How Retail Salespeople Lose a Sale

The Role of Retail Selling Skills for Success

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I was asked to mystery shop a chain of specialty retail stores to give management my impression. In certain aspects, some of the stores were stronger than others, but all the employees were people with a love for the product they were selling (which is not uncommon with specialty retailers). Most people who own or work within a specialty retail area are fanatics about the product or service they sell. For example, dive shop owners love to dive and jewelry store owners love jewelry and cupcake shop owners love to bake.

This creates a universal challenge of teaching people who love a specific product how to sell it or how to add the business aspect to their hobby. In other words, the retail selling skills required to be successful are often times missing. This was the case in the chain where I mystery shopped.

When I walked into one of the chain’s stores, I was greeted wonderfully by a salesperson who asked me great questions about my shopping purpose and how he could help me. He explained that I needed to take 10 steps to be successful at the particular activity. In clear, concise language, he wrote down these steps and the eleven products I should purchase to perform each step. He then walked through the store with me to look at each item I needed.

Because of my previous experience mystery shopping at the chain’s other stores, I had some idea of what I should or shouldn’t be buying. One, the items I had planned on purchasing cost about $80-$100. When I mentioned the product to the salesperson, he suggested an alternative product that costed only $20.

Did he do a good job by suggesting I purchase a lower-priced product (which benefits me, the customer), or did he do his company a disservice by losing revenue? The one thing he accomplished by suggesting a less expensive item was creating additional trust from me. He demonstrated his concern for my best interest. On one hand, I could argue that he missed revenue, but on the other hand, he created trust, which softened me up to agree with him if he were to make another suggestion—which he did. We continued on the list, and he suggested I purchase a couple items that were more expensive than what I had in mind.

Because of that trust level, I went along with his recommendation. So in the end, the salesperson got me to spend more than I originally thought. That's great. 

Everything was going great. Based on what I had experienced so far, I was ready to write a glowing report about this spectacular employee. And then he blew it. We came to the most expensive item on the list, and the salesperson said, “Oh, don’t buy it here.” I replied, “But I love this store! I’ve been to a number of your stores, and I always leave happy.” He said, “But for this item...don’t buy it here.”

He then shared with me another company’s website and suggested I purchase the product there because they sold it at a less expensive price. I repeated, “But it would be easier for me to purchase everything here. And your product quality has always met my high standards.”

Again he said, “No, you don’t need to buy it here. Purchase the product with the other company and you’ll save $200-$300. I attempted again to give him another chance. “You have an extensive website and a big catalog. Do you have this item in your catalog or on your website? Or can your company order it for me?” Again he told me to purchase the product elsewhere. I tried everything I could to purchase the item. But by this point, I was too embarrassed to purchase from him. Too embarrassed to purchase anything!


Let’s look at the whole picture. He did a great job, gained my trust, made me a helpful list, walked me through the store, and explained everything. He did a terrific job. He blew the sale when he suggested I buy the product somewhere else. And he could have easily kept this information to himself! The other company certainly was not paying him. He should have let me purchase the product and alternatively contacted the company to communicate the price discrepancy.

I lost respect for that salesperson because he knocked his company. Here are four sales you should make every time a customer comes in your store:

  1. YOU. If customers don’t like you, they won’t do business with you.
  2. The Store. While products and visual merchandising are important, the most important aspect of the store is the atmosphere, the ambiance or what a lot of people call the “feel” of the store. Think about your favorite store. Chances are there’s something about the store that makes you feel comfortable and at ease while you’re there. You feel like you belong. That sense of belonging is very important to most Customers. A store should be designed with the Customer’s comfort in mind; otherwise, they’re not going to stay!
  1. The Experience. If the Customer likes you and likes how the store looks, sounds, smells, and “feels”, the next thing they consider is the experience they’re having. This is a hard-to-define yet vital step. Customers want to have fun while they’re shopping. Remember, retailers who provide good merchandise at good prices with good service are not what a Customer is looking for any more. They want someone to EXCEED their expectations not meet them. 
  2. The Merchandise. This is the last item the Customer has to buy—the actual merchandise. Did you get that? We’re at number 4 on a 4-item list! The merchandise is the last thing the Customer has to buy. They won’t buy the merchandise if they haven’t bought the three previous items! It’s only after the Customer has decided that they like and want to do business with you, in your store, enjoying the experience you provide that you’ll be able to move on to presenting the Customer with the merchandise they’re most likely to want, need, and buy. Too often, sales professionals jump right to #4, without spending any time working through mandatory sales #1, #2 and #3.

    In my final experience with this salesperson, he asked to sign me up for a mailing list. But he never handed me a brochure about the educational classes the store offered. He didn’t suggest I visit his company’s website to learn more about the product or the classes. Although I got along with the salesman, he was lacking in certain areas. He thought he was serving me, but in the end he turned me off and he lost a big sale.