How Can I Help You?

As an avid shopper, I know what I like and what I don’t when it comes to retail salespeople. It’s pretty simple: I like to feel that my business matters, that I am not being taken advantage of, and that the decision to buy something – or not – is mine alone.

I despise being “sold” to. To me there is nothing worse than walking into a furniture store with the intention of casually browsing and having some schmoe follow me around yapping about the great financing I can get TODAY ONLY! Sell-me too hard and I’m outta there. And chances are, I won’t be back.

On the flip side, don’t ignore me either. It’s like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Remember when the snotty lady at the boutique won’t help her while she’s dressed as the Carol Channing hooker so she comes back later with an armful of bags from their competitor and says, “Big mistake.” We love that moment because at one time or another we’ve all been written off as not worth a salesperson’s time. It’s insulting. And it’s bad business on the part of the seller, because you can’t judge a shopper by how they look. Just watch Duck Dynasty. Those rednecks are rolling with some serious disposable income.

I was recently asked by the Columbia Business Times to come up with some Do’s and Don’ts of retail sales. Here’s what topped my list:


  • Follow the adage A.B.C: Always Be Complimenting. People love to be flattered. Especially by someone in the know. In retail, as the sales associate, you are the expert, so if you compliment what a customer is wearing, it is especially meaningful. Also, if people are shopping with their children, compliment their kids. “Your children have wonderful manners.” Or if they don’t then, “Your children are adorable.” There is no faster way to a person’s heart than through their children, since most people who walk into a store with kids are just trying to get out of there without breaking anything.
  • Exploit a Mob Mentality. We are nothing if not a competitive culture, and hearing, “We just can’t keep those in stock!” or “Everyone just loves these!” will often tip the scales if someone is on the fence. I’ll admit I once bought a scarf at a boutique in LA because the sales lady said Michael Jackson had looked at it.
  • Gently UpSell. It can be really helpful, not to mention lucrative, if a saleswoman brings me a pair of shorts that would go perfectly with the top I’m trying on. This is especially effective if it’s combines this with the ABC principle: “I saw these shorts and thought they’d totally accentuate your legs!” Now, I’m buying 2 items instead of just the one I came in for.
  • Thank people for their business. This sounds simple, but it is really important. At Nordstrom, the undisputed king of customer service, the sale associate brings each customer his/her bag by walking out from behind the register and thanking them for their business. This is a nice touch and helps mitigate against buyer’s remorse.


  • Ask a woman if she is pregnant. Ever. Even if she looks like she swallowed a basketball, is holding What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and flashing  a sonogram picture – do not assume she is pregnant.  If she isn’t, you’ll never recover from that kind of awkward. My husband’s rule: Unless the baby is coming through the birth canal, you never ask a woman if she is having a baby. (He once did. She wasn’t. Result: He had to go to a different Panera for months.)
  • Risk a bad joke. This falls under the heading Know Thy Audience. Recently while at lunch with girlfriends, a waiter joked that my friend was a “picky woman” because she ordered her sandwich with no onions. I think he was trying to be funny, but he wasn’t. He made it worse when he corrected himself with, “No – I mean, you’re a woman, therefore you’re picky.” Tragic. Had there been a man at the table with whom he was trying to have an Am I right? moment, then fine. Still offensive, but not into tip-effecting territory. In this case, we all just thought he was a jerk.
  • Be inappropriate. Male sales associates have to be careful never to become too familiar with female customers or make comments about clothing that covers certain body parts. “Those are great shoes.” Good. “That tank top really shows off your assets.” Bad. Nothing kills a sale faster than a pervy sales guy.

How about you? Do you have any sales Do’s or Don’ts to share?

2 Comments on “How Can I Help You?”

  1. Do take no for an answer. If I said I didn’t want help, or didn’t want to purchase another item, don’t push it. I don’t like to shop, and prefer to shop stealthily. I’d rather receive my sole interaction with the sales staff at the cash register…or better yet, none at all because I prefer to shop online.

    I fear someone will be knocking at my door to ask for my woman card now.

  2. Jen says:

    So true, so true! Love it! 🙂

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