Previously I’d have been annoyed if a sales adviser recommended a pink laptop just because the recipient was a girl. But when a shop assistant did just that in our latest investigation, I hardly raised an eyebrow.
I don’t expect decent advice from big high street chains any more, and would rather do my own research than rely on direction from assistants who inevitably have sales targets to hit.
Perhaps I’m overly suspicious – our latest round of undercover shopping revealed flashes of spot-on advice from high street electrical shops. But some was frankly awful.
What we wanted from high-street stores
Our undercover shoppers were hunting for a basic laptop and printer that would last for at least three years’ light use at university. Simple? You’d think so, but most of the big-name branches in our investigation tried to sell extras such as extended warranties, Microsoft Office packages and anti-virus software to bump up the final sale, while few independent stores did the same.
Comet even advised three of our shoppers to spend around £100 on a two-year warranty for an Asus laptop costing £300, even though Asus assures us that a two-year manufacturer guarantee is supplied as standard. Nice try, Comet.
What should we expect from target-driven staff?
There’s a definite sense that quantity – rather than quality – is the dominant philosophy driving sales in some big chains. But what can we really expect from assistants with targets to hit?
A cursory glance through vacancies at big chain stores indicates a level of performance-related pay. Comet advertises ‘performance-related bonuses in most business areas’, while PC World and Currys claim to have ‘an excellent bonus scheme related to customer service levels and individual performance’.
Even the John Lewis partnership programme requires all staff to take ‘personal responsibility’ for driving ‘success’.
On top of that, there’s increasing competition from online retailers with minimal overheads and staff, so what alternative to the hard sell can we expect if high street shops are to survive?
Listen to what your customers want
It’s unlikely that traditional electrical stores can compete with online retailers purely on price, unless they buy in such huge volumes that they’d need to push the same models for months at a time. But couldn’t they occupy a niche by offering expert advice and unrivalled customer service? These are two things the online arena can certainly lack.
Instead, only four out of the 60 shops in our investigation were rated ‘excellent’ for listening to what our shoppers actually needed, and many branches tried to sell the extras before they’d even recommended a suitable laptop.
So, why the short-term pursuit for the hard sell? And how does it affect our long-term view of the high street in general? Does anyone even expect impartial, tailored advice from the high street any more, or are we fuelling a culture of pushy sales by failing to see value in anything but the price?