The 3 stupidest questions to ask shoppers

August 5, 2015

Carl Sagan once wrote, “There is no such thing as a dumb question.” He obviously wasn’t a salesperson

The number 1 sales lesson I learned is to always think like the person I’m selling to. Ask the question”What’s in it for me?” as if I’m the customer. Number 2 is never take a customer’s response personally. Then I read a recent article from The Retail Doctor Blog and realized I’ve asked some very stupid questions during my lengthy years of selling. Have you or your employees asked these?

green question mark1.) “How are you today?”

Now, when I first read this I thought, “Well, why wouldn’t I ask that question?” Then The Retail Doctor went on to ask, “Do you really care?” Of course I care. Well, sometimes I care. Okay, so maybe I don’t really care, but what am I supposed to ask instead?  Like my 20-year-old son at college, the only response you receive is “fine, everything’s fine,” so he suggests saying, “Good morning (afternoon, etc.) Feel free to look around.”  I suppose if you heard how someone’s life really was going, you might need to get a counseling degree. The “how are you?” question does get asked rather flippantly these days and I certainly love it when I’m surprised by a sales response such as “My pleasure” when a request is made at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant. So, it’s time to get more creative as you greet those shoppers coming in the door with different questions.

question mark2.) “Can I help you find something in particular?”

A customer often gives the rote response of, “I’m just looking” and then the conversation is completely dead.  As The Retail Doctor points out not every shopper is looking for something but all shoppers do have a problem. Whether it’s the need to kill 30 minutes of time before a meeting, or they are looking for the perfect dress for an upcoming wedding, they have a problem that you need to fix.

Every year, timetrade does a State of Retail survey. The 2014 survey found that 85% of shoppers “buy more than they intend to when they go to a store without knowing exactly what they want.” The survey also stated that 93% are more likely to make a purchase when helped by a knowledgeable sales associate and 85% buy more when helped by a knowledgeable associate.

So what questions should a savvy sales associate ask? For furniture consignment, ask “What room gets a makeover today?” For clothing consignment, ask “What special event are you shopping for today?” A children’s resale shop should ask, “Which color…pink or blue?” Make sure the shopper has to give you more than a “yes” or “no” response and keep the conversation going.

smaller Question mark3.) “Isn’t this (some weather-related noun) awful?”

In my quest to make witty small talk with a customer or to try and somehow “connect,” I admit I have often fallen back on the weather topic. I just want to appear friendly, right? Well, The Retail Doctor makes an excellent point. Why start off with a negative comment when you can just as easily find a positive? If possible, your first topic of conversation should be something you have in common. If not, say something positive about the shopper instead . Comment about something they are wearing, something they are holding or even something positive about their features. Everyone likes to receive a genuine compliment and it’s always nice to be noticed.

The bottom line is you have to train your employees thoroughly. Although I hated sitting through week after week of archaic Zig Ziglar training tapes, I received some valuable information. I wouldn’t suggest those, but I would suggest motivating your sales associates to engage each shopper in a unique way.



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