Have you ever been so put off by bad selling that you simply walked, even when you were really, really ready to buy?  

My wife and I did just that yesterday – stunned that the retail establishment drove us do this in the midst of the worst recession most of us have ever seen. But the really sad thing to me is that management wasted all its marketing, branding and PoS advertising investments by cutting investments in its people. 

We’ve been looking for a particular big ticket item for quite some time, investing time in both online and in-store research. Yesterday we thought we had found, if not the perfect item, at least one that would do quite nicely, at an attractive price. We knew the brand well and had bought from the store before, and had been very pleased with both the professionalism of the sales staff and the follow-up service: it was clear the store had aligned personnel selection, training and rewards to deliver on its brand promise. So, when we saw a holiday sale ad, we planned a visit – the store location is not particularly convenient to us. 

Our fond memories were dashed soon after entering the store. While the salesperson who greeted us clearly read us as ‘ready-to-buy,’ she was also clearly ready to ‘sell’ rather than helping us buy. Unlike our prior visits, it became pretty obvious to us we weren’t going to get much help, so we thanked her for her interest, and began looking.

Spiraling downward

Then it started to get mildly creepy – ever feel like you were being stalked? As we moved through the show room, she followed, hovering never more than a few feet away, quickly moving in if we neared another sales person – I sensed that these folks were ready to ‘steal’ buyers from each other at the drop of a pin. And, if we glanced at an item for more that a second, she approached asking “are you interested in that?” with paperwork magically now at the ready. Knowing something about the relationship between rewards and behavior, it was clear to me the incentives had changed.

We finally found the item we wanted, a floor model on markdown which had a couple of flaws (typical of floor models). We asked about the flaws, indicating we were ready to buy this item. Our sales person said these were easy to fix, clearly implying the store would do this.

However, the way she said it left a bit of doubt, so I asked specifically.  The response was that because of the price, we’d have to fix the flaws ourselves – not unreasonable – and described how this would be ‘easy’ for us to do. By now, however, our suspicions were on very high alert and my wife asked her to actually demonstrate – also not unreasonable – how this could be done. She explained again, and my wife again asked for a demo.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

She explained again how to do it, very slowly, as if talking to children – I began to wonder how she had been selected, and if she had received any training at all. My wife responded that we did, in fact, understand what she was saying, but because once the item left the store, we would have no recourse, and wanted to actually see how to do it. Here is when she started to lose the sale, starting to repeat again… I said we understood her pretty clearly the first two times, then asked for her manager. She started to protest, and I made it very clear that she was not being helpful and we either saw the manager, or we walked. When he leisurely appeared, he put another nail in the coffin, just with his tone – his “you wanted to speak to me” was more a defiant statement than an empathetic question (not much emotional intelligence here!), to which we repeated our request for a demonstration. He must have also sensed that we were ready to buy, and so told the salesperson to find someone who could demonstrate this for us, and requested we wait.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

And then some more.

Finally, my wife looked at me and said, “you know, I really don’t want to buy this any more.”

As we walked out of the store, we saw our sales person, paperwork still at the ready, not, as you might expect, trying to get someone to help us, but positioning herself for the next prey that wandered in range. She seemed shocked that we were leaving, and started to protest.

We kept walking.