Salespeople, give a man some space while he is on his mission at the mall

November 28, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

With the holiday shopping season revving up, here's a simple request for all you hard-working retail salespeople who will descend on customers like me and fix us with a 200-watt smile and a hearty "Can I help you?" the second we step into your store.

That simple request is: Give us a little space this year, OK?

Don't hover nearby as we browse.

Don't stalk us as we move down the aisles.

Give us a quick "Can I help you?" if you absolutely have to, or if it's store policy or something.

But if the answer is "No, thanks" or "I'm just looking," leave us alone.

Oh, we're not saying disappear if we give you a polite brush-off.

No, we'd like you to be available if we have any questions.

But otherwise, give it a rest with the "Can I help you?" stuff.

And let us shop in peace.

That'll help us form a positive image of your store, rather than the image of a Hyundai showroom near the end of the month when the sales quotas haven't been met.

OK, I know a lot of you retail salespeople are probably reading this with steam coming out of your ears.

You're doing a full Chernobyl and thinking: Hey, what do you want us to do, ignore the customers? We're damned if we do and damned if we don't when it comes to greeting and offering help.

Or you're thinking: Look, pal, I work on commission. I have to be aggressive with customers because this is a dog-eat-dog business, only the strong survive, you snooze you lose, etc.

OK, understood.

Look, my wife used to work retail. And I have several friends who work retail, too.

So I understand the nature of the job, and the unique pressures of retail sales, the main one being that you have to wait on a lot of rude idiots who treat you like dirt and don't know what they want from a salesperson.

I get all that, honest.

And, frankly, I'm totally on your side when it comes to idiot customers.

In fact, if I were in your shoes, I'd end up strangling half the people I waited on, because they seem like such nitwits.

All I'm saying is, the hover, stalk thing some of you do is a turnoff to a lot of shoppers - especially male shoppers.

See, one characteristic of male shoppers is that they tend to shop as if they're on a reconnaissance mission.

For example, let's say a guy comes into your store looking to buy, oh, a sports jacket.

The minute he walks through the door, his eyes are sweeping back and forth, back and forth, looking for his objective.

It's like something out of Platoon. And the only thought echoing in his tiny brain - I speak from experience here - is: Where are the sports jackets?

Once he spots them - "Over there! Behind that ridge at 2 o'clock! - he runs through the rest of his recon checklist: Are they in my price range? Do they look OK? Or will they make me look like a member of the Four Tops, circa 1967?

So at this point, if you, the salesperson, come up and ask: "Can I help you?" you're wasting your time.

The guy is just not ready to interact with you.

He's still in the middle of his recon, trying to determine if he's in the right place or whether he has to move on to another store.

Only when he's sure that, OK, this is the place, is he willing to get into specifics and answer your "Can I help you?" with something like: "Yeah, I'm looking for a sports jacket, size 42 regular, in black or charcoal if you have it."

And from that point, of course, you need only follow the normal, accepted dictums of guy shopping: Make it quick, and keep the chitchat to a minimum.

Again, I speak from experience here.

If the whole process of buying the sports jacket takes too long - and by too long I mean more than 10 minutes, including alterations - the guy will start to get edgy.

And if there's too much idle chatter - this would be on any topic other than, say, the Ravens' quarterback situation - that'll make the guy nervous, too.

The thing that should be stressed, though, is that the hovering, stalking salesperson gets on the nerves of both male and female shoppers.

I have seen women scrunch up their faces like the Uma Thurman character in Kill Bill when followed by such a salesperson, after which I have feared for the safety of the salesperson.

You hate to see that at any time, never mind the holidays.

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