IN THE AISLES

Byline: Alice Welsh

In the Aisles, an occasional feature, examines service, selection and ambience at various stores. Here, a WWD reporter’s look at the holiday shopping experience last Friday at two New York meccas, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.

NEW YORK — Fear of trampling, anticipated rude service and post-turkey lethargy had always prevented me from venturing out on this day. This year would be different.
Armed with a list of gift possibilities for my sister — a cashmere sweater, peacoat and the accessory of the moment: a black patent skinny belt — I set out to tackle Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.
Getting into Bloomingdale’s was a little difficult; the sidewalk traffic was intense. Once inside, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Although it was busy, especially on the first floor, it was far from intolerable.
I headed to the belt department. A saleswoman — out mingling with the crowd — actually escorted me to the patent belts and stayed with me while I looked.
The store had only had two styles, but a CK belt was perfect. Unfortunately, there was only one black patent left in a small size. Plenty of other colors though, but they just wouldn’t do.
I decided to move on and check the mood of the woman at the information counter. If anyone would be feeling testy, she would. I waited while she patiently but somewhat wearily explained to a persistent customer that cosmetics do not usually go on sale.
I asked where women’s coats were and was politely directed to the third floor. The coat department was hopping. Many of the coats were 25 to 30 percent off. One pain in the neck: Because most of the better coats are locked up, you can’t try one on without assistance.
I asked about peacoats and was directed to a Searle version and to the Calvin Klein sales representative. She managed to gracefully juggle another customer while pointing out a Calvin Klein peacoat, noting there was only one size 10 left, and then showed me a few Perry Ellis versions. While the peacoats were obviously well picked over, she made a solid effort — without the high-pressure push — to offer options and close the sale.
The cashmere sweater area was busy, but not unmanageable. Almost all of the private label cashmere was promotionally priced. A basic crewneck was $79 from $99, but I was puzzled when a salesperson told me that the store only offered private label.
I decided to move on to the designer boutiques before departing.
Here was the place to shop. The floor was almost empty, and the sales help was abundant. First markdowns of about 25 percent had been taken on most fall collections, including Isaac Mizrahi, Marc Jacobs, Victor Alfaro, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan.
Overall, the Bloomingdale’s experience was a good one. The crowds were busy but not overwhelming, the sales help plentiful and courteous — if short on small talk — while selection in some areas was limited.
I left for Macy’s in high spirits and unprepared for what awaited me. The first floor, festooned with red ribbons and white lights, was a seething sea of humanity scrambling for jewelry — almost all on sale — accessories and cosmetics.
Taking a deep breath, I plunged in and found the belt department. Unlike Bloomingdale’s, no salesperson was working on the floor; they were all ensconced behind the counters.
I didn’t see any patent belts, so I waited at the counter for an available employee who, when asked, pointed to the belt area and said “Whatever we have, that’s it.” Thanks.
Persevering, I consulted the directory for coats: sixth floor. I waited in line to get on the escalator. With women’s clothing on the second and third floors, I felt confused as to why the coats were on six — with housewares.
The coat department was packed, with lines at the register about five-deep. Racks were close together, making maneuvering difficult, but the coats weren’t locked up, so trying them on was easy. Most were marked down — about 25 to 40 percent — with shoppers grabbing up rugged outdoor looks.
I finally found a salesperson to ask about peacoats. Although she was friendly, she “didn’t know anything about coats and was just helping out today.” Doing what? I wondered.
Feeling defeated, I headed for the cashmere department on three.
It was calm — the eye of the storm. Here was a well-organized department with a bubbly saleswoman who actually approached me — the only one to do so at either store. Signs were clearly visible, and the merchandise was neatly displayed and organized by color and style.
The private label cashmere was also offered at promotional prices, but the store carried Ballantyne, Belford and Verrazano labels as well.
Feeling renewed, I visited the designer collections on three. Once again, this was the place to be. The traffic was light and the help ample. Markdowns, typically 25 to 30 percent, were taken on many fall collections, including Mark Eisen, Todd Oldham, Calvin Klein, Armani and Anne Klein.
But all this civilized designer quiet was short-lived, as I moved on, descending the escalator to the first floor. Panic overtook me as I gazed out on the teeming masses.
Thankful to be out on the sidewalk without mishap, I headed home, abandoning my original plan to hit the downtown Barneys on the way there.
I couldn’t face another shopper.

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