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5 Blunders That Kill Retail Sales

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 taking 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 confirm 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 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.

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 vehicles in one of the two designated spaces at the front 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 to a spot near the store. Without that, they are likely to shop at other locations that offer adequate parking.

Allergies and the Store Environment

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 group 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.

Don't Ignore the Issues

Some business owners who've built a monument to themselves 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).

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on October 07, 2017:

Hello Bill, I figured you for a smart entrepreneur after hearing about your quail egg business. Yes, it is astounding sometimes to see the goings on in retail businesses. Thanks so much for the visit and the input.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 07, 2017:

I've worked retail and owned a retail business, and every single thing you said is right on! There are times when I wonder if the store owner has a brain in his or her head, the ridiculous stuff they do or allow to be done in their store.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 08, 2017:

Same here, Paula. I've walked out of my share of places that either treated me with disrespect or that displayed bad attitudes, no matter what the bargain price may be. Courtesy, respect and a professional attitude is truly important to me when letting go of my hard-earned dollars.

I'm glad you found the Burger King bag story amusing. I laughed about it later. Much later. It was mind-boggling.

Suzie from Carson City on June 08, 2017:

Peg...You are SO correct on all of this! Truthfully, I am a bit of a critic on "customer service." It is so important to me at all times that I have literally turned around, walked out, never to return to a particular place~~EVEN if it's closer, has better prices or more convenient for me!

LOL....I can't think of anything to do but laugh over the greasy Burger King bag!! That's a real head-scratcher, as Sha asked, "WHAT was she thinking?" Besides, the least she could have done was leave you the french fries !! LOL....Customer Service? Maybe not. Paula

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 08, 2017:

Hi Shauna, Yes, she really did put my purchase in a used burger bag. I was able to quickly remove the item and told her thanks all the same, I really didn't need a bag. I said she might want to save it for her next customer. As if... Hah ha. Maybe she was doing her part for recycling. Nice to see you here today!

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 08, 2017:

Hi Lawrence, A mystery shopper can really get to the bottom of things. Sounds like your wife was able to find examples of both good and bad customer service. Nice of you to stop in and share your experiences here. Thanks for the great comment.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 08, 2017:

A store clerk actually put your purchase in a used Burger King bag? What the hell was she thinking??? What did you do, Peg?

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 04, 2017:

Hello Louise, I'm glad you got a kick out of the video. That one was pretty funny.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 04, 2017:

Hi Mckbirdbks, I'm sure you had some interesting stories to share from when you owned the bookstore. Even online sales require a level of courtesy, responsiveness and good merchandise with a description of any flaws or selling points. Thanks for stopping in and for your nice comment.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 04, 2017:

Hello Becky, Thanks for sharing the experience of owning a store and how valuable knowledge is in the antique business. Those details take a lot of time to learn and are difficult to impart to those who have not lived through the vintage era.

I agree with you about the KFC manager who publicly berates her staff. It's no wonder she can't keep good help.

Thanks, as always, for an insightful comment and for the visit.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 04, 2017:

Hi Martie, Looks like I skipped your comment. Sorry about that. I agree that training is key to customer satisfaction and good return business. Thanks for your valuable input.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on June 03, 2017:


A couple of years ago my wife did a 'stint' as a mystery shopper for some big brands.

In one exercise she was to go into various computer stores and see what the sales pitch was like for a reputable brand of printer. She was given a $50 music voucher (Itunes) for if the sales person got it right.

One store got it right off the mark, we now go to that store a lot.

Another big store, with an international brand name not only got it wrong, but tried to sell us a printer that isn't supposed to be distributed in New Zealand! Needless to say, we never go there!

Great article, and a lot we can actually learn from with marketing our talents.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on May 08, 2017:

That was interesting to read. The video with the stupid questions people ask made me laugh lol.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on May 07, 2017:

Hello Peg - Retail stores are outside my traveling circles. You seem to have covered a number of areas of inattention. Good to see you publish here.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 06, 2017:

Hello Ms. Dora, We are all subject to the unrelenting scrutiny of suspicious shopkeepers and overzealous clerks. I understand your situation with the storekeeper's need to protect their merchandise and the unsubstantiated scrutiny. I was reluctant to hire people to run my store in my absence knowing that my reputation was at stake. Thanks for stopping in to share your take on this.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 06, 2017:

Hello Diana Burrell-Shipton,

Thank you for taking time to read this. Being a shop-keeper I'm sure you know all these things (and more) from experience. I like that you make your shopper's visits interesting and fun. The hunt for treasure is the best part of the find.

