U.S. ‘Hard-Sell’ Tactics Invades London

Jul 12, 2010

By Tom Ryan

According to an article in the Daily Mail, “U.S.-style,
hard-sell tactics” have crossed the ocean to British retailers. Although
some of those practices mentioned included outright lying to a customer on
how an apparel item looks on them to get a sale, it also included somewhat
standard practices such as offering alternatives for desired items, suggesting
complementary items for add-on sales, and recommending signing up for the store
card for a discount.

“In the past few years, the U.K. seems to have changed from being a nation
of shopkeepers that could barely be bothered to stop gossiping with their friends
to acknowledge your presence, into a terrifying army of highly trained sales
ninjas who will say and do anything to try to part you from your money,” wrote
the author Claire Coleman.

The article summarized six key “tricks” used
by sales associates:

  1. Saying you have to take a minimum number of items into the fitting room
    and deliberately giving you basics or items that co-ordinate with your choice
    in the hope you’ll be tempted.
  2. Offering you tops, jackets or shoes to try on with the item you picked
    up to try to up-sell or increase the number of things you buy.
  3. Telling you that you can bring an item back if you don’t like it
    to try to get a definite sale.
  4. Trying to get you to sign up for a store card so you can get a discount
    on the goods.
  5. Trying to sell you shoe care products to go with shoes, or jewelry to go
    with an outfit.
  6. Taking your details for a mailing list — often they’ll get
    commission for doing this and you’ll be bombarded with emails and mailings.

A worker at LK Bennett, a women’s apparel store, said the tougher economy
has led to more aggressive tactics. Sales assistants have always worked on
commission, but Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were recently introduced
for every member of the sales team.

“These are essentially sales targets for all areas, and
they are monitored weekly,” said the worker. “So sales have gone
from being simply about supplementing your basic pay with commission, to something
the job could be riding on. As a result, I know people who will try anything
to get a sale.”

Discussion Question: Which hard-sell retail tactics do you consider excessive
and which ones are acceptable?

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14 Comments on "U.S. ‘Hard-Sell’ Tactics Invades London"

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Kevin Graff
10 years 10 months ago

Having spent time shopping (or rather, being ignored) in way too many stores in the UK, the news that staff are now at least attempting to interact and ‘sell’ isn’t all bad. Oh sure, the lying and deceit tactics are awful, and have no place on anyone’s sales floor. But attempting to accessorize or using a solid return policy to make buying easier are just good selling and service.

Short sighted thinkers will only think of satisfying the cash register and make the mistake of pushing or ‘tricking’ customers. Successful ‘sellers’ will put the customer first, and in the process end up providing them with more complete solutions. Let’s face it, whether it’s on this side of the pond or that side, all retail staff could and should be selling more than they do.

Bob Phibbs
10 years 10 months ago

With all due respect, Claire Coleman is a nut. So customers would rather NOT know how to take care of their shoes, NOT try something at home with the option to return and NOT be shown additional items? Anyone in any country taking this as the “voice of the consumer” would be crazy.

Sales numbers used to be basic metrics for employees. If England has rediscovered that, maybe American retailers can too.

Ryan Mathews
10 years 10 months ago

I’m with Kevin–nice to know the British retail industry has come clawing and scrambling into the 19th Century. They aren’t hard sell techniques–they are basic selling techniques.

Len Lewis
Len Lewis
10 years 10 months ago

This is simply suggestive selling. Some do it better than others. How do you think the tobacco companies got us all to start smoking cigarettes years ago? Maybe I should do a new book: “The Art of Lying.”

Mel Kleiman
10 years 10 months ago

These items sound like customer service tactics in most cases, rather than high-pressure sales tactics.

Paula Rosenblum
10 years 10 months ago

I agree with the majority here. There is nothing particularly onerous about any of these selling techniques. The closest I can come to vaguely deceptive tactics is pushing a store credit card for a discount. I’ve fallen for that one myself and discovered the interest rate is wacky after the fact.

The most onerous sales tactic I ever heard of was showing a customer prices on a corporate intranet that looks just like the standard eCommerce site except for different (higher!) prices. We know who that was. The “customer service kings.”

