Sunday, December 6, 2009

Suggestive Selling & You

Only two things separate us from the animals: suggestive selling, and the ability to produce reality television shows. While the later is ripe for conversation, today I wish to focus on the former.

Scenario A – My wife and I are at Books-A-Million purchasing some Christmas gifts, after several minutes in line, we approach a matronly female cashier who looked as though she had seen thirtieth birthday during the Eisenhower administration. We exchanged pleasantries, and as I handed her our items she asked if I was a member of their frequent shopper reward program. I replied that I was not, and did not feel that joining would be beneficial to me because of the membership fee. Undaunted by my initial refusal, she continued her sales pitch by pointing out that it would save me 10% right now and continue to provide valuable savings over the next twelve months. I reiterated that I was not interested in becoming a member and she digested this information with the same blank expression I would have expected if I had walked up the counter and requested she murder someone.

Apparently convinced that my reluctance to join was based on a lack of cognitive reasoning on my part, she feigned a look of surprise and informed me that she had almost forgotten that today only the discount was 20%. Locking eyes with me she said, “Can you honestly tell me that you are going to turn down 20% off?” At this point I had become so irritated that I wouldn’t have joined even if the membership was free and entitled me to stock options in the company. I again told her that I was not interested in joining the program and I did not need the 20% off. Incredulous, she began scanning my items and tersely replied, “Must be nice.” I spent the rest of the transaction trying to remember if her age would entitle her to prosecute me under a hate-crime enhancement if we threw down.

Scenario B – Several Christmases ago, I walked into a Victoria’s Secret in order to purchase a gift for my wife. Now there are generally three types of men in a Victoria’s Secret:

1. Those who are accompanying their female companion in order to provide a second opinion. These are by far the most cheerful, and it is seen as a badge of honor if spotted by our buddies.

2. Those who are purchasing a gift for our female companion and are alone.

3. Those who are there because there are a lot of panties, but pretend they are shopping for a female companion.

Now, the first situation is obvious to both the staff and other shoppers, but the later two situations are much more difficult to differentiate, and unfortunately the mannerisms of the individuals tend to be the same in both situations:

· Skittish, nervous behavior

· A look of awe-struck confusion coupled with dilated pupils

· Indecisiveness

Although I was there to purchase a gift for my wife, I was fairly certain that is the exact story I would go with if I was just there for the panties. It was for this reason I decided to conduct my shopping as one would execute a well orchestrated bank robbery: fast and with as few witnesses as possible. My list included some perfume, a pair of pajama pants, and yes - several pairs of panties. I quickly gathered the pajama pants to utilize as a makeshift “pervert buffer” under which I could place the panties (it was a 5 for $20 sale). I made my way over to the sale table and was gradually able to work my way into the undergarment melee that was occurring there. About the time I was forearm deep in knickers; a sales associate approached me and asked if “I was finding the sizes that I needed.” I immediately overreacted and blurted out “These are not for me,” instantly realizing that I was quoting the pervert survival guide verbatim. She eyed me warily and replied that she could check for other styles and sizes in the back if I was unable to locate the desired merchandise.

I quickly chose the remaining items to fulfill my five purchases and made my way to the counter before mall security had time to mobilize. Much to my chagrin several other customers were in line to finalize their purchase, so I found myself gripping a handful of multi-colored woman’s underwear in full view of the mall concourse for several minutes. I was fairly certain a co-worker would pass by any second.

When I finally arrived at the register, I sat down my items and began to retrieve my wallet to facilitate what I hoped to be an expeditious transaction. Unfortunately, I hadn’t counted on the tenacity of my cashier when it came to signing up customers for the Victoria’s Secret “Angel Card.” After her initial pitch (and my initial refusal) she began explaining to me that after it was all said and done, I would be entitled to the equivalent of two free bio-fit bras over the next several months. The most frustrating part of the encounter was that she was not using our discussion time to actually tally up my purchase. I finally told her that despite appearances, my forays into their den of naughty cotton were few and far between and I was not likely to use the card any time soon. Accepting defeat, she silently scanned the items and placed them in a bag. I have not yet re-entered that location unchaperoned.

While high pressure suggestive selling in retail may seem intimidating, it doesn’t hold a candle to what occurs once you are seated at a restaurant. Gone are the days where you will be asked what you like to drink, instead your server will pose the question this way, “Can I get you a refreshing raspberry-banana English pea shooter?” This is a technique recommended by the National Restaurant Association (the other NRA) to facilitate the purchase of expensive beverages. This is customarily followed by your server recommending an appetizer, “Do we want to start off with the Hungarian cheese clams or a Turkish lard sphere?”

My favorite is when I go into a chain restaurant and the server looks at me gravely and asks, “Is this your first time dinning with us?” as if my inexperience with their establishment’s protocol could endanger the other patrons. Do the forks work differently here? Do you only accept Russian currency? Have you rejected the established framework for every other chain restaurant located in the United States of America?

The practice of suggestive selling is brought to its absolute apex when it is time for dessert. A customer could be doubled over in dry heaves and the server will cheerily ask “Did we save room for a Belgium Fudge Power Tower or a Banana Float Gut Barge?” I almost feel embarrassed to say that I am full.

Please do not misunderstand me, I have worked both retail and food service and understand that the employees would just as soon not ask if they were not being forced to. I just hope that one day we can build a utopian society where man needs not to fear declining the offer of a licorice bookmark or discount card. After all, isn’t that what our forefathers had in mind?

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