Sorry to hear of your mother's illness. My condolences to you.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 06, 2017:

Hello Mary Wickison, It's good to know there are trainers out there who educate on the challenges and opportunities of customer service. Truly, that is valuable and important work. I have on occasion asked employees what kind of training they received when they were hired. It is appalling that many are never given the tools to handle their jobs.

I like the quote, "We don't hire people and train them to be nice. We just hire nice people."

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on May 05, 2017:

I can totally relate to this. I did really well there, because I was friendly and knew about the merchandise. If I had to leave for awhile, my husband would watch the store, and sometimes he was lacking. If he did not know the answer, he would tell them I would be back soon. We did not have cell phones then. I usually had them come back and laugh about how confused he looked while telling them that. It was antiques and collectibles, so he had an excuse. I labeled the item, as well as I could, but a lot of it was in my head. I could not write a letter telling about the makers and the period they were made. That just did not work either.

The local KFC has just about killed their business, by the new manager they hired. The employees have given up, because she yells at them. I have gone in there and heard her loudly berating the employee for the entire time I was in there eating. The food quality has gone down and no one wants to go in to eat. The drive through is the only place you can find someone ordering and that has gone down to a trickle, because of the quality of the food. They also cannot keep employees there. I heard this same manager say she did not understand why no one would stay for more than a week or two. I could have told her that she was the reason for all the problems there. She should have been instilling pride in the food. She never should have raised her voice to them and no one should have heard her, if she did need to talk to an employee, especially not a customer.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 05, 2017:

Very good success tips for business owners and employees. Added to all these examples, I remember walking into a store and the owner never looked up--until I started down an aisle where I would be out of her view, then she quickly rose and stood where she could see me--still not saying anything to me. Compare with another business owner who greeted me like a neighbor and was as helpful as can be. Both the owner/clerk and the merchandise ought to deserve my dollar.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 05, 2017:

Hello there again, Glenis, Sorry to make you late to your appointment but thanks for reading and watching the videos.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 05, 2017:

Hi Moonlake, It's so good to see you again. Sorry you had that unsatisfactory experience with the snobby shopkeepers. That kind of service often makes me wonder why people go into business.

Years ago when I worked in New Accounts in a bank, a mature male customer came in wearing faded bib overalls. He was there to renew his jumbo certificate of deposit (over 100,000 dollars). That was when I learned that looks can be deceiving.

Nice to see you today, and thanks for the helpful comment.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 05, 2017:

Hello Chitrangada, Yes, sometimes we have little choice in retail shopping. We were just remembering the days when we first moved out to the country and had to drive nearly twenty miles to the nearest grocery store. Now, we have a WalMart which is convenient, if sometimes less than hospitable. Thanks so much for your kind remarks and for stopping in.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on May 05, 2017:

No business owner can afford bad-mannered and unprofessional staff. Internal training should therefore be an ongoing program. I hope this hub will be read by those who need to know what kills retail sales. Thanks, Peg, for tackling this topic.

Diana Burrell-Shipton from Hubbard, Ohio, USA on May 05, 2017:

Yes !

As a shop owner, I've seen it all and have learned from my years of helping my Grandparents at the flea market in the 70's and my Mom in the antique mall in the 90's.

Now, with my own shop that started out as Mom's until she got too sick), I am careful to try to make our "Treasure Hunt" a fun experience.

More shopkeepers need to remember what it's like to be a new customer.

Mary Wickison from USA on May 05, 2017:

Your example of the woman putting your purchase in her hamburger bag shocked me.

I have had some excellent customer service and some which was appalling. I used to be a store trainer and a big part of that was teaching customer service.

You've given some excellent examples of what turns people off.

Glen Rix from UK on May 05, 2017:

I was so entertained by this article Peg (Peggy?) that I'm now running late for a meeting with friends. Watched every video. One of my favourite films ever is Fried Green Tomatoes and I love the scene were she runs her can deliberately into that of the girl who snatched her space. How I empathise with that character!

