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5 Blunders That Kill Retail Sales

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Peg owned an antique store and a hair salon and worked in a variety of retail settings before managing telecom projects across the US.

Retail shops in a rural area need convenient parking spaces and friendly salespeople.

Retail shops in a rural area need convenient parking spaces and friendly salespeople.

Can I Help You?

We've all experienced that overzealous salesperson who thinks they're helping you when all you really want to do is browse. Shopping malls used to be prime real estate for franchises that lent familiarity and comfort to shoppers. In the era of declining sales, the kiosks with commissioned salespeople may have done their part in running off business.

Nothing tends to aggravate a customer like an aggressive employee who insists you will love their latest fragrance and sprays it on you without your permission. On the other hand, the snobbery of the elite in cosmetic counters is a well-known deterrent.

Striking a happy medium between overzealous behavior and smug condescension is a tough call.

Sticks and Stones

Along that line, in some retail outlets there are clerks whose primary role is to stock the shelves. They are not interested in customers who want to touch, feel or otherwise manhandle the precious merchandise they've so carefully arranged. The way to truly deter a shopper is to allow these territorial employees to interact with customers.

If you've ever been told by a sales clerk that "customers are stupid," that means you are no exception. There is no quicker way to lose a potential sale than to insult the shopper. Once at a large retail outlet, I asked for help finding merchandise in a different size. I was told, "If the customers weren't so stupid, they'd put stuff back where it belongs." With that, the gentleman reached behind some things on the shelf, found what I was looking for and shook it at me. Before I could take a look, he tucked it into its proper place on the shelf. Score one lost sale.

Don't Touch the Merchandise

Another thing that store clerks do to deter sales is take the product out of the shopper's hands. In sales basics, the aspiring salesperson is taught that the ideal way to gain the customer's interest is to place the product in their hands. That experience allows the customer to feel the packaging, read the label on the product, and reach an approval of whatever made them pick up an item to begin with.

For a salesperson to take that item out of their hands and return it to its proper place on the shelf is tantamount to saying, "Don't touch the merchandise." Many shoppers will comply with this and walk away empty-handed.

Signs are another area of concern for the discerning customer.

Signs are another area of concern for the discerning customer.

Paper or Plastic?

Sometimes we find ourselves shopping at resale shops or non-traditional places like flea markets, thrift stores, or garage sales. These are not the ideal places to expect proper packaging yet, when an attempt is made to bag up the purchase it must follow certain guidelines.

Shopping at a local resale shop, I found the perfect item to add to my collection of useless bric-a-brac and dust collectors. The retail shop owner was behind the counter eating her lunch, a noxious burger loaded with pungent onions, when I decided to check out and pay for my item. With greasy hands, she took the item from me, emptied her Burger King bag of its remaining French fries and placed my purchase in the stained and odoriferous bag.

Packaging is important. It's what allows the finer department stores to claim the higher prices. They carefully fold the item of clothing, wrap it in tissue paper and insert it into a clean and beautifully decorated bag emblazoned with their logo. To enhance customer loyalty, they use shopping bags with elegant handles to package up the items.

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Items on Display

Items used for display need to be of the highest quality. While shopping at a retail outlet I noticed a display dress suspended from the ceiling of the store. Running along the length of the dress bottom was a large stain that looked like it might be blood. Instantly, I assumed that their merchandise was either previously worn and returned by customers or used by employees before being sold. In either case, it was not appealing in a retail clothing store selling new merchandise.

According to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. A whopping 80% crash and burn."

Convenient parking space taken by the salon owner.

Convenient parking space taken by the salon owner.

Parking Wars

For the standalone stores that are on the rise, the need for adequate, safe and convenient parking is key. When I owned a store on a historic downtown square, street parking was seriously limited.

It was amazing to discover that many of the shop owners parked their personal vehicle in one of the two designated spaces at the frontage of their stores. One innovative store owner decided to park in the adjacent shop owner's allotted spaces. Her plan backfired when the other shop owner started parking in the first shop owner's space in retaliation. Neither solution benefited their intended clientele.

Most customers want convenient access in a spot near the store. Without that, they are likely to shop at other locations that offer adequate parking.

Allergies seem to be on the rise which can also interfere with sales. At one particular lingerie store in the mall, entering the store guarantees an instant bout of uncontrolled sneezing. My companion faithfully waits for me to shop and return to the bench outside, refusing to go inside the store. He has plenty of company out there with the other men who are either allergic to heavy perfume or embarrassed by the busts of manikins displaying scanty items at eye level.

