Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Classic Shopping Experience

I had to go to Aurora yesterday in order to shop at a Wal Mart that meets my discriminating standards—clean and well-stocked, not to mention staffed with employees who actually speak and understand English. (I know, I know, my expectations are too high!!!) While I was out there, I decided to check out the new Talbots outlet that opened on Friday in the Chicago Premium Outlet Center.

Like Talbots’ regular stores, the entrance welcomes you with the familiar red awning/doors. This store opens to the parking lot as well as having an entrance on the interior “mall” side too. I lucked into a good parking spot so it was just a few steps to the door. This is a plus for those of us who only want to run into Talbots and skip a trip around the concourse and the rest of the center.

Once inside, I was totally disoriented. It was not at all what I had expected. Where were the racks upon racks of past seasons’ merchandise with makeshift signs screaming that each rack was an additional 25-50% off? Where were the messy shoe racks with loads of size 7 Narrow but no semblance of organization? The el cheapo jewelry and hosiery in sizes most normal women cannot wear? I came here expecting to root through the racks in search of another pair of those dark-wash jeans I bought in 2004 that are finally fraying at the hem!!

This store was neat, clean and well-organized (and as an added bonus, the employees had command of the language!!) There were three distinct departments—Misses, Women and Petite. The fitting rooms were attended by a runner who would fetch items in different sizes and colors when asked. Displays were classy and any sale signage was subtle and uniform. Background music featured American standards like Sinatra and Ella Fitzerald. Was this really an outlet store? It felt very much like being in a regular Talbots’ store. Where was I?

I talked to one of the sales associates who confirmed that Talbots has a new a strategy for their outlet stores. All merchandise is now first quality but produced strictly for their outlet stores. This is an approach that Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and The Gap have all employed successfully for years. I asked where the clearance merchandise from the regular stores will go now and was told that it would remain at the regular stores until it is sold or written out of stock. The Outlet stores will feature sales and promotions on their merchandise only.

The quality of the merchandise was excellent, though it was more moderately priced and the selection was limited to what I would classify as everyday casual—pants, sweaters, skirts, a few dresses—all in the famous classic Talbots style. More expensive items such as career wear suits, outerwear, evening or holiday dresses were nowhere to be found. Also, no shoes--a big downer for those of us who seek footwear therapy on a regular basis.

The grand opening special, good through November 16, is 20% off your entire purchase. In addition to that, all dresses are 40% off and all accessories 50% off. By piggy-backing the discounts, savings of 60-70% are possible. I found a cute scarf, a sweater dress and a black and white houndstooth check cardigan. Talbots Rewards points can be earned here and you can also use your Talbots Reward certificates.

Overall, I liked the experience and will make this a regular destination. In fact, I probably won’t shop at their regular stores at all now, since I consider most of their stuff overpriced. However, I WILL miss the old clearance stores and the treasure hunt atmosphere that prevailed! Now, if only I could find that crimson pencil skirt from 1982….it would look great with my new houndstooth cardigan!!

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