Helen Galland has been president of Bonwit Teller for just a little more than a year. But she has been in retailing ever since she started selling hats after school in a neighborhood shop.
From this perspective - and from her vantage point as chief executive of a chain with 13 stores scattered from Beverly Hills to New York - what does Miss Galland see as the biggest change in the great American pastime of shopping?
She answers the question without hesitation: the great American shopper.
''Not too long ago,'' she explains, ''it was considered an outing to go shopping. Women felt they could spend a delightful and profitable afternoon just visiting and shopping the stores. Now women are extremely busy people. Their time is limited, and their shopping has become an expedient measure of filling family or personal needs.''
A store like Bonwit Teller has to play the ''fashion reporter'' to these new, less leisured customers, editing and culling out for them from the vast array of trends offered by Seventh Avenue and European designers. The selection must be succinct and ''targeted'' rather than all-inclusive.
''We are veering away from the boutiques or small stores within a store,'' she adds. ''Today's customers have let us know they don't like to go through too many departments in order to find just one skirt or blouse. They want to see the range in one place.''
The new shopper often works, and store hours have to be adjusted accordingly. More and more complete catalogs are being issued each year, allowing customers to shop by mail and phone - practices unheard of among Bonwit Teller clientele of the past.
The ultimate purchase may not be radically different - the Bonwit customer, for example, is still ''somewhat conservative. If broad shoulders are 'in,' '' says Miss Galland, ''she will have broader shoulders, but not the broadest.''
''Quality'' is the watchword of the new shopper. Mostly she can afford it. It is her time that is budgeted, and so stores like Bonwit Teller provide an increasing number of personal shopping services free of charge.
Miss Galland knows to whom she is catering. Since she graduated from Hunter College and the New York University School of Retailing and began her career, first in the executive training program at Lord & Taylor and then as a millinery buyer at Bonwit Teller in 1950, she has not had too much leisure for shopping herself. Among other things, she has had to attend to a family that includes two daughters and a son. Like most of the new breed of customers, the former hat saleswoman has always had to wear several hats.
How does she dress for her multiple roles? On the day of the interview, Miss Galland matched the decor of her office, in which she spends up to 10 hours a day, with its French furniture, paneled walls, and fresh violets and orchids. She wore a powder blue mohair suit by Doro with battle jacket and full, easy skirt, softened with chiffon blouse of the same color and a rope of pearls.
''Flexibility,'' she confesses, ''is the key to my wardrobe. I have to have clothes that work in several different situations, at the office, at dinner, the theater, and on planes. That's why I have a lot of two-piece dresses and suits that can be dressed up or down to suit the occasion.''
Spoken like a straight-to-the-point '80s shopper!