November 23, 2012

Please Stop Harassing Me, Salesperson, I Don’t Want Help

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What is the issue?

Let me start this off by pointing out that I have worked retail many times myself, even the more upscale kind of retail which encourages its employees to let no customer leave without being asked at least once if they’d like any help with something. And I know that there are many, many awful customers who will snap at you for even coming near them, let alone offering your services, and that it is so unfair to shoot the sales-messenger who is only doing what he or she is told. I know that it’s not a fair fight, and you have to defer to even the most obnoxious patron, no matter how unreasonably angry they get with you for just doing your job.

But there is an entire universe of distance between gently asking if the customer would like any help and respectfully scooting away with a “Let me know if you need anything” when they politely decline, and following them around for their entire visit, peppering them with offers to aid in their search and unsolicited advice about the products they are looking at. (It’d be unfair not to note that the vast majority of said harassment tends to happen in upscale clothing boutiques, boutiques which give the impression that their commission system has gone so far as to become a Hunger Games-esque battle for their lives which depend on selling a cardigan to that uninterested customer. If you’ve ever set foot in one of said boutiques, you know what I’m talking about.)

For these salespeople, “no” is a word that has no meaning in any language. It is simply a sound that a customer utters meaninglessly, like the bleat of a distracted sheep. “No,” if anything, is an excuse to start pulling items from the rack and putting them without any real consent into a dressing room, telling you all the while how good you will look in such-and-such outfit, or how much such-and-such pant is going to flatter your shape. Before you have the chance to fully refuse their overly-generous offers for help, they have already gotten about half of the procedure out of the way to get you to the cash register.

And even if you are interested in trying on said items, perhaps you might like to do it all by yourself, or with the trusted opinion of an objective friend. Your desires mean nothing to Aggressive Salesperson, who is more than happy to follow you into the dressing room to physically put accessories on you, offer unsolicited opinions, and give you yet more things to awkwardly try on while you attempt to extricate yourself from the whole situation without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Perhaps I am more susceptible to this than most, but few things freeze me in a greater moment of social anxiety/terror than having to deal with a hawk of a salesperson who will not leave me alone and insists on going to ever-greater lengths to put things on my body that I am not interested in. The salesperson will call over their colleagues, coo at my various sartorial options, and genuinely make 10 times bigger a kerfuffle over my clothes-buying process than I could ever want it to be in my wildest dreams. It turns what was originally a relaxing day of shopping into a sweaty-palmed race to get the hell out of the store.

And the worst part is the overwhelming feeling of needing to buy something to justify all of this person’s over-the-top work (a guilt which is obviously intentional on the part of the salesperson). They have put in so much effort, are insisting on putting everything at or around the cash register, are giving you so much unerring attention — how could you not leave with half your monthly salary in blazers? I find myself unable to make eye contact with anyone, longing to escape, having to refuse to purchase extraneous items over and over until my only desire is to set fire to the entire boutique so they can never repeat their awful behavior with another unsuspecting customer.

No one is going to enjoy being harassed when they clearly don’t want any more help. You may browbeat someone into buying an extra shirt, but you are making them feel uncomfortable and likely never want to come back to the store. It’s an incredibly awkward situation to be put in, and no matter how stringent your managers are about engaging customers, there is clearly a point at which people want to be left alone and are telling you that with every inch of their incredibly resistant body language. No one deserves to have their shopping experience ruined by an extremely aggressive salesperson, no matter what quota of sweater sales you need to hit by the end of the month. TC mark

image – Roger Price
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