Retail Sales Force

April 9, 2008 at 5:06 am (Standard) ()

I’ll probably get hammered for this one, but I’m just being realistic. Here goes.

What kind of training do you think most folks get who work at a retail establishment? My recent survey, which consisted of asking friends, relatives, and complete strangers who are employees at various types of retail stores, tells us the answer is “not nearly enough”. Here’s a sampling of what I learned.

Drug stores (Walgreens, RiteAid, etc.): This might be one of the easiest retail places to work (and I speak from experience, having worked as a soda jerk, pharmacy tech, and assistant manager during my high school and early college years). The inventory is fairly consistent, you don’t have to have a lot of product knowledge, and you basically just have to remember where stuff is located. The tougher questions, like which band-aids work better or what cream is best for your rash, get referred to the pharmacist. If you have good customer relation skills, you can go up the ladder and do okay.

Clothing stores (Old Navy, Gap, American Eagle, etc.): This runs a close second, although you mostly see younger guys and girls in these positions. Being skinny earns bonus points. Except at Lane Bryant, then eating a pint of Chunky Monkey every day is a good thing. Basically, you don’t have to know much except how to ring up the sales and be nice to the customers.

Electronics and computer stores (Circuit City, Best Buy, CompUSA, Apple): I could write for hours about this one. They give employees basic training…very basic. The employees are expected to know an insane amount of information about products whose lineups are constantly changing. Most of these places pay salary plus commission, which drives employees to sell the higher ticket items, or to try to get you to add on a bunch of crap you don’t need.

Example Number 1: What’s the difference in the Panasonic TH-42PX70U, the TH-42PX75U, and the TH-42PX80U? All three of those 42″ plasma tv’s were on the sales floor at Circuit City, Best Buy, and the Sears Electronics Department last week. Several hundred dollars separated them in price. They look virtually identical. Asking the salespersons the differences got answers from total bullshit to a commendable, “I honestly don’t know, except that the 80U is the newest one”. Because a salesperson at Sears gave me some very erroneous information regarding pricing, and because she actually admitted it to the manager on duty when I decided to go back and buy one of those televisions based on what she had told me, I got an incredible deal and saved several hundred dollars. I almost felt bad about it. It was the newest one, too 🙂
But it goes back to training. It wasn’t even anything about the product. It was about the store’s pricing policy, how long a sale price was good, and their price matching guarantee. So, in other words, it was basic training. She obviously didn’t get it, or didn’t retain it, and I came away with a heck of a deal because of it. It probably didn’t hurt that I managed to remain polite, but firm, rather than jumping up and down and pitching a fit. I’m sure they would have preferred that I said something like, “I understand she told me the wrong thing. Thanks anyway.” Rather, I said, “I realize she made a mistake, but this is what she told me, and I think you should honor that”. Kudos to the manager for doing the right thing and honoring the pricing that the salesperson quoted me instead of essentially saying, “Well, she was just wrong, sorry, no way are we taking a hit like that”.

Example Number 2: Who can possibly keep up with specs on all the Apple computers and iPods these days? Could you imagine working at an Apple retail store and trying to keep up with the maximum amount of RAM the white MacBook can hold versus the mid-level MacBook Pro? Or which units need to have RAM installed in matched pairs? Or how to publish a web site built in iWeb to your own personal domain rather than to your .Mac account? Or how many songs and how many hours of video the new iPod Touch will hold compared to the iPod Classic? Friends who work there tell me that you learn all that stuff on your own. The training you get is about policies and procedures, driving sales — especially the Holy Trinity of selling a computer system bundled with AppleCare, .Mac, and ProCare (even though Apple employees don’t work on commission) — and customer relations. They do have an online training program that can be accessed from home, so when they aren’t at work, they can spend their own time learning about the products they are paid slightly more than minimum wage to know inside and out. :/

So, what’s my point? I don’t remember now. The one constant in the retail world is to provide good customer service. Even if you’re brand new at it or don’t know much about your products, if you treat the customers politely and with respect, you should be able to make a career of it if you want. If not, it can be a stepping stone to another career path. Granted, it’s been over twenty years since I worked in the retail business, but I learned customer relation skills back then that I have carried with me in every position I’ve held. It’s just that so many customers that I’ve seen lately, especially the younger ones, have such an attitude of entitlement, that I wouldn’t want to work retail for anything.

Next time you’re in a retail establishment, don’t be too hard on those folks. Remember, they’re not making enough money to put up with a bunch of crap – unless they’re management, then you can let ’em have it! 🙂 Just remember, though, that manager might be the one to decide whether you benefit from the misinformation given out by the employee. Be nice.

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