Sunday, September 09, 2007

Shopping Phobia

Yesterday, I went to return a coat I bought; now normally one would think this would be no big deal, right? You buy a coat and when you get home and try it on, you realize you don't like it. But for me, I dread the experience of returning it to the store; in fact, I dread the experience of shopping for clothes or anything where I have to deal with salespeople. Ever since I can remember, the only clothing stores I have ever frequented (if I shopped at all) have been those where there were few salespeople and I could try on clothes anonymously in a dressing room without someone coming in every five minutes to ask if I am "doing okay" or need another size. Whenever I am around salespeople, I tend to pick up the first thing I find, say it's fine and leave with something that doesn't fit or just plain looks stupid on me. Needless to say, I have a closet full of junk.

I have recently started trying to dress better; if you are a reader of this blog, you will know that this is the type of outfit I have been wearing for many years now. Beware when you click through, the clothes are not much to look at. I think that if you want clothes to fit, you have to deal with salespeople and if you want to look decent, you have to spend considerable time doing so. I have learned that many of them are wonderful and helpful and really do want you to look good and find things that you like. In fact, sometimes they make the experience more pleasant by knowing you, your tastes and what looks good so that you can save yourself the time of going from store to store.

I have tried to examine what it is that fills me with such fear about salespeople but maybe the right word is not fear--as it is discomfort with dealing one-on-one with someone with whom I have to make small talk. I suck at small talk and have never been good at it. Maybe that's because I am an INTP. I wonder sometimes, how many of us who do most of our shopping at online stores like are just closet shopping phobics or are INTPs in hiding?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an INTJ, I can sympathize. I have learned over the years, however, that if frequent interaction with strangers is necessary (calling on potential new business associates or developing a customer base for a startup, for example), I can do just fine. Circumstances move the "issue" out of the things I don't like to do and avoid category into necessary activity, and I don't waste time or emotional energy on it.

Do you cringe from meeting and interacting with new clients? I doubt it. Maybe a little reframing is in order. [smile]

12:21 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

helen --

This is not snide at all. Do you sew?

I learned from my grandmother (who was a seamstress) and taught my daughter. She can buy what she likes the looks of and modify it to fit her short body.

It also, of course, allows you the privilege of finding really unique fabrics and having something no one else does.

12:34 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I have never cringed with clients or anything related to work. I am trying to reframe the shopping for clothes to: "it's important at times to look decent and these are the steps to take to do so."


Why would it be snide to ask if I sew? Sewing is a good skill to know. I can sew buttons and things and made a dress once in girl scouts but that is it. I think it's a great idea but I am not sure I have the patience.

1:43 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Mad William Flint said...

Yeah, I can't do it. I'll generally go through a couple iterations of purchasing things to figure out how true the sizing is then stick with standards.

If I don't like the cut of something it becomes "wear around the apartment" wear.

But I don't think I've ever ever returned something. I just can't bring myself to do it.

2:48 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

'Cause lotta people who sew well take it that way; left, right, female, male.

4:02 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Evil HR Lady said...


I have the very same problem. It's very bizarre. For heaven sakes, I fire people in my job, yet I'd rather eat the cost of an outfit than return it.

It makes no sense to me. It drives my husband batty.

5:23 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Evil HR Lady,

My husband feels the same way... he doesn't understand why I have a problem returning things. I am a very decisive shopper and I wonder if part of that is feeling that if I return something, I have admitted that I am not a good decision maker? Or is it that I hate to disappoint the salesperson or that they will think I wore the clothes and then returned them--which I would not do? I don't know, it isn't really that important except that it makes shopping stressful if I am not 100% sure of what I want.

5:35 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dr. Helen,
I am INTP, and have Aspergers' disorder but the problem you describe is somewhat different then the problem I have. My anxiety is less to do with with salespeople then with unknown people generally. In a shopping situation this would display itself as a difficulty in approaching employees to ask questions.

Good luck.

5:42 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger NerdMom said...

You think you are self conscious, imagine the idea of going with 4 kids 6 and under. I have found a lot of stores that you can buy online and return in the brick and mortar store. That way I can take as long as I want looking at things with out someone offering to "help".

5:46 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Donna said...

I had a similar problem and educating myself about fashion (I'm an anthropologist so high fashion for me is a button down shirt with my jeans) really helped to deter the pushy sales person. It gave me a sense of who I was and what I wanted rather than this feeling of being pushed into a dressing room because I didn't want to deal with the sales person. I recently bought Tim Gunn's book (he's the fashion guru on Bravo TV and has a new television show called 'Tim Gunn's Guide to Fashion"). He has a very classic style which I appreciate. By knowing what I want when I walk into the store, I don't have to make the idle chit chat--just a simple "Can you please point me to the ______________. No, really, if I have any questions, I'll find you." is all the conversation that I have now.

