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Convenience shopping for the working woman

''The working woman is the most important customer we have,'' says Fran Delassandro, senior vice-president of the May Company, one of the nation's largest retailers. ''She's the largest spender, and she influences how the family spends their money,'' she explains.

It's a position most retailers agree with. ''The working woman carries a lot of clout with us,'' says a spokesman for Macy's. ''That's why we started Macy's Buy Appointment.''

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Like other personal shopping services in stores around the country, Macy's Buy Appointment will pull together a selection of clothes and accessories in your size and have them waiting when you arrive. ''They'll also do the floor work - changing clothes if different sizes or styles are needed, so you don't have to leave the dressing room,'' says Linda Lee, the service's director. ''Then they'll keep a record of your purchases by size and color, so you can call and say, 'I need another blouse to go with the suit I bought last spring.' ''

The service - or one like it - is available free of charge in most Macy's stores and tends to be booked a week or so in advance. ''It's been quite successful so far in building a loyal customer base,'' Ms. Lee says. ''Most people use it to buy a wardrobe - at any budget - but nobody walks in here naked ,'' she says. ''We build on what they already have.''

The May Company offers a similar service throughout their chain, ''especially in the downtown stores where women come in during their lunch hours,'' says Ms. Delassandro. ''Time is the most precious thing the working woman has,'' says the vice-president, who notes that her company has designed marketing strategies for the working woman. ''We also give lunchtime seminars on how to pull together a working wardrobe.''

Even discount stores like Loehmann's, where service is sacrificed for lower prices, recognize the clout of the working woman. ''She's a pretty savvy shopper ,'' says Mary-Jean Rainnie, a Loehmann spokesman. ''I was in one of our stores recently on Saturday morning right when it opened, and 13 out of 14 shoppers I talked to were working women. They were all lined up at the cash register by the time the stay-a-beds came in at 11.''

All the spokesmen interviewed advised against the ''dress-for-success'' look (''clone city,'' says Ms. Rainnie) in favor of ''something more feminine.'' Says Ms. Lee of Macy's: ''If I see one more shirt with a tie. . . . Why not a ruffle? Or a string of pearls?''

Ms. Rainnie believes the coat-dress works well for working women (''it's easy to get in and out of''), while the May Company spokesman advised dresses made of a soft material, plus an unstructured jacket.

But the consultant from Macy's says: ''You can define your own style - it doesn't have to be a suit or a dress. Just don't show too much skin - and stick with something that fits fairly well.''

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What about the tendency department stores have for bunching clothes together by style rather than size, so the shopper has to wade through a number of suits to find one that fits her?

''Many outfits now come with a color-coded tag to show the size,'' says Ms. Delassandro, ''and others come with tags where the size is written in extra-large letters.'' Why can't they just put all the size 10s together? ''It doesn't make a statement,'' Ms. Delassandro says. ''It doesn't entice the shopper.''

All the spokesmen squirmed around the other age-old complaint: Why can't there be more sales clerks? ''It's very hard to get knowledgeable people in large numbers,'' Ms. Delassandro says. ''But we're working on ways to stagger them so there are more clerks available during peak shopping hours.''

Meanwhile, the spokesmen advised working women to shop early on weekends and rely on the personal consulting services to do the floor work for them.

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