Dave Wedzina detests pushy salespeople.
Like many of today's shoppers, the Lackawanna man likes to do his own research and make his own purchasing choices. Sure, he wants a sales associate to be around if he has questions, but he doesn't like feeling "sold to."
"I want them to say, 'If you need any assistance, my name is Fred,' not 'I've got something right over here you will like,' " he said. "You just met me two minutes ago! You don't know what I like!"
His daughter Kori feels the same.
"Nobody can push me into [buying] anything," she said.
They steer clear of merchants who have a reputation for the hard sell, such as some cell phone kiosks as well as certain jewelers and men's clothing retailers. For them, preparing to shop is like preparing for battle.
It's that reaction that has caused a tide to turn in the sales profession, according to marketing experts.
Good salespeople have found that being pushy doesn't result in sales -- it results in pushing paying customers out the door. So they're taking a different tack: While the goal is still to make the sale, it's about making the sale in a way that meets the customer's wants and needs. That builds long-term sales relationships and repeat business in a way pushing customers into regrettable purchases does not.
"There used to be this idea that a good salesman could sell ice to Eskimos. Now it has to be a win-win," said Charles Lindsey, associate professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo. "Nowadays consumers are so savvy, there has to be true value for both parties."
But the recession is putting all that positive progress at risk.
"[The stores] seem emptier. I think because they're not making [as many sales], they're getting pushier," said Jody Malesky of Amherst.
Some commissioned salespeople, who have seen their incomes plummet as squeezed consumers drastically cut back on discretionary spending, are doing whatever they can to make the quick sale.
"I suspect, given the [state of] the economy, there are a lot of desperate salespeople and companies out there just doing what they can to survive," said Lindsey.
Tricks of the Trade1
Even sellers who aren't succumbing to high-pressure or underhanded tactics to get ahead are coming up with astute techniques to get price-conscious consumers spending again.
The Wall Street Journal sat in with some clever salespeople as they attempted to sell luxury watches to newly thrifty (but still affluent) shoppers in Beverly Hills.
Tactics included distracting wives to keep men in stores longer, replacing the word "price" with the word "value," and pouring on the flattery. Salesmen placed shoppers' beat-up watches next to sleek new ones, using the contrast to convince them of the need to buy a replacement. They soothed buyer's remorse by talking customers into additional gift purchases meant to appease cost-conscious spouses.
Salesmen have lots of perfectly legitimate skills up their sleeves when it comes to making the sale. Being aware of them helps keep consumers from being persuaded in a direction they don't want to go.
Here are just a few:
Fear appeals lead you to believe not purchasing an item will put you at risk. Think warranties, insurance and alarm systems.
Scarcity and urgency appeals use false time constraints and claims of "limited supplies" to get you to act quickly and without thinking.
Bargain appeals get you buying more than you normally would because of a perceived deal. These include volume discounts ("Buy 10 for $10!") and discounts on purchases of a specified amount ("Get $20 off when you spend $100!").
Door-in-the-face sales start with the salesperson pitching an extravagant product, then offering a more economical one, using the contrast to make the second deal seem more appealing by comparison.
"For example, you're shown a high-priced product with all the bells and whistles. When you say, 'Oh gosh, that's so expensive,' you're taken to a mid-priced [item] that seems much more affordable," said Lindsey.
Foot-in-the-door sales work on the opposite principle, where a salesperson offers a smaller item, then works up to a larger purchase. This is where trial offers and free samples come in. Companies get a "foot in the door" and use the attention they've garnered to make a bigger pitch.
How to resist1
If you're the kind of person who turns to mush in the hands of a skilled salesperson, it is a good idea to have a strategy in place before you shop. Here are some basics:
Don't feel obligated to purchase something you don't want just because a salesperson has lavished you with his or her time. In fact, some sellers will fetch you a drink or make a show of how hard they're working to guilt you into buying something.
It may be tempting to buy something just to get out of the line of fire, but don't reward pushy behavior with a sale. Practice sticking to your guns by simply repeating, "No thank you, I'm not buying."
Be polite but indifferent. Salespeople said, surprisingly, it is easier to sell to people who are rude and angry than to those who don't show any emotion. Stay calm, keep a poker face and don't tip your hand.
The same goes for offering personal information. If you don't want to hear a pitch, keep your lips sealed. A skilled salesman memorizes every word you say in order to personalize his sales pitch later: "This model refrigerator is great for a family with lots of young children like yours. The ice dispenser is great for those iced coffees you love and the reinforced door will keep your golden retriever from scratching the bottom."
Be honest. Saying "no" when you mean it is an act of courtesy. If you don't want something, don't make excuses. Salespeople know how to overcome any objection, and they'll work hard to make the sale unless you make your feelings clear. It will be easier for everyone involved if you just cut to the chase instead of hemming and hawing.
Don't spare feelings. Lots of shoppers think they're doing a salesperson a favor by saying they will come back later or by saying they like an item that really doesn't suit them. This wastes everyone's time. Likewise, if a salesman follows up with a phone call, don't dodge him. Have the courtesy to let him know you have bought elsewhere or are not interested. That way, your phone stops ringing and they can move on to the next sale.
Never sign a deal or make a purchase with someone who is pressuring you to "act now before time runs out." Often, they are trying to keep you from comparison shopping or otherwise researching a "deal."
Do your research. Half the battle in making unclouded purchasing decisions is to be informed. Know what things cost, how they work, how they're made and how long they last. Read customer reviews and find out how well things fare in Consumer Reports tests.
"[Some salespeople] kind of corner you, they get you up against a wall," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart magazine, which is put out by Consumer Reports. "Your most powerful move is to be educated. What becomes stressful is when they're pressing you to take their word for it and you didn't do your homework."
The Internet makes it easy to research products and conduct price comparisons, finding just the right goods and services that fit your needs. Have your choice narrowed down to a couple of options before you walk into the store.
If you don't know what you want and are waiting for a salesperson to make up your mind for you, it's all over.