Guerilla Shopping for the Masses

If you've ever been shopping at a thrift store, outlet store, or the clearance section of your favorite store in the mall, you know how hard it is to catch a break with regard to finding something you like in your size. New (or newly arrived) merchandise comes in a wide variety of sizes, colors, etc. so customers can find what they want, increasing the store's chance of making a sale. But once an item leaves the front of the ordinary retail store, you have to take what you can get.

So you feel lucky and thrilled when you find jeans in your size, plates that match your current table setting, or an Eames lounge chair for $10. But any number of circumstances could make you want to wait to purchase this perfect item. Maybe you're broke. Maybe you happen to know that tomorrow all green-tagged items are 50% off and - lo! - your item has a green tag. Maybe you don't want to buy today.

If you're going to frequent these kinds of stores, there is a skill that you absolutely must acquire: the ability to hide merchandise.

I will tell you right away that the lounge chair is straight out. It's too big to be easily concealed. Hiding your future purchases only really works with small items.


There are two good ways of hiding clothing. The most obvious is to hide clothing with the same type of clothing in a different size. This minimizes the chance that some helpful employee will put it back where it belongs, while positioning it in such a way that it's unlikely to be purchased.

The riskier method is to try and determine what someone who wants this item would absolutely never be interested in. Say you found a Cindy Lauper style prom dress. You should put it with the men's work gear, if you can make it fit in. (This is a big if. There are lots of things that would surely never be found by the competition if you mixed them in with the underwear of the opposite sex. Unfortunately, they stick out like a sore thumb and the employees will put them back.)

I recently found a black and white mod miniskirt mixed in with the linens. I have to admit that this was a strange case. I can't even remember why I was looking at dust-ruffles. Normally that girl's strategy would have worked and she'd have her skirt. Ugly, bulky linens are a great place to hide stuff.

If you want to be really sneaky, hide your item inside or underneath another piece of (ugly) clothing.

Small Goods

If you're going to try and hide small items in a thrift store, my advice is, don't. Since they're almost never organized to begin with, it's hard to intentionally miscategorize something. Anyone who wants that bobble-head Andy Rooney as much as you do will already be committed to searching the whole store. Save your efforts for outlet stores and clearance racks.

Protocol for concealing small objects is similar to that for clothing: move it away from its section of the store, hide it inside something you think has a slim chance of being purchased. If it's on the clearance rack, try to put it on the clearance rack in another part of the store. In a big store, those things almost never get organized.

Store employees will generally be unsympathetic to your need to hide stuff, so it's best not to let them catch you doing it. You might feel tempted to try to explain to them that you're coming back to buy this, so they needn't re-shelve it, but they really aren't interested. If you're caught, smile big and say "Oops! I was wondering where I'd put that."

Other people's hidden merchandise

Remember that, no matter how well you hide your stuff, it's fair game if someone else finds it. You can't very well go up to the manager and say "I was here on Wednesday and I hid the perfect pair of Lucite platforms behind that plastic singing fish and now they're gonnnnnnnne!"

To be an effective discount shopper, you have to learn both sides of the game. There are three ways to find other people's stuff: stalking, searching for it, and dumb luck.

The last method needs no explanation. Sometimes fate just smiles on you and drops an $8 Bowlingual in your lap.

Searching for other people's hidden items can be a huge pain in the ass. You don't want to go through every hanger on the off-chance it's heavy with doubled-up merchandise. However, if you adopt a few strategies, you will find most of the things people hide.

  1. Learn to scan racks, rather than sort them. Don't put your hands on anything except to shift items to allow you a better view. Don't skip sizes that aren't your own.
  2. Look through the heavy coats habitually. There typically aren't many of them and all you have to do to see whether they contain hidden treasure is flip open the front.
  3. Always quickly scan the children's clothes and linens.
  4. Find the most cluttered, disorganized areas of the store and give them careful attention.

If you're something of a master of disguise and you have the balls, you can stalk people. The people you want to stalk are those who look like poorer, younger, hipper versions of yourself. Those little bastards are always taking the good stuff and hiding it.

When you follow them, you don't want to be in the same aisle - you want to enter an aisle as they leave it. They won't hide things with other people around. And don't follow their route exactly. Take a detour every now and then to avoid suspicion. Try to keep an inventory of what they're carrying so you'll know if they put it down. Listen for giggling.

If you do find something someone you're stalking has hidden, don't take it and carry it around with you. Re-hide it somewhere else. If they see you carrying their little treasures around, they'll start trying to dodge you. Remember to hide your ill-gotten merchandise somewhere they've already been, and try to use a method they aren't using.

Taking other people's stuff is probably the best way to shop. The good stuff is already sorted out for you, so you don't have to waste time sorting through row after row of junk to find the gems.

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