Way back in the days when I was writing copy on an IBM Selectric, I did ad work for a small, independent consumer electronics chain that specialized in selling high-end audio equipment. Service was its specialty and sales associates lived the business, spending whatever time was necessary to answer customer questions. The stores had an all-star list of customers including rock musicians, comedians, actors, and plenty of CEOs.
A couple of years after working on the account, a rival chain opened that offered almost no service, but advertised prices that were well below my client's. Suddenly, people were coming into its stores and picking the sales associates' brains only to leave to buy at the "crazy" guy down the highway. That made a lot of sales people working in the store angry since many of them made a nice living with the commissions they earned.
A similar situation has occurred in recent years with the showrooming effect.
"I had a guy come in six months ago. I spent a half an hour with him, trying on four pairs of shoes before getting up and saying, 'Thanks, now I know what to get when I buy them online,'" Nelson Springer, a shoe salesman at Macy's, told CNNMoney.
Mr. Springer said that he lost about $5,000 in commissions this past year because of people going elsewhere to buy. Some of those lost sales may have even been to Macys.com. The department store chain saw its same-store numbers increase 2.5 percent during the holiday season while online jumped more than 50 percent.
Macy's, according the CNNMoney piece, has tried to help Mr. Springer and others get credit for sales made by letting them complete the transaction online for customers, but commission numbers continue to drop.
Will retailers such as Macy's be able to continue paying sales associates largely through commissions in coming years?