Another way to avoid sales is for the employee to yell across the store asking if there are any more size triple-A brassieres in the back stock. Although that's never happened to me, I've overheard it.

Eating out in casual places that are occupied by the locals can be intimidating.

Eating out in casual places that are occupied by the locals can be intimidating.

Drive Off Business

Another way to discourage new business is to already have a full complement of regulars whose presence is both a comfort and reassurance that you're successful. Nothing beats visiting a store or restaurant for the first time and being ignored in favor of friends or family who receive special privileges over newcomers. Small town eateries are famous for this sort of marketing technique.

Although it's nice to see a familiar face, if you're not one of the in-crowd, it feels awkward when Billy or Bobbie hoots and hollers across the room about local goings on that don't include you and never will. Face it, you're not welcome.

What Not to Do

For some business owners who've built a monument to themselves, they don't care if business comes in the door. For others, who truly want to make a living, it's important to see things from the customer's point of view. Although the much-used adage, "The customer is always right," doesn't apply in every case, business owners need to treat their patrons with dignity and respect if they want to continue in business.

If a business owner is absent due to reasons beyond their control, one good measure of how they're doing can be seen by sending in secret shoppers from time to time to test the water. Those anonymous shoppers can tell in an instant what's right and what's wrong with a particular establishment. Fixing what's broken will result in an improved atmosphere, happier clients and an increased profit margin.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Peg Cole


Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on April 06, 2018:

Hi Neil, I appreciate your insightful comments and thanks for stopping in to share your knowledge.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on April 06, 2018:

Cynthia, that is a great point! I have personally experienced that reaction when I go into a store dressed in my working-in-the-garden type clothes. The reaction of the store help is decidedly different than when I'm dressed as a corporate professional. As you have pointed out, and as I learned long ago while working in the banking industry, people with loads of money sometimes wear dusty overalls!

Thanks so much for the great insight into customer service issues.

Neil28 on April 03, 2018:


Whereas same stores giving home delivery and allowing returns from users without any problem.

Also, they are giving extra discounts than store through Promocodeclub or mailer coupons.

Stores should focus more on the points mentioned by you.

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on April 03, 2018:

From the perspective of a customer, all of these examples are definitely excellent ways to run off customers. Another thought that came to mind while I was reading is that store owners try to gauge wealth of a customer by their appearance. They will go out of their way for someone who they think will spend a lot of money and completely overlook a customer who they have judged to be in a lower economic group. Truth is, you can't tell who will spend the most even if you know who has the most, much less if you are trying to guess by appearance.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on April 02, 2018:

Hi Frank, Glad you enjoyed the shopping trip. If these things weren't true it would probably be pretty funny. And you're absolutely right about online shopping affecting retail sales. Back in the day, the better department stores routinely delivered merchandise to people's homes while shopping from the Sear's Catalog was a family tradition.

Thanks so much for stopping in and for sharing your insights.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on April 02, 2018:

Peggy this was fun to read and Loved the videos especially, the dumb questions.. Now I think all this on-line ordering kills retail sales... several books stores closed and children's toy stores.. :( thanks for the share

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on April 02, 2018:

Hi Peggy, Working in retail is challenging at best from both sides of the counter. There are probably a million amazing stories that cashiers and customers could tell about their experiences. Thanks for coming by.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 01, 2018:

I can well imagine this kind of thing happening although I never worked in a retail setting. Those who work retail probably have a million stories to tell. Thanks for sharing some of your observations Peg.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on February 16, 2018:

Hello Margaret, It's good to meet a fellow buyer. I worked for years as a telecom buyer for a global corporation. I bet we could share some interesting stories about that sort of experience. Thanks for adding your valuable input to the sales and purchasing process. Your department manager had the right idea.

Margaret Schindel from Massachusetts on February 16, 2018:

Peg, I worked in a department store one summer while I was in college and, after graduating, joined the executive training program and became an assistant buyer and then the training manager for a well-known, bi-coastal retail chain. Everything you wrote here really resonated with me! I still remember being on the floor folding scarves in the accessories department (a very tedious job) as a trainee and having a fellow trainee complain about the customers constantly messing up the attractive table display we had worked so hard to make appealing. The department manager, who was supervising that portion of our training, had to explain to her that every time a customer messed up the display, it meant we had done a good job that would likely result in a sale (which is what paid our salaries).