What Do Retail Sales People Do?

Consistently, the post on my blog that has been read the most is “Short-Circuit” City Admits Defeat.

I criticized Circuit City for their decision to lay off their most highly compensated sales staff. I was assuming that they paid their staff a combination of salary and commission. So my conclusion was that they were laying off the sales people who earned the most commissions. Rather short-sighted in my opinion.

Last week I was speed-reading through a stack of old magazines and I saw an article praising Circuit City’s new “24/24 Pickup Guarantee.” You order the product on-line and Circuit City promises that you will be able to pick up your order at the local store within 24 minutes. If they do not fulfill their promise, the customer will receive a $24.00 Circuit City Gift Card.

OK. Fine. “Bricks and Clicks” in action. Order it on-line and pick it up in the store. Order it on-line and return it at the store, No hassle. No big deal. No need for salespeople.

I was passing by a Circuit City store over the weekend and so I stopped in for a visit. I wanted to see if the “vibe” in the store had changed. Not much. The store was better merchandised. But one thing remained the same:

All of the sales people were milling around. Either walking aimlessly or chatting with their associates. Not once, in the twenty minutes that I spent in the store, did one sales person approach me. I tried picking up some product (pretending that I was interested in purchasing it.) I tried my best to act like a customer in need of assistance. No luck.

No sale!

I left with this question: “What actually is a front-line” sales person employed to do in a retail store?”

  • Stock the shelves and re-merchandise the product?
  • Greet the customer and answer their questions?
  • Pretend that you are helping a customer on the telephone?
  • Actually, help customers to make a purchase?

For the most part, I never expect any help from the “front-line” staff at a retail chain store. Not just Circuit City. This also applies to Best Buy and Barnes & Noble, etc. When I go to Costco I know what to expect. It is a warehouse / members-only store. It is set up for self-service and this is reflected in the lower prices that they offer.

Why do we need sales people? If a store does employ sales people, what do they tell them to do? What is their goal? How do they train them?

Personally, if I ran a consumer electronics store, I would imitate The Apple Store concept of “The Genius Bar.”The place to go for advice, insight and technical support. Brilliant! Simple! Valuable!

I think that you could have a variation of this in a book store as well. Have a few knowledgeable and personable staff members share the advice and insight about a variety of books with the customers. Go beyond having a selection of “Our Staff Recommends” books. Actually interact with your customers. Make it memorable. Make it an experience! Make sales!

When I do have a positive experience with retail sales people I make a point of writing about it. Here is a short list of positive posts. See if you can find the common element!

What experiences have you had? Please share your stories. Write your comments below.

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