collect my thoughts. After what felt like forever, I was finally ready to resume my shopping. The same sweet associate walked over, asked if I was all right, and offered to help me find what I was looking for.
That’s the thing, though. I don’t always know what I’m looking for when I go thrifting and that was especially the case that day. I told her I didn’t know the exact items I needed but I’d love her help tracking down a great work appropriate outfit for the office. She could have pointed me in the direction of the slacks or the conservative day dresses and went back to behind the register. She could have shown me the vast collection of women’s suits or the seasonally appropriate long-sleeved, button-down blouses. Instead, that woman walked around with me for a good 30 minutes, asking questions about my style, what types of items I’m usually drawn to, and what might work with other pieces in my existing wardrobe.
I walked away from that experience with a pencil skirt that I still wear constantly to this day, a cross-body bag that’s as functional as it is pretty, and a multi-functional blazer that looks as good with jeans on a Saturday as paired with my work slacks and heels on a Monday.
Yet, that isn’t all that I left with. I also learned a valuable lesson on just how important a great store associate is to the overall thrift store experience. We’ve all been on the receiving end of both sides of the customer support spectrum. From overly pushy to totally hands-off, there are myriad ways to approach the position. Yet, when a shopper encounters someone genuinely interested in improving their browsing experience and helping them find pieces that work for them, it changes the game, I tell you.
Especially in the world of thrifting, where personal shoppers are not to be found and you’re mostly on your own when it comes to sorting through the “no” items just to find that coveted “yes,” an invested in-store associate cannot be overvalued. It’s akin to contacting a call center and reaching a friendly, personable support manager on the other end of the line, who takes the time to ask questions and learn about your situation before offering a route forward.
The next time you’re thrifting, if you have questions about a particular item or simply need help navigating the store (they can be huge, sometimes!), don’t hesitate to reach out to your in-store associate. Doing so can save you a ton of time and stress and help you make the most of your time there. Who knows? You might even walk away with a new friend and thrifting buddy like I did!