How to not sell something

My wife asked me to go to Lowe’s and look at tiles and a shower door. I agreed with the proviso that we’d also make a pit stop at <Store X>, so I’d do some research on HDTV options. We entered the store and my kids immediately went to the PS and Wii demo stations, while my wife went to look at refrigerators. My Y chromosome enabled me to keep my priorities straight so I went directly to the big screens.

<sarcasm>As I looked around, there came the ever helpful salesperson of the day.</sarcasm> It was an interesting encounter. Being a weekend afternoon, I was dressed as a common slob in shorts, a 7-year old t-shirt, and a baseball hat. I had left my pompous, intellectual, professorial air at home, so to all intents and purposes, I was just your average person. The conversation between 20-year old Mr. Sales Dude and I was enchanting. It started with me asking a few simple questions about brands, LCD vs. LED-LCD screens, and WiFi connectivity then it quickly moved into strange territory. I got no answers to my questions, but I somehow ended up stating that I wasn’t looking to spend more then X dollars. At this point, Mr. Sales Dude went on to ask if I was buying my first HDTV, stating that he’d bought several already, that my budget would have to account for the purchase of some incredibly awesome HDMI cables at $8o a pop, a power line conditioner to protect my investment, a Blu-Ray player, a few hundreds of dollars worth of a multi-year extended warranty plan, and some additional evidence of his amazing knowledge of consumer electronics that were only somewhat tangential to my research. He didn’t have any inkling that my understanding of digital data transmission and electromagnetic shielding rendered much of his speech null and void. I was left with the impression that, after I challenged his knowledge, Mr. Sales Dude wanted to convince me that I couldn’t afford to buy and HDTV and that I should just leave.

This reminded me of an incident in the heyday of the late <Store Y>, many years ago. I was a budget-minded grad student dressed in jeans and flannel, who had gone in to shop for a good amplifier. As I was getting the long, smart speech from the salesperson, I made the mistake of interrupting to ask what was the total harmonic distortion of a certain model. The conversation was brought to a grinding halt and I was sent to the back of the store to have someone fish out the manual so that I could go dig for the information.

I’m not sure what to conclude from these incidents other than:

  1. Customers who ask for technical details that are not part of the salesperson speech shall be ignored for they are likely to not be awed by the knowledge of store employees.
  2. Customers who don’t look like they are going to spend a lot are not worth the salesperson’s time. This time, however, at <Store X>, after I did a lap around the store and came back to the TV section, I ended up having a very informative conversation with another salesperson and left the place with the sense that there’s still hope for the human race.
  3. Consumer electronics stores that provide good, knowledgeable service in the beginning of their business won’t necessarily keep it up. The delivery of pre-canned speeches by salespeople might signal the start of the downslope toward irrelevance and eventual bankruptcy. (Correlation or causation? I really don’t know.)

PS: Store names have been omitted from this story so that no one will have direct evidence that it is their business which needs to improve service or finds clues as to what might have led them to lose so many customers that they became inviable.

2 thoughts on “How to not sell something”

  1. I’ve had several similar experiences and have since all but given up asking for help in consumer electronics stores. I just do all the research online first.

    One particular instance I had which stands out in my mind was when dual channel memory was making its way into consumer electronics. I was in the market for memory and didn’t know if I should buy two 512MB sticks to enable the dual channel memory access, or if it would be better to get a single 1GB stick and leave a slot open for future expansion. I asked the salesman what the difference in performance would be, and regardless how I worded the question, the response was always, “in order to use dual channel memory you have to have two sticks.” Clearly they had no idea what the difference in performance really was, but weren’t willing to admit it.

    Needless to say, that wound up being a newegg purchase.

  2. This article is too true. Walk into any of the big box stores and you are more than likely going to find yourself exactly where the author found himself. I guess thats why everybody buys on the net now and just uses stores for research.

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