7:25 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Joe said...

Extreme INTJ here. I'm also a die hard capitalist and learned to return things and to deal with salespeople by framing it in purely capitalist terms.

7:55 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger baldilocks said...

I score INTP/INTJ on the MB test and my sartorial taste is much like yours.

I care about a clean body, clean and groomed hair (very short for ease), clean hands and clean feet (pedicured when visible). And since I've become older, I may slap on a bit of make-up in certain situations.

However, I just couldn't give a you-know-what about dolling it up clothing-wise most of the time. Comfort is the most important thing in that area.

I have always hated shopping for the same reasons you specified. Before the Internet, I shopped for clothes via mail-order, with the exception of undies. I'd say that the results of that practice have been 95% good.

I'm guessing that you dislike shopping and its subset--dealing with salespeople--for the same reason that I do: it's mind-numbingly boring. (Not that salespeople are boring persons in the main, but they are when they're doing their jobs.)

8:01 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Cham said...

I don't know what INTJ is, I assume it is some sort of psych definition for people who don't really wish to leave the house and deal with people they don't know. Pre-Internet people actually had to go to stores to buy stuff so they were dealing with salespeople all the time. Now everything is just a click away and the only person you need to know is the UPS guy. If you don't use your people skills they can evaporate rather quickly. I have a friend who has been in his home for so long ordering stuff on line and working as a remote IT person, he almost never leaves the house, too terrified.

8:57 PM, September 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize this has nothing to do with this thread. But anyway, Dr. Helen, I can't imagine you looking anything but great in anything you decided to wear, on any particular day.

9:57 PM, September 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personality types, cham. Lots of fun to take the tests. Available on many sites across the web.

10:37 PM, September 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole salesperson thing is horrible. Despite that, I do have the ability to keep my bearings under the pressure. They can't talk me in to something I don't really want. I play along. But I find the whole thing terribly manipulative and intrusive.

I also have difficulty in returning things. It is like an admission of failure. I think for that reason I am very careful about what I buy.

11:05 PM, September 09, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dr. Helen: I too am no good at small talk. I turned shopping into a hunting expedition. For me, the thrill of the hunt stops the fear-factor.

When thought of as "Can I get the " " at a reduced price or faster than the last time (or whatever the 'better' is)the whole thing becomes a game and can be quite fun.

3:20 AM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger pockosmum said...

An ISFJ here, but I hate shopping too. I've bought all my clothes online since I got my first computer...I can take my time, look at my leisure. Most of my pre-computer shopping gaffes were things I bought that I was not completely satisfied with, but sales ladies thought would be great. They meant well, I'm sure...I just like to go in, get what I went for and get out, and I often found it distracting to be constantly interrupted and/or followed about by more the more energetic types :-)I'd end up very fatigued.

Many sites now have Instant Help chat so you can get actual garment measurements and ask questions, it eliminates the guesswork of buying online.

4:29 AM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

To all,

Thanks to everyone so far for the great tips and suggestions.


If you click through the INTP link, you can read all about the Myers- Briggs and what we are discussing here. INTP's are not just asocial types who sit in the house--they can be thoughtful types who work well alone but just aren't as energized by being around people as extroverts might be.

5:36 AM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger David Foster said...

Interesting post. I'd suggest that maybe the salespeople you encouter in these situations are not salespeople of the highest quality, because a top-notch salesperson is focused on reading the customer and understanding what she wants and how she likes to interact.

There are sales training programs that are focused on figuring out what your customer is like so you won't drive him/her crazy...some customers want to get down to business, some need to have the small talk. (Most of these programs are oriented toward biz-biz salespeople, but the concepts are certainly applicable to retail)

9:05 AM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

My problems with salespeople are linguistic. They want me to tell them what I want, and I often don't know the word. So if I can't sketch it or describe it, I just ask them to go away. "I don't know what you call it, but I'll recognize it when I see it."

2:15 PM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger Soccer Dad said...

FWIW, one clothing store that I've always found easy with returns is Kohl's. There are a number of them that would be local for you. Sometimes the line can be a little slow, but I've generally found their customer service departments easy to deal with.

