Salesmanship seems to have cashed out

I’ve sensed this for quite some time now, and it all came into focus yesterday. Salesmanship is dead. Yesterday was BBQ grill shopping day, and it started at Home Depot. It’s great to have a salesperson available when I’m ready to discuss a potential purchase, but I spent more time during the first ten minutes of the visit acknowledging the roving staff at HD. Ask me once if I need any assistance, thanks, but the constant interruption by each employee that happens by is not the experience that I want. I don’t know if this is an advanced sales technique, or if management instructs this procedure, but it puts me in a irritable frame of mind.

After comparing several models the list was narrowed down to two models, one of which appeared to lack a thermometer. Commenting that this was a significant shortcoming, the salesperson notified us with a shrug of his shoulders that that’s what you get with a cheap grill. A “cheap” grill, it’s $200! The alternative model was out of stock. We could have the floor model, but it had some dents and scratches, as well as a couple of stripped screws from the shoddy assembly.

Next stop was Walmart, where as usual the items we were interested in weren’t priced. Again, as usual, finding assistance is a exercise in patience. Why does WM do this? How difficult is it to actually price your merchandise? I remember when WM employees used to wear those blue vests that said “ask me how I can help you”. I always felt it was because no one was ever going to verbally ask. We finally tracked down a pleasant young man who seemed more bewildered by the situation that we were. After about five minuted we found him climbing up a shelf of boxed grills in effort to locate a price. The price/quality of the WM grills seemed poor, so no sale.

My first thought is to blame big box retailers. These shops seems to be staffed with lot’s of people that have no real knowledge or interest in the merchandise they stock. I’m constantly amazed at the difficulty salespeople have in answering basic questions. After a small amount of research I know more about their products than they do. I suppose this is one of the tradeoffs we’ve made for the lower prices offered at big box retailers. Considering this, I think I prefer the Sam’s/Cost Co model. At least at Sam’s Club I don’t expect any real assistance with the products.

Next was the Sears Hometown Store. The store was engaged in some sort of grand reopening, and they did have free Dickey’s BBQ sandwiches. The atmosphere in the store was tense, with what looked like 7 customers and 10 employees. I had called the store earlier in the day and was informed that they had a four burner grill for $189. There were four grills on display, the least expensive of which was $330. After a confusing exchange with the salesman, I still don’t know if they had the less expensive grill in stock.

Here’s where it really hit me. The staff at Sears had no concern for what we wanted or needed. The salesman kept referring to next week’s shipment and asking to show us grills online. He couldn’t clearly answer questions about immediate availability, or what non display models where in stock. There were no questions that allowed us to tell him what we wanted. The entire process suggested that making some sale was the objective, not solving our problem.

Now I’m not naive. I worked sales for several years in my younger days, so I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the counter. I understand that selling merchandise and making a profit is necessary and I have no objection to that. What disappoints me is the lack of knowledge as well as the desire to skip the formalities of salesmanship and hurry to the credit card transaction. Here’s the killer for Sears; they had a really nice $330 stainless steel grill that was available at ten percent off. A bit above our desired price range , but the features and construction were tempting. Unfortunately, the shopping experience was so frustrating that we had no confidence in Sears. We imagined after the sale questions or service would be a complete nightmare. Sears, you lost the sale because you didn’t care what we needed.

Target was our final option. We tracked down a salesman in the music section to check availability of the grill we were interested in. After an awkward walkie talkie discussion with a manager we were told that the floor model was the last one in stock and we could have it at ten percent off. More walkie talkie discussion ensued as if we weren’t even there, and another salesman arrived for backup. Both salesmen disappeared to the warehouse, returning with the good news that they found two grills and that we couldn’t have the discounted floor model. Instead, we could pay full price and assemble the grill ourselves. Sigh.

Exhausted we retuned to Home Depot and spotted a grill we hadn’t noticed earlier. The last of a very nice rotisserie model, it had been out in the weather for some time and showed signs of wear. We were offered a $50 discount, but the sale would be as is with no option to return the grill and no service responsibility. We couldn’t get the rotisserie to work, so this option seemed too risky. Our request for a 90 day return/service option was denied. Our saleswoman during this visit was very nice and sincerely interested is helping us. We returned to the original dent/scratch floor model grill we started the day with. The striped screws were replaced and we were offered a ten percent discount as well as the normal return/service policy. Sold.

Why was this experience so difficult? Is it too much to ask that a salesperson at least try and put themselves in my shoes for a brief moment? I’ve actually had sales people and business owners tell me how a transaction will affect them, what concerns they have, and discuss what’s best for them. What are you doing? I don’t come into your shop with the objective of helping you or learning what you need. Many in sales and service seem to have forgotten how the customer relationship works. I don’t expect everyone to be perfect, but please consider that it’s not about you. I don’t want to hear you complain about your hours, or that a table didn’t leave you a tip. I would like you to at least pretend to listen to what I’m telling you. I want to feel like I made the right decision visiting your business.