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 05, 2017:

Hello Flourish, Thanks for sharing your customer service experience at that salon. It is disturbing sometimes the way people treat their customers. Sometimes it feels as if we're invisible.

I love that sign on the Bait Sandwiches place, too. There was another store in Murphy whose sign said the same thing until the road was widened and they tore the place down. Now there's "O Donut" to replace it. It reminds me of the roadside cafes that advertise, "Eat here, get gas."

Thanks for stopping in and for your great comment.

moonlake from America on May 05, 2017:

We had a shop in our town, very expensive. Owned by a family first the dad and then the son. The employees had their noses high up in the air I could never figure out why. They had to work for a living I was the person in their store that didn't have to work. I should have had my nose in the air.

One day my daughter and son-in-law came for a visit. They ask me to watch the babies while they went shopping for winter coats. They headed to the snobby shop. That shop carried best and most expensive brands. The owner was there and he treated them as if they didn't have a dime in their pocket. My millioner son-in-law was not going to put up with that kind of treatment and walked out without buying a thing.

That shop lost so many customers because of their bad attitude. Their out of business now.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on May 04, 2017:

Very interesting read and completely relatable!

Retail stores have their plus and minus points. I agree with most of your observations. But sometimes we do not have much options rather than go to the retail store nearby.

Loved the humour in your hub and the videos!

Thanks for sharing!

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 04, 2017:

Hello dearest Mar, I'd forgotten about your early retail experience. I also began my career at a dimestore and learned so much while there. Our manager was known to lurk behind the shelves and stare at employees and customers. He was continuously on the alert to shoplifting and ran off more than his fair share

I'm glad you liked the Kathy Bates clip. It's one of my favorite scenes from a classic movie. And the Barrett Strong song is an all time favorite, too. The spaghetti scene was just too fun to leave out. Thanks so much for liking it as much as I do. It's better than NutriSystem as an appetite suppressant. Love you, too. P

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 04, 2017:

Hello Glenis, Those surveys seem to be generally ignored by the stores that really need to hear about their customers' experiences. It is amazing that some of them stay in business. I agree that you get what you pay for in terms of service. Thanks for coming by.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 04, 2017:

Hi Susan, It seems that you're right about prevailing attitudes. I was appalled at the videos I watched on the subject of customers and what a pain it is to wait on them. Thanks for stopping by to share your experiences.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 04, 2017:

This was a superb article and the examples were perfect. Love that dress and the bait sandwiches sign. I bet they are delicious, haha I used to go with my daughter to a local nail salon for manicures and pedicures and would also treat my nieces when they visited. The last time I visited they were very busy, and I had been waiting about 20-30 minutes. They knew I was next. The man finished with his prior customer and summoned me but before I could make it to his chair, in the front door walked a young beauty queen type who cut right in front of me. It was obvious she was accustomed to special treatment. He told her to come this way. I walked out and have never been back. She may be more beautiful but I have the money to pay for it and I tip well. I was really sad and insulted.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on May 04, 2017:

Dear Peg,

As you know, my first job was cashier at F W Woolworths. I can totally relate to your observations - love your wry humor!

I love this Barrett Strong song - never knew the artist's name before, have known the song since way back.

Oh lawd, I love me some "Fried Green Tomatoes"...what a belly - laughing scene with Kathy Bates.

And it may be awhile before I eat thanks for that... ;)

Love you and such a treat to see a new hub from you, mar

Glen Rix from UK on May 04, 2017:

Nowadays I sometimes get a slip with my receipt asking for feedback on the service that has been provided and promising entry into a cash draw if I participate. These surveys are usually by businesses whose service is already excellent. I recently received appalling service from an incredibly ill mannered shop assistant and emailed head office to complain and to enquire if they gave training in customer service to their staff. Hopefully it had an impact. But, generally speaking, if businesses pay minimum wage then they are not going to get staff who provide polite service with a smile. Society in general seems to have become increasingly disrespectful through the years. I had an uninvited hawker at my door yesterday and I wouldn't repeat the abusive language hurled in my direction when I declined to buy from him.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on May 04, 2017:

Things have sure changed over the years. I find that store employees just don't care about their customers anymore. I've boycotted many places where the store employees are rude or just don't give a damn about anything.