How to shop the big confusing stores

How to shop the big shops

I love browsing carefully curated boutiques with a small selection of beautiful clothes. There is a sense of calm and order. Each piece has been considered before earning its place on the rack. Shopping is a pleasure.

There is no such ambience when I walk into a large chain or department store. Instead, I often feel overwhelmed. That I am trying to find needles in haystacks. The sheer amount of clothes is confusing and it even makes me a little sad. It’s hard not to think of landfill when there is just so. much. stuff. There are times when I would prefer to run away than shop. And I like to shop.

Of course, I buy things in large chains like Uniqlo and H&M or department stores like Myer or Target. They are often the best places to buy basics. There are times when I need a broader range (and lower prices) than offered by a local boutique.

How do you navigate the large shops without feeling overwhelmed? Or walking out with everything other than the garments you actually needed?

Here’s how … 

Know the game

Realise that the aim of the store is not to make your shopping experience easy or relaxed, but to maximise the amount of time you spend in store and the amount of money you part with. Making this connection changed the way I shopped. If I want to leisurely browse, I visit a smaller shop with less choice. If I want something specific, I hit the big stores with a plan and a way to reduce choices.

Grocery stores place the milk and bread in the back so that you have to pass all the other temptations while grabbing your basics. Large clothing stores employ the same tactic. Ever noticed that jeans shops place their jeans right on the back wall? Handbag stores stock the utilitarian black and nude bags towards the rear of the shop and shoe shops do the same with nude and black court shoes. The aim is to tempt you with the sparkly things that you don’t necessarily need on your way to things you do.


One way to avoid those temptations is being crystal clear about what you need. Audit your wardrobe regularly and have a list of the things that fill gaps. Literally – a list on your phone. Return to that list often and don’t buy outside it unless you are utterly and completely in love.

Sales racks are a tried and true tactic to lure us into stores. I love a bargain as much as the next girl but these days the reduced item has to fill a gap in my wardrobe before I consider it wise buying. Ask yourself: would I consider buying this if it were full price? If the answer is no, put it back on the rack. If you’re not sure, carry the item around with you as you are looking at other things in store. Give it some time and space. You will soon figure out if you are impressed with the actual garment or just your bargain hunting abilities.

Reduce your choices

Looking online before visiting the large stores can be helpful in reducing overwhelm. You can get an idea of their stock and what will work with your existing wardrobe. Head in with a clear idea of what you want try on and you’ll avoid feeling like your drowning in choice.

Even though we love the idea of choice, too much can paralyse us. Our brains work best when choosing between limited options. Too many and we start to get anxious. As a vegetarian, I am quite happy with two or three choices on most menus. Give me six or seven options and I’m taking most of the night just to decide.


So all of this is really about reducing choices down to what actually works within our own style and existing wardrobes. And this about you making that choice, not the layout of the store, the music being played, the scents being utilised or the way items have been grouped together. Choice reduction takes a little pre-emptive work and focus, but it’s worth it in the end.

How you feel about shopping in the bigger stores?

26 thoughts on “How to shop the big confusing stores

  1. Vanessa says:

    I recently went into my first Australian H&M and I’ve got to say, the experience was awful. I had one specific item I wanted to purchase – something I liked on an Instagram post & turned out to be from H&M. It took me forever to weave through the store to look for it. There were zero signs… and when I asked a staff member where it would be, their idea of help was “downstairs”. Gee, thanks.
    I’m happy with my purchase but unimpressed with the store layout and staff. Enough so that even when I see something I like, I’ll have to seriously think about if it’s worth going back there.

    • Robyna says:

      H&M is particularly bad in terms of layout. I really wanted to post that asking staff in the big stores can be helpful, but unfortunately that’s not been my experience lately.

  2. Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad says:

    I haven’t been shopping in ages, partly because I’m on a no-spend, and partly because of all the things you mention. I just find it takes so long to weave through all the stuff they’re trying to tempt you with to find what you actually need, search for a changing room, then find it doesn’t fit quite the way you hoped anyway. I’m very much over it!
    Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad recently posted…My 5 (Unconventional) Blogging Goals for 2017My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I’m also spending less this year – I’ll just have to avoid those little boutiques because they are always the places I love to shop 🙂

    • Robyna says:

      Isn’t it funny. I love digging at op shops but I really think that I shouldn’t have to do that when I’m paying retail for new clothes. Those big stores often feel “op shop” like.

  3. Karin @ Calm to Conniption says:

    I have only just taught myself how to shop at Myer. The women’s clothes section is so overwhelming but now I know the brands I like and don’t bother with the rest. The only lure for me are those big A3 signs with “50% off the already reduced price”… be still my beating heart. I love Myer for sales.

  4. Cindy@YKOT says:

    I really prefer shopping online these days. I can browse, look at different colours, explore the sales, put things into my “basket”, then think about it. I will have to remember your tips next time I venture into a “real” shop! 🙂

  5. Edie says:

    I’m a small boutique girl too Robyna but I do love the big shops too. Great tip about keeping a list on your phone of all the things you need to fill gaps ?

  6. Helen K says:

    I try – I’m not as disciplined as I should be – to have a running list of things I’ve been looking for. Kids underwear, for instance, or staples like basic tshirts or shirts and pants for work in a style / cut I always wear. Sales in department stores and chains are becoming predictable and so waiting often means I can pick things up then. It does, however, mean that my wardrobe’s a bit dull. That’s where op shops can be great – I do like finding ones with good choices. I hate throwing out (donating) unworn clothes but I’m less in comfortable when its come from a charity (I try to see it as a donation, unless it’s excessive – then I need to review my purchasing!)
    Helen K recently posted…Back to basics – What makes a home?My Profile

  7. Carolyn says:

    Clothes shopping for me in a department store is completely overwhelming. I’d much rather a boutique where I can see the clothes more easily. Not so bad for sheets, towels, kitchen appliances because I probably have a clear idea of what I’m looking for. Agree that online prep is key to a happier experience!
    Carolyn recently posted…New York!My Profile

  8. Denyse Whelan Blogs says:

    Since moving from Sydney (and the mega centres that were my go-to places) I find even visiting some of the centres on the Central Coast a bit overwhelming. There is one big dept store at one end of the coast and the opposition as the other. It is very hard to see exactly what you want in either, especially clothing, as they have racks here and there designed to both block access and distract. I tend to go to the smaller chain stores now. I once visited H&M when it opened at Macquarie centre and couldnt wait to escape.

  9. Beth at says:

    I feel intimidated by small boutiques and feel like there’s not enough to keep me in there before someone asks if they can help me. I’m a practiced browser and I like a store big enough so I can move at my own pace and ferret as required. H&M etc are a treat for me because we don’t have them in Adelaide and they don’t offer online shopping so I make the most of any opportunity!
    Beth at recently posted…LUSH Product Review Round-UpMy Profile

  10. Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid says:

    These are such great tips. I must admit I am a sucker for the sale rail but next time I seek out a bargain, I will remember your words, “would I consider buying this if it were full price? ” Because up to now, the answer would be “probably not.” You can teach an old dog new tricks though, right?!

  11. Stephanie says:

    Totally feel like this in the big chain stores, overwhelmed, crowded, too noisy, stressed I end up walking out frustrated and disappointed most of the time!

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