/ Shopping, Technology

The high street hard sell – does it put you off?

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?

Heather says:
19 October 2012

I went to PC world with my Mom today to buy a laptop, I am fairly tech savvy, so I know what I’m looking for in specifications of a laptop. It would be no good my Mom going on her own, as being a complete novice, the salesperson is likely to sell her anything and the price would go up. We found the laptop we wanted, having research it online and couldn’t believe the spiel they give you about Norton Anti-virus and how they advise you buy it etc etc. I didn’t argue with him, but I wasn’t going to buckle and allow my Mom to be drawn in, but talk about scare mongering you about internet security! “Well this could happen and that could happen, yada yada”. The way he spoke, it was as though he wouldn’t let us leave with the laptop unless we bought Norton as well (do these guys earn commission from them or something?) As fate would have it, the laptop was out of stock, they checked with Currys who have a branch more or less across the road and it was in stock, so off we went to there and the guy was much more helpful, I told we’d already had the lecture from PC-World about Norton (from the way he spoke it sounded like PC world and Currys don’t like each other, I know they’re the same company). Got the laptop, bag to put it in and a mouse, no problems. They didn’t push extended warranty or anything like that. One happy Mom 🙂

I bought a laptop in PC World this morning for a gift for my partner. We had both researched it online, reserved it and I went in to pay for it and buy it.

After receiving the box and walking to the till I was then inundated with questions regarding anti-virus, office software, accessories. You’d think if I’d wanted that stuff I would have reserved them too no? The conversation that really annoyed me though was regarding warranty. “No thanks, it’s a gift, I’ll let them decide.” “Is it for a family member?” “Yes” “In that case, you can get the warranty now and set up a direct debit, then you can call up and change over the bank details to them?”. “No thanks, they might not want it.” “Well you can cancel it after setting it up”.

No thank you means no thank you! Customer service is about serving the customer’s needs, and I don’t NEED that! So stop being pushy! Also, with Dixons group shops, what is that rubbish about handing back cards and receipts with both hands? It looks so contrived and unnatural it’s silly!

Jessica says:
19 January 2013

The reason staff are like that is because of pressure been placed onto them. Imagine if you where in their shoes, with large targets to hit and if you do not hit that target, you might lose your job and not be able to pay your bills. Advice given possibly is that to hit targets and when you say “no thankyou, I don’t want that”, they might possibly be thinking “Oww, no, that going to wreck my SQ, I think possibly, maybe, a score based on certain items you sold, and maybe my percentage of certain high margin item that have to be sold, might get told off”. This is the idea I’ve got of certain friends that have worked in these places, hence why I do not buy of them. I goto John Lewis and the sales person was sooo lovely and sold me everything I wanted. Plus I was able to look through some amazing clothes and items as well :-).

Peter H says:
22 April 2013

Ok people have got it all wrong on here, the do one retail employees are trained to discover what a customer wants and needs, and are set targets according to what people need on average, for example less than half of the people who buy a laptop need norton, so the target is 40%. The sales assistants ask customers if they need assistance because we want to help people find what they are looking for, and the reason people are asked multiple times is because different sales colleges will approach and haven’t been told. As well as this, the cover plan is usually quite good value, because it covers mishaps, which a normal manufacturer guarantee does not, on top of this, we want people buying for a gift to give there relative a chance to have the services, because they can not be put on later, and usually the employee will give you the first month free in these cases. Employees of dixons retail are trained to help people overcome there objectives to not buying add ons so that the people get what they really want the first time, and once the salesman has gone over the objections, if you still don’t want it, they will accept this. Finally there are no real incentives to getting extras, this is because a salesman at dixons does not get commission, and has relatively low targets to hit, intact the only thing that will get the salesperson fired is if there discount is persistently high or if that sales college is not asking the questions, so if you don’t want it say no and explain why, that way everyone is happy

Source: I am a sales college at currys/PCWorld, and have been through the training, but I am also a techie so know what I am talking about

Ex Sales Colleague says:
28 October 2013

I worked at Currys 3 years ago, just a few hours a week to help support my family. If a customer came in to the store I’d acknowledge them, giving them the opportunity to immediately ask for assistance if required but I’d then leave them to browse, going back a little later to see if they needed anything. Bearing in mind that there were a wide variety of products on offer from coffee machines to ‘phones to vacuum cleaners to washing machines to laptops to TVs, I would do my utmost to find the best product for my customer. If a customer had already researched the product then I freely admit they would often know much more about it than I did and I have experienced the scorn associated with me not knowing the minutiae of a particular product that they’d spent hours researching. We were absolutely encouraged to add extras but they also make sense, so I probably would have recommended a laptop case, Office (student version) and Anti-virus software, plus paper, spare ink cartridges and a USB cable (if not included) to the above customer at a discounted price as it was purchased at the same time as the laptop and printer. I would also have recommended the Whatever Happens. If a customer really didn’t want it then that was absolutely fine but you have to mention these things – for example, on several occasions customers who’d bought cameras would return later on for a memory card! I would always advise purchasing it at the time, which to me was customer service, not “unnecessary add-ons”. Ultimately, I worked for a business i.e. I was there to make profit, so selling more is completely logical. It’s tough out there and you can’t continually give discounts to the detriment of the Company or they won’t survive (Comet!) I appreciate people want good customer service (and I always tried my hardest to give excellent service) but sales staff are human beings with a job to do, who are entitled to respect and a little understanding, don’t you think?

I hope that you told your customers that Which? is not convinced that extended warranties are good value for money. ‘Whatever Happens’ recently came in for criticism from Watchdog because the cover is not as comprehensive as the customer might assume.

I would be interested in what you would say to someone who had taken back a product outside the warranty period with no extended cover. I have yet to meet anyone working for Currys who was familiar with the Sale of Goods Act and once I was told that it did not apply to them.