All the rest are just proper selling techniques.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
10 years 10 months ago

Other than #4 and #6, normally there are not enough people in the store to even do the rest of these “tricks.” While the British sales force may be trained to use these techniques, they are likely to have some success in Britain. However, U.S. sales techniques only work in about 10% of the world. Adopting techniques from one country and applying them wholesale in another country is not a strategy for success.

Marge Laney
10 years 10 months ago

None of these tactics are hard sell when used by professional well-trained sales associates. I find “shopkeepers that could barely be bothered to stop gossiping with their friends to acknowledge your presence” a lot more irritating than well intentioned “sales ninjas”…utilizing “U.S.-style, hard-sell tactics.”

The new normal that places a higher premium on the traffic that comes through the doors of most retailers is finally requiring them to pay attention to who they select to deliver their brand promise and how they train, monitor, and reward them as well. I think it’s great that with all the choices consumers have today the pressure is on not only to deliver a great value, they have to wrap it in a good quality, and well informed, attentive experience as well.

Bill Hanifin
10 years 10 months ago

I consider the majority of the tactics mentioned to be helpful in nature and some higher end specialty retailers in the US would classify these activities as part of a personal shopper service!

As for asking for an email, I think most consumers are savvy enough to know when to say “no.” No pressure should be felt.

The tactics cited here are so much a part of core retail selling practices in North America that I wonder if the author was spoofing us here in the states?

Jeremy Lambertsen
Jeremy Lambertsen
10 years 10 months ago

Selling “tactics” don’t work by themselves. The sales associate builds trust and relationship with the customer through conversation and inquiry. A good salesperson is a valuable resource to the customer–that’s where the value is. Tactics don’t build relationships, people build relationships. In the long run, it is a relationship with the customer that will increase lifetime sales.

Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 10 months ago
When I first read the article and title as “hard selling tactics” I was confused. With one exception I saw these as good selling and customer-service friendly. The one I did question was the validity of buying the product and returning it if you did not like it. While I know and understand the option; somehow it did not read as true in this article. So I am saying the British are practicing good customer service skills if the motive is giving the buyer options and accessories to beautify and enhance the main purchase. Several years ago, Macy’s, as one example, had a person on staff in the men’s department to assist regular customers select the best suit or what they were there to purchase. Then he would offer additions to accessorize the purchase. I never took that to be over aggressive. As a matter of fact, I appreciated it and looked forward to his suggestions knowing yes, he was making a sale; but I was receiving what I considered to be exceptional customer service.… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
10 years 10 months ago

“Sounds like a fab service to me!…”
– Stacey Willis, Exeter

This was one of the remarks offered in the comments section to the original article, and I think it sums up my thoughts (as well, apparently, as practically everyone on RW).

As for the idea that hovering, attentive (and occasionally even useful) sales associates are something properly described as “American”…I wish! (Reading the article, I kept seeing a reference to “U.S.” and thought “I wonder where this place called the U.S. is…it certainly can’t be the United States, where optimal staffing levels approach zero.”)

Bernice Hurst
10 years 10 months ago

This is news? This is more like a trashy daily tabloid trying to fill summer-sad space. There are an awful lot of US customs that have spread around the world, some better than others, but I think this piece and theory are somewhat over the top. A sales person is a sales person is a sales person and ever more shall be so.

Geoffrey Igharo
Geoffrey Igharo
10 years 9 months ago
Another variant of the hard-sell that I’ve experienced in London is being force-fed a “promotional” offer at the register, regardless of whether said offer is appropriate or timely. The newsstand company WH Smith is the worst practitioner of this. You take two newspapers to the register, end up waiting far too long on line there, then when it’s finally your turn the cashier wastes more of your time offering you a “special deal today” on multipacks of candy/sweets. You say no and often they waste even more time telling you why it’s a great offer. This happens even in WH Smith news stands even at train stations and airports, where customers are clearly in a hurry and there are long lines at the cash registers. It’s amazing that the company insists on lengthening transaction times with this tactic when customers need to pay quickly and move on. I have asked several of the cashiers why they do this and they have told me that the company requires them to make these offers. Worst of all… Read more »

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