2:21 PM, September 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an INTP, and I am in industrial technical sales. Wonder what that means? I do believe in what I am doing, and the product line I represent and its capabilities. Couldn't put my fanny on the line with it, otherwise. It is more consulting, really.

I love to shop for clothing on line, at the regular places I used to shop by mail from; Eddie Bauer, L L Bean, Lands End type places. Because they have odd number waist sizes and pant lengths. I am not an even number in waist or inseam. Regular stores at malls, etc., have even number waist and inseam only, it seams. And I hate ironing, so wrinkle free is of great importance.

Wait, is this a shopping thread, or a personality types thread?

Dr. Helen, a few years back I was always an "E" instead of an "I" type. As that has changed, is that something that occurs somewhat in people?

7:12 PM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


Most people are extroverts or introverts--the extrovert enjoying being around people and the introvert drained by others. People's basic personalities tend to stay the same but because of circumstances at times, one can become more introverted or extroverted due to experiences in life. Depression or bad experiences can tend to make one more introverted.

7:37 PM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

I personally really like automatic checkouts (the kind you find at grocery stores) because you can avoid personal contacts. This isn't to suggest that obsessing over such avoidances are a good thing.

I perhaps (although not definitely) am capable enough of looking for and trying on clothes without assistence, although I still don't do this often. I'm pretty good with buying items at check-outs since the process (like that of ordering a pizza) tends to be predictable.

10:56 PM, September 10, 2007  
Blogger SarahW said...

I suck at small talk, too. But I love to shop.

Sales people annoy me when they want me to like something that looks stupid or doesn't fit well, but I don't mind disappointing them.

I buy based on whether the three-way mirror and I both like my outfit, or people in the common area near the threeway mirror applaud.

6:36 AM, September 12, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Dress Better, if Not Love the Shops:

I watched a big handful of reruns of What Not to Wear--the English version, with Trinny and Susannah, and perused their website looking for the tips that fit my body type.

Then I go to Ross or TJ Maxx or Nordstrom Rack, someplace where it's all organized by size and not brand, go through my size rack and pull out anything that fits the criteria I now know look decent on me, try it all on at warp speed, and take only the few pieces I know I will wear repeatedly.

It's not goof-proof, but it's a huge improvement over the way I used to dress.

Hope that might help. I took that four-letter personality test in college but can no longer remember my results. :)

4:59 PM, September 12, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...

Maybe that's because I am an INTP.

Is there a place to take the MBTI online? I was reading the overview of your personality and I think mine is the same. About 4 years ago, I went to a counselor and she gave me a test. I don't know what it was, but it could determine depression and honesty.

5:03 PM, September 12, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Myers-Briggs is actually pretty accurate in my experience. Most of these tests are bunk, but this one actually seems to hit the nail on the head more often then not.

Personally, I prefer the similar, and much more entertaining Jedi Compatibility Quiz, except I think it only works for young men with Star Wars fetishes. Still very accurate as far as it goes. On Myers-Briggs, I come out as an INTP with close calls on the second quandrant (thinking/feeling) the the fourth quadrant (perceving judging).

On the Jedi test, I am a 96% match for Anakin Skywalker, a 92% match for Darth Sidious & Mace Windu, an 88% match for Yoda, a 79% match for Darth Maul & a 65% match for Qui-Gonn Jinn.

I think this may be a more accurate representation of my personality, actually.

You don't believe me?


I find your lack of faith disturbing.

6:26 PM, September 12, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


There are some sites that have the Myers-Briggs test on line but many of them charge for taking it. Here is a link to one that has information and a sort of self-test to see where you fit:

5:57 AM, September 13, 2007  
Blogger Brother J said...

Dr. Helen,

I'm an INTP too and I also don't like shopping when I have to deal with salespeople. I've thought a little about why that is and have come to the conclusion it's a power imbalance thing. They have the information and I don't and I can't always tell when I'm being given good advice or just "being sold" so I'm never comfortable in that kind of situation. If it's something I can research ahead of time (yay internet!)I'm happy to go shopping because I usually know what I want, why I want it and feel on more equal footing with the salespeople. I'm a mission-oriented shopper. Do research, select target, go in, buy, leave. Guy shopping in other words.

My wife on the other hand, an extroverted, artistic type (clothing designer, actually)can shop for hours, haggles price up-front while somehow totally charming the salesperson and has no problem whatever with returning stuff if she changes her mind later. I am in awe of her shoppng skills.

11:07 AM, September 13, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...

I guess I don't have the same personality as you! I think I am ISFJ.

1:01 PM, September 13, 2007  
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