For fashion lovers on a budget, Phoenix is a don't-miss destination. And if you don't know why, then you've probably never been to Last Chance, the bargain basement where are beautiful things go when they don't get sold at or are returned to Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack, or Nordstrom.com. It's a magical place where Stuart Weitzman pumps overflow from shelves, begging you to take them home for less than half retail price, and designer denim and leather jackets cost as much as you were planning to spend on lunch.
But all that comes at a cost, and that cost is competition. You can bet a deeply discounted quilted leather Marc Jacobs bag that you won't be the only one on the hunt when you go. So, whether you think you're a seasoned pro or a total amateur, here are a few tips for your next Last Chance excursion.
Go with an open mind — and plenty of time
If you're looking for a single, specific item, you're probably going to want to pull your hair out in this basement full of overstuffed racks and general chaos. Take your time and be patient knowing that the only thing you're guaranteed to find at Last Chance on any given day is good deals.
Choose quality over quantity
Don't be afraid to be picky. With some items, you're limited to a certain number of purchases a day, so it pays to choose wisely. Additionally, be aware that many of the items you find will be damaged. If you have the time, hit the fitting rooms to try items on so you can be sure there are no ripped seams or missing buttons. And if you do find a flaw, consider whether that scratch or stain is worth the discount. In some cases you can salvage the item with a small repair or quick wash. Keep in mind, however there is a zero return or exchange policy here.
Don't expect everything to be dirt-cheap
Spoiler alert: It won't be. Even at this clearance center, designer brands will cost you. For example, you won't find a pair of Tory Burch flats for less than $60 and that beautiful Theory dress will probably still be $100 or more. Because of this, the best and most plentiful bargains tend to be middle-tier designers — think, Michael Kors and Calvin Klein.
Follow the rules and listen to the employees
When they tell you not to shop a rack while they restock it, they mean it. The employees here tend to get a bad reputation for being less than friendly, but we would probably be irritated too if we had to deal with crazy shoppers all day. Regardless, you can ensure you don't get kicked out by simply following the rules.
Time your trip wisely
If you're all about getting the best stuff — or at least the freshest selection — then you'll want to join the lines of super intense shoppers that queue up outside the store as early as 8 a.m. on Saturdays. If you're looking for a more relaxed outing, then you'll be fine hitting the racks later since they restock throughout the day anyway. For the smallest crowds, head out on weekdays or after work, when it's more likely you'll have a little breathing room.
Bring a team
It's a big store and almost always a mess, so you'll cover more ground if you bring a friend or two. Keep an eye out for items your friends might like and pull anything in your pals' sizes. And while we're talking about it, seriously, pull everything. If there's a chance you might like it or want it or fit in it, just put it in your bag because it's not likely to be there if you walk away and come back.
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Use a basket
You'll probably walk in and think, "Oh I won't need one of those." But, trust us, you will. The shopping baskets at Last Chance can be either carried or rolled and are located just inside the front door. We like to store shoes in the basket and hang clothing from the handle. But consider yourself warned: If you leave your basket unattended, people will take items out.
Wear appropriate undergarments
For how big Last Chance is, it's a little surprising there are less than a dozen women's fitting rooms. You can speed things up if you're willing to use the open area, which is shared space with a mirror and hook for each shopped. If you've worn "appropriate" underwear (read: not your thong and you actually bothered to put on a bra) and aren't too shy, it's a great way to get in and out a lot faster.
Don't skip accessories and housewares
Even experienced Last Chance shoppers might not associate the store with home goods like pillows, mugs, and artwork, but these items are often in stock and at deep discounts if you know where to look. We've found super-chic table lamps for under $20 and other knickknacks like decorative plates, fancy bottle openers, and designer phone cases.
And we mean Boy Scout-status prepared here, folks. Bring water and maybe even a snack if you're in for a serious shopping mission. Don't bring your jacket; it's always hot down there. Know your cellphone probably won't work while you're in the store; the service is terrible. And pack your patience. You're going to need it.