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As the holiday season is approaching my mind is turning more and more often to Christmas shopping and gift giving. I thought this month we could talk about shopping from the sales person’s perspective as well as the consumers, and hopefully these tips will help you get the best deal possible.

This is a topic of interest to me as I used to be a sales person for an upscale jewelry store in the local mall. As part of my sales training I was given lessons on how to use empathetic listening, a counseling technique, to establish a report with potential customers. This is a common tactic amongst sales people and the first of many steps meant to steer consumers into bigger and more expensive purchases then they had anticipated.

I was encouraged to strike up a conversation with a potential customer that involved fishing for potential communalities that I could then parlay into a basis for a friendship. Once the relationship was established the schmoozing would truly begin. Sales people use empathetic listening, understanding comments and reflective questions that indicate that they want to know more and understand who you are, to build a relationship. This technique helps the customer to feel special, seen and understood as a unique individual. If the customer is lonely or socially isolated this contact may become one of the most pleasurable aspects of the shopping experience and may be what draws them back to that store and sales person.

The sales person uses what is called open ended questions to mine for information about the customers’ desires. Open ended questions are meant to elicit more than monosyllabic answers, yes’s and no’s, and instead require full sentences that are full of potentially useful information.

Once the sales associate gets a grasp of what the customer wants he or she will steer the customer towards more expensive merchandise as they are chatting. If the customer indicates that they are interested in a specific item the sales person will try to up sell the customer into extra, matching or coordinating, items. Also, extra products like insurance against damage will be offered. There is usually a loop hole in the policy if it is for jewelry that states the item purchased must be brought in for inspection once a year. This gets the customer into the store at least once a year and gives the sales representative an opportunity to sell the individual into more items.

If possible the sales associate will get the customers contact information and make a habit of calling the customer to notify them of special sales events “not open to the public”. Many stores also offer credit products, in store cards, that are coupled with special no fees or interest paid deals on purchases