I very much agree that shop staff should be treated with respect, but some will not take ‘no’ for an answer in their enthusiasm to sell extended warranties and extras.

Ex Sales Colleague says:
28 October 2013

No, I didn’t inform them of either Which?’s or Watchdog’s opinion of Whatever Happens. I did, however, inform them of the benefits, in addition to the Manufacturer’s Warranty and Home Insurance for Accidental Damage (which may require an excess to be paid and may lead to increased future premiums) that there were exclusions e.g. superficial or intentional damage, loss or theft. I also advised that all the relevant information was included in the paperwork and that they had a 14-day Cool-off period. This allowed my customers to make up their own mind (and change it if they wanted to – which they did on one occasion only). I am also aware of the Sale of Goods Act and Distance Selling Regulations – applicable to online customers who came in to the store with a problem (though admittedly not through any Curry’s training) and should a product be returned outside the standard warranty period that there is legislation to protect consumers – I have a firm grasp of Consumer Law. Giving people as much information as possible (perhaps in spite of it) meant I was the top salesperson 95% of the time and I sold an awful lot of extended warranties and ‘extras’.

I am impressed. It is a pity you no longer work for Currys. 🙂

How would you have handled a customer who wanted to bring back a vacuum cleaner for repair during the manufacturer’s warranty period? My local Currys store insisted that I should contact Miele and would not allow me to take it back to the shop. I think I was within my rights to expect Currys to deal with the problem.

Ex Sales Colleague says:
28 October 2013

Unfortunately, this tactic is often used by companies. However, the contract is between you and the seller i.e. Curry’s so it was down to them to arrange the repair (or the Instant Replacement if you’d taken out Whatever Happens! 😉

Alex Foster says:
8 November 2013

Some companies will categorically refuse to deal with the retailer until they have first spoken to the customer. Apple and Blackberry are two such examples. In these instances it is extremely difficult to offer an instantaneous solution to a problem. I will always offer to make the call on the customers behalf although I require them to be present so that they too can speak to the manufacturer. I will always offer the customer the opportunity to use a store telephone to make the call.

Some manufacturers (Sonos) flatly refuse to acknowledge that their equipment is EVER at fault.

I am provided with all of the tools and information required to deal with any customer issue I am faced with. I will ALWAYS find a solution to my customer’s issue through the correct management of expectations and process. On multiple occasions throughout my working week I will start the process for an out of warranty claim bringing into force the Sales of Goods Act.

I am proud of the customer service my particular branch provides. We are an extremely busy customer service desk when compared to many other stores. We even have customers from other stores use our CS desk because of the level of service we provide.

It is impossible to please all of the people all of the time. If the solution I offer you isn’t the solution you expected (there is almost always a difference between what you expect and entitlement, after all you are probably annoyed about your failed product) but I have operated all correct guidelines then I have to manage those expectations. How you choose to react to that is simply your decision. If my information is delivered correctly and to the letter of the law and you choose to get angry or shout (as is very often the case) then I have no obligation to continue with you until such a time that you can act in an appropriate manner. No one will tolerate abuse in any industry.

The sales staff are trained to deliver in exactly the way they do by the company. In any given job is it normal for you to do as expected by your employer? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes. I can’t comment on particular cases mentioned here. It is up to the individual to make the decision about what they choose to say to you.

What I can say is that I work with the utmost integrity and offer standards of service I would be happy to be on the receiving end of. And, I do this despite of appalling pay and a joke of a bonus scheme. I do it because I enjoy my job.

I do understand why customers are so scared by sales staff and their sometimes pushy sales techniques.
The problem is, as a few have already said above, they all have targets to meet and jobs to keep. I personally used to work for Currys and i had always tried my best to give the best customer service, with one condition: the customer has to be polite and benevolent as well. I absolutely hate customers that look at you from above and think that you are some kind of slave that has to ensure that he gets all the pleasures in the world. The respect has to be present on both sides. Also, when it comes to ad-ons, in most of the cases, whether you are talking about antivirus, office, cables they are cheaper when purchased with the main device, i.e laptop or tv. therefore, if you need them it’s worth buying them even if that means a higher total price at the end.
Lastly, the insurrances, cover plans, whatever happens and others are some useful services that unless you are very technical and you’ve got your own repair lab at home, you might want to consider. I remember when I used to present the Care Plan that Currys offered many of the customers would say: I don’t need it, I take care of my gadgets. To be honest, we all do, who would want to drop their 1000 pound laptop or baptize their new smartphone in the toilet? Accidents happen whether we want them to or not, that’s why they’re called accidents. (Don’t get me wrong here I’m not taking the side of sales colleagues who don’t take no for an answer, I don’t like that either, if you don’t need it, fine, but I’ve seen too many customers crying back to the store with problems to their devices that the manufacturer refuses to cover)
I also acknowledge the fact that sales targets are not a good way to motivate sales colleagues and run businesses, as someone said above sales advisors should be more concentrated on what the customer needs not the targets. At the end of the purchase when the customer inserts the card would have to rate the sales colleague based on the experience. The customers would leave the store happier and return for more advice and the company would strive as the customers would become once again faithful to classic shopping .
What do you think?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I always used to find Comet a lot less pushy than PC World/Currys.

It’s been 5 years since I last bought a brand new PC. Over the years before then, I bought far more from retailers like Argos and Tesco where there weren’t any pushy sales staff than from either Comet or Currys. But I do also build and repair PCs as a hobby, so I don’t need the level of support than many others might.

We miss Comet every time we need to buy a major appliance. Their collapse meant that in many towns there is now no effective competitor to Currys PCWorld if you want to consider and compare several different makes and models. Their customer service was also above average.