On a recent trip to the mall, I found myself at one of the many independent label women’s clothing stores, and waiting for a fitting room. The fitting room attendant was a bubbly blond waif, perhaps in her early to mid-20s. Her voice traveled through the fitting room area with excitement over how a pair of pants fit a customer.
“Those are so cute on you!” she said with what I daresay was very well-faked sincerity.
Maybe it’s because I always have someone with me while shopping, or maybe it’s just because I don’t particularly care about what a complete stranger who may have ulterior motives thinks, but when I heard the fitting room attendant trying so hard to sell a pair of pants on sale, I rolled my eyes. I began to dread having to deal with this pushy salesperson strategically placed by the store’s management in a small and confined space where people have no choice but to dodge the pushy sales tactics thrown their way.
With six years of working in retail under my belt, I understand the pressure companies place on their salespeople to sell, sell, and sell some more. The more credit card applications turned up by a salesperson, the more he/she will see bonuses on their checks, perhaps. I even understand that a Sears customer is different from that of The Limited.
At Sears, where I worked for four years, the customer was always right. He or she got whatever they wanted, including a good balance of unsolicited customer service and being left alone to browse without an annoying and pushy salesperson hounding them. At Michaels Arts & Crafts, where I spent two years, it was the company’s ethic to pretty much leave the customers alone after offering them a greeting and a chance to solicit help on their own. The theory behind this tactic, was that most people who go into an arts and crafts store know exactly what they want, so a pushy salesperson causes more harm than good in such a focused environment.
The six years I spent in retail not only tested my patience, but they also got me accustomed to the different kinds of shoppers out there. It’s not a long list, really. All a good customer service provider needs to know is that there are two basic kinds of shoppers. There are those who want the salesperson to address them by their names, give them a rundown of the different sales taking place in the store that day, take their merchandise to a fitting room while they linger and shop some more, to go get a different size for them... basically pamper them like they're shopping on Rodeo Drive. And there are those who appreciate a nice greeting, someone there to answer their questions when they have questions, and the freedom to browse and read and figure out the bold and obvious sales signs on their own.
My turn came to be let into a fitting room, and everything I hate about customer service was said and done and concentrated into a mere five minutes.
The bubbly blond waif asked me how many items I had, even though I obviously had one item hanging from my finger and held out for her to see.
“Just one,” I said and walked into the fitting room she’d just unlocked. I hung the pants on the hook and turned to close the door, but it wasn’t going to be that easy. She stood in the door, and held it open like a bully while she excitedly told me about the sale taking place, the credit card application offer to save me even more money, and the alterations they now offer in the store.
“And what else?” she thought out loud, still smiling. I had my hand on the door handle and wanted nothing more than to get on with trying on the pants on the hook. “Oh, let me know if you need anything at all, ok?” she said after a moment, and finally closed the door.
Less than two minutes later, as I was getting back into my jeans, a knock came at the door.
“Is everything ok in there?” she asked excitedly and loudly.
“Yes,” I replied.
“What is your name?”
“My name?” I asked pausing at the task of putting my jeans back on.
“Reem,” I said.
I heard her footsteps moving away, then stopping and heading back to my fitting room. “Is that your real name, or is it short for something?” she asked.
I’ve always hated that question. I tolerated being backed into a corner and having useless information to me being shoved down my throat, I even tolerated the name game… but the final straw was the question I’ve always loathed the most coming from anyone. Particularly complete strangers who aren’t likely to ever see me again.
“Yes! That’s my real name!”
All I’d wanted was to try on one pair of pants, and get out of there. I didn’t care about what sale was going on in the store. I didn’t want to apply for a credit card. I didn’t want alterations. I didn’t want to be pampered while shopping. And I didn’t want to be asked about whether the name I give is really my name, or if it was short for something else.
Everything up until the question that is the bane of my existence came into the equation was something I was willing to put up with. My years in retail have left me with much understanding of why sales people do things a certain way. It’s not someone’s cup of tea to hound a customer and pamper them in order to make a sale, but there is a fine line between just doing your job and being obnoxious to a shopper who just wants to be left alone.
It only took me a few months to differentiate between a customer who wants to be pampered while becoming buddies with the sales staff, and one who doesn’t.
To avoid situations like mine, I have a suggestion to sales people and their managers everywhere. Instead of pressuring employees to follow a script written for one personality type, it would be a good idea for retailers to make the comfort of the customer a priority. You wouldn't buy a shoe without the comfort factor (unless it's a super-cute pair, of course), why would you buy anything while being backed into an uncomfortable corner?
To finish my engrossing shopping story… I ended up not buying that pair of pants, and left the store for some fresh air and freedom!
Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.
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2.14.08 @ 12:16a
My name, whenever sales clerks ask, is "Ma'am".
2.14.08 @ 2:53p
Hey - me, too! That really confuses the heck out of them.
2.14.08 @ 3:32p
Unfortunately, in the Los Angeles area, it's hard to find a sales clark who will even make eye contact. Where I live in a smaller town outside of LA, the sales clerks can become overly involved and personal for my taste. Mostly, I like being left alone, but I would like to find someone if I have a question.
2.14.08 @ 4:15p
I definitely prefer to be left alone. People, I will buy more if you don't bug me. If you bug me, I will leave, and not buy anything.
Never trust a salesperson who says something looks good on you. They have absolutely no incentive to tell you the truth.
2.20.08 @ 6:38p
I know that there are different customers but there are also different sales people as well. I worked at Chicos which is exclusively women's clothing and thank God my manager had the same thought process as I did. We did NOT want the customer to walk out looking like a Ringling Brothers show regular. We would refer people to other cuts of pants or jackets and tell them what would work best for thier height/weight. We did, unfortunately have sales people who were either out to make money, or they weren't aware of the fact that they had no fashion sense.
My rule of thumb is to find someone dressed in the same manner as you and if you can't then leave!
3.22.08 @ 10:58p
Reem, you know very well from your retail experience that not all sales people are alike; for instance I was a retail manager for over ten years, and I never trained my people to be pushy or insincere, because that’s not how I’m. Now on the other hand you can’t really be made at people who are aggressive and artificial, because this is what they know best; that’s what this social environment allows them to be, so please don’t take it very personal; it’s what it is.