Lovely reader Cat left this request in a comment:
I’d love to hear your take on shopping and sales-people … more specifically, how to deal/interact with them. How to not feel guilty or beholden and buy stuff you don’t need because you don’t want the sales person who helped you to feel bad, how to make good use of their talents and services, how to say “no,” how to say “later,” etc., etc.
Do you ever feel these pressures? With your mad shopping skills, I thought you might have some insight/tips.
I’ve had many great experiences working with sales associates and feel that they’re a terrific and often underutilized resource. Many people who work in clothing, shoe, and accessory stores do so because they actually LIKE fashion, which means they can offer opinions, insight, and styling suggestions.
But when you’ve worked with an SA for 40 minutes and still haven’t found anything you want to buy, that can feel … awkward. Especially if you know your SA is on commission or a quota. Here’s my philosophy:
Ask for help if you need help
Sounds so simple but can feel so daunting, am I right? If you ask a question, you may open yourself up to a little mini-relationship with an SA, even if you just wanted one small answer. Despite that risk, make yourself ask. If you can’t find what you need, want an opinion about fit or quality, or have some problem that only a store employee can properly solve, just ask. In my experience, most SAs want to help, they’ve got the knowledge you need, and they’re sometimes bored and biding time. If your question is answered and the SA seems to want to keep helping, just say something like, “I so appreciate your help! I’m just going to keep browsing on my own now and I’ll yell if I have more questions, OK?” Firm, clear, boundary-setting.
Never guilt buy
You’re not made of money. No, really, you’re not. I checked. And the fact is that the act of shopping is emotionally charged to begin with, so why add another potential layer of guilt, shame, and confusion to the mix by buying things out of obligation? Yes, you may feel like you’ve “used” a sales associate if you consult but don’t buy. But if you buy something that doesn’t work, you’ll resent it, be poorer, and have to deal with the rigamarole of returning it. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need, like, or want just because an SA picked it out for you.
Regardless of buying, I always try to heap on the praise and thanks when I’ve interacted with an SA. I’ve worked retail and it can be deeply unpleasant, so I always want to show my gratitude for any and all help. If someone has been especially attentive and I haven’t found anything I want to purchase, I’ll say, “I so appreciate your help today and I’m really bummed that nothing worked out this time. When I come back, I’ll ask for you. You’ve been so great.” If you can’t offer sales figures or commissions, at least offer kindness and appreciation. (Genuine, of course. If an SA has been surly or rude that’s another story, though I assume that feelings of obligation to purchase diminish under those circumstances.)
Don’t worry about it
It is highly possible that, when you turn to leave, your SA will curse you for leaving without buying. It is also possible that the same SA would think you were incredibly sweet and easy to work with. Or that the same SA would never give you another thought. Ever. You cannot control the emotions of others, especially strangers, so try to let it go.
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