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Getting the most out of your Sales Assistant

Blackhood

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As some of you know I have been in tailoring and fashion retail for a fair number of years. Trained on the Row I have moved through a few Savile Row houses, more than a few Jermyn Street shirt-makers and into the grubby world of High Fashion.

Over the years I have been, managed and employed many Sales Assistants and when the perfect customer meets the perfect SA, there is space for magic. No one likes to be sold to, and no SA wants to force you into buying something you don't want.

The tips bellow are basically cliff-notes that I've made over the years that will help you get the best service. They're not perfect, they are not all-encompassing, but they are a damn good start. Feel free to add your own or call me a bloody fool!


Basic Tips:

Do make small talk with SAs. If you simply mumble "just looking" they will assume you're a jerk who doesn't want to spend money with them. Much better to comment on the weather and generally behave as if you're at home in the store. This serves two purposes really; first to give you a good rapport with the SA so they are more likely to bend the rules in your favour, and second to make you look and feel comfortable. SAs don't tend to hover around comfortable customers because they know you'll call them over when you need help.

Do take the SAs name and tell them that once you have had a look around you will tell them which items you wish to try on.

Do go in with the intention of buying two or more items. Most fashion shops put crazy pressure on their staff to sell two or more items to each customer. Even a pair of $5 socks can raise the number of items and save the SA a lot of stress, preventing them from pressure-selling other items just to save their own ass.


Don't tell the SA that "I own loads of your stuff", it may sound like you're justifying yourself being there but 99% of the time it actually sounds like "I'm just looking, my wardrobe is so overflowing that I don't need anything else, but please remember that I'm a VIP". Needless to say that you will not be treated as a VIP.

Do ask the SA for their opinion if you are struggling to chose between two items (a slim or regular fit jacket for example), they look at the subtleties of fit and colour for a living and can out-analyse even the most hardcore iGent.

Do remember that SAs only take a small commission - typically between 1% and 3%. If they are telling you that a $100 shirt isn't as nice as a $150 shirt their personal stake in the outcome is just fifty cents.

Don't EVER think you are a big-timer. It doesn't matter if you spend $15,000 in Prada or $90,000 in Tom Ford, there is always a bigger fish. I have had customers who have sent private jets to pick up boxes of clothes from my stores without ever seeing them, with the intention of giving anything that does not fit to their staff. I've never met a "Big Timer" who wasn't an ass, and I've never let a genuine Big Timer leave without a free gift or two.

Don't ask for discounts. Designer stores don't offer discounts, and in these days of central computer systems even a small discount is flagged and investigated. There are however items that the store can "lose in the system" such as bottles of fragrances (there are always "tester" bottles that get used up and not replaced) and tailoring costs. In my experience you are unlikely to get free stuff unless you are buying 5+ items or a full outfit, eg. suit, shirt, tie and shoes. If you are offered a discount by an SA you've known for a while consider whether you need it. 99% of the time that discount comes from the allotted amount the SA has to offer their friends and family.

Do ask questions about the wider brand. SAs live in permanent fear of Mystery Shoppers who are paid to act as customers and test everything from their product knowledge to the knot in their tie. Asking about the brand, giving a scenario for which you need an outfit and testing their ability to add in accessories will result in your getting a textbook experience of luxury shopping. BEWARE this trick should not be used unless you have the inclination to hear the history of the brand and be sold several items. Great if you want to walk away after an hour with 10 items, not good if you just want a new shirt in 15 minutes.

Do write an email to head office if you liked your experience. I have seen people receive promotions based on the fact HO got two letters of commendation in 6 months for an SA. Sure, it might take you 15 minutes, but showing that kind of appreciation is more valuable than you can imagine. For many SAs they are move valuable than a reference when moving to another company.

I shouldn't have to say, but ...


The next few should be obvious to anyone who didn't grow up on the street, but sadly a day doesn't go by where people commit the crimes bellow.

Do treat the SA with respect. Worst case scenario they are a young person working a shitty job with low pay and "servile attitude" in their employment contract. Best case scenario they are highly trained and passionate about their products. Either way, their life is in no way improved when you treat them like shit. And you may feel like the Big Man but you better believe that every item will take a 5% price hike and all your favourite stuff is mysteriously out of stock. Be Nice.

Don't treat the clothes you try on as you would your own. Trying on a suit? You should never be dumping the trousers on the floor and expecting the SA to clean up after you. They never expect you to be able to perfectly fold a stack of polo shirts but a pile of cloth and tissue paper on a bench is not cool. Simply stack them up and hand them to the SA as if they were a human being.

Don't visit a high end store after the gym. Even if you would put on a thousand dollar suit covered in sweat, an SA shouldn't have to help you do so. I don't even know why this needs explaining, but seriously, don't put on clothes that you don't own when you're dripping in sweat. Please.

Some general advice about complaining:

Please consider whether you really need to complain. I know things seem like a big deal at the time, but if an SA gets complained about it can really suck. Complaints go onto the record, and for an SA to have 4 complaints per year is considered very serious.

Imagine how many times in a month you don't submit a document quickly enough, or don't return a call. Do you think you could manage three months without pissing off a single person enough for them to mention to someone in your department that they are annoyed?

