How do you handle annoying salespeople?

Consumer Reports News: December 11, 2009 05:53 PM

Let’s face it. For all the poetic waxing about holiday cheer and good tidings, this time of year can bring out the Grinch in many of us. When overstressed salespeople collide with overwrought consumers you have the potential for bad behavior. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that people are checking their manners at the door today. Hardly anyone says thank you, whether it’s directed toward the waiter who refilled your water glass or the customer who bought a week’s worth of groceries.

And talk about rudeness. My latest brush with customer disservice was one for the books. During a trip to a local mall on Wednesday, I was accosted by an overzealous saleswoman hawking nail-care products from one of those portable kiosks. The woman pounces on me like a starving lion charging a zebra, grabbing my pinky, and polishing the nail with some handy-dandy diamond-dust-impregnated buffing pad as though it was Aladdin’s lamp.

Stunned by her bravado, I smiled nervously and stammered, “What are you doing?” before instinctively pulling back. I’ve never been good at telling people off, and perhaps she was emboldened by the fact that I didn’t snarl and storm away.

Before I knew it, she snatched my pinky again, and continued to rub away, extolling the virtues of the buffing pad. When my objections grew louder and I yanked my finger away a second time, she looked me in the eye and asked whether I was of a particular religious and ethnic persuasion, as my demeanor and mannerisms were, in her mind, indicative of “certain people.”

“What kind of thing to ask is that? I responded. “Do you realize what you’re saying. You can’t ask questions like that.”

Unfazed by my comments, she continued her inappropriate questioning: “Are you a businessman? Are you married? Let me see your wedding ring? Why are you so nervous?” My lame response: “You’re embarrassing me.” 

As you can imagine, the exchange left a bad taste, even after it ended when I took back my finger and walked off, mumbling to myself and shaking my head. Two days later, I’m still angry – not so much at her stupid comments, but my reaction to them. Frankly, I let her off the hook to avoid a confrontation. I also couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if there was a role reversal. What if the salesperson was male, the customer female, and the same scenario played out? No doubt mall security would have made an appearance.

We ‘re confronted by in-your-face and pushy salespeople all the time: The ones who pester you although you insist you’re just browsing; the ones who spray you with perfume before you have a chance to turn them away; those who try bullying you into buying a more experience gizmo or gadget; and the sharpies who pressure you to make a purchase on the spot or risk losing out on a great deal. We conducted a national survey recently, asking Americans to name their biggest gripes about retailers. For a list of complaints, click here

Next time a salesperson corners me, I’ll be better prepared. Here, in hindsight, are some tips to ward off unwanted aggressors:

• “I’m just looking.” Tell the salesperson he or she is wasting their time trying to generate a sale that isn’t about to happen. Suggest they turn their attention toward a customer who is ready and willing to buy.

 • “I’m not sure.” That's an open invitation for assistance. Salespeople can spot indecision a mile away, and if the clerk senses you’re on the fence, they’re more likely to hound you. Instead, say you'd like some privacy to be left alone to sort through the racks until you find that perfect pair of jeans.

 • “Back off.” If you can’t convince the salesperson to back off, report the matter to the store or department manager, and advise them that continued bad behavior will prompt you to take your business elsewhere.

• “How about a business card?” Decline the clerk’s help, but ask for a business card so if you do decide to make a purchase, you can ask for the person by name. That way, they'll get their commission.

• “There will be other sales.” Don’t be swayed by the promise of big savings that are available only if you shop immediately. Few sales are so spectacular that the same or similar deals won’t be offered again -- and soon.

 • “I’m shopping for the best deal.” Say you’re comparison shopping. That conveys the message that you’re a savvy shopper who can spot a bona fide bargain. It also drives home the message that you’re not easily impressed by slick talk.

• Use effective body language. You needn’t scream, stomp your feet, or make a scene. But you’re better off avoiding eye contact, chitchat, smiling, and other gestures that make you appear approachable. I wish I had taken my own advice. Remember, when all else fails, you can turn around and walk out the door.



E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Money News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more