Remember that your complaint could very well cost them their job. Naturally there are occasions where it is merited; they were abusive, duplicitous or in some way inexcusably wrong. Fine. They gave you the wrong size t-shirt and you had to come back to the shop? Seriously, a smile and a joke will get you better service than thunderclouds above your head.

If your complaint is about a product rather than the service, do make sure you offer some praise for the staff. I've witnessed store managers getting shouted at because a customer found a fault with a product. Obviously the fault is with the product, not the employee but (and I quote) "If the customer doesn't feel like he can talk to you [as a manager] then you've failed to foster a relationship with him, which is unacceptable!" Ignoring the fact that Mr Customer's secretary wrote the email to Customer Services in 30 seconds.




Obviously this advice has varying validity depending on whether you're in Hugo Boss or Huntsman, but generally speaking if you follow these rules you will make your SAs life easier, and have a much nicer shopping experience. Sales Assistants the world over have favourite customers, and very few are chosen because of their personality; they are chosen because for once the SA feels like they are respected.
 

Wayward

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This was fantastic, and really should apply to more facets in life as well.

Thanks for the thoughtful insights.
 

vida

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Nice advice and guidance. Honestly, I always treat SA's respectfully and cannot imagine why one would not.
 

YRR92

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Having done sales (little baby non-commissioned sales), I can cosign pretty much everything here.
 

FlyingMonkey

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While I am always polite and friendly to SAs (as I am to everyone), I really don't like SAs (or anyone) to be in my face. I don't like to be followed in a shop, leaped upon the moment I look at or touch anything, asked if I need help or told about things that I am not interested in. The more I am bothered by an SA the less likely I will be to buy anything and if I feel really uncomfortable I might just leave the shop immediately. My ideal shop would be one where I was free to look around in the time I wanted and only when I wanted to ask a particular question or actually needed assistance would I be able to find and talk to an SA. Thereafter, everything written above applies! And yes, I know that makes me slightly anti-social by some people's standards, but I am sure I am not the only person who enjoys shopping as a largely quiet and solitary pleasure.
 

MikeDT

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Do remember that SAs only take a small commission - typically between 1% and 3%. If they are telling you that a $100 shirt isn't as nice as a $150 shirt their personal stake in the outcome is just fifty cents.

Doesn't that vary a lot? Like some SAs are basically on commission only or is a large portion of their salary, or will get disciplined or even fired if they don't meet their targets. Although not apparel, like the SAs that pressure you into buying the $50 HDMI cable and not the $5 one. Or are often trying to get you to buy their expensive care spray to protect your new shoes.
 

Superfudge

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This might as well have been titled "getting the most out of your phrenologist". I shouldn't need to get the most out of a sales assistant; in an increasing online world where sales assistants in bricks and mortar stores are becoming an obsolete relic of a dying business model, the burden is upon the sales assitant to demonstrate their value to the customer.

Of course, you should always treat a person with respect and politeness whoever they are, but that's the extent of the relationship. Also, you want customers to go in with a view to purchasing a certain number of items? And to write in with compliments but never with complaints? You could have saved a few paragraphs and just written "do a sales assistant's job for them".
 

Blackhood

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Doesn't that vary a lot? Like some SAs are basically on commission only or is a large portion of their salary, or will get disciplined or even fired if they don't meet their targets. Although not apparel, like the SAs that pressure you into buying the $50 HDMI cable and not the $5 one. Or are often trying to get you to buy their expensive care spray to protect your new shoes.

Yes and No. Generally those sales people who are paid almost entirely on commission tend to work in high-value stores. From the business owners perspective you have to remember they still want a good deal. At a few percent the SA would have to sell two million dollars of stock a year to make $20k. That number is very achievable even in small cities but the merchandise and brand have to be up to achieving that number. Much of the time it is cheaper for the business owner to give them a set wage and not eat into his margins with commissions. This depends massively on local culture though, I know in the USA an SAs pay can be up to 80% commission whereas in Europe you're more likely to find commissions make up barely 10% of the pay packet.

With regard to the extras (I've never worked electricals, but I assume expensive cables are incentivised -sell a £50 cable and get £5 bonus) I assume that it comes from the pressure to sell multiple items. At one org that I was in a had to fire a guy because his average Units Per Tansaction was less than 2.00 even though he was hitting his sales targets. It is easy to sell a pair of socks, suede protector or spare laces to get that UPT without much stress.
 

Punjabjat

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I appreciate the notes...I lean towards FlyingMonkey on this...I appreciate a hello and I'm here if you need help, but don't follow me around.
 

Blackhood

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No one likes to be followed around a store. Its difficult for the SA though; most stores have a policy that says "greet the customer, allow 60 seconds to brows and then re-approach", even if they don't have this rule to follow there is always the risk that another SA will swoop in and try to steal a customer from you.

Do take the SAs name and tell them that once you have had a look around you will tell them which items you wish to try on.
This is the best way to stop the SA hovering over you. They are assured that any sale goes in their name, and they feel confident leaving you to roam that store without keeping a tab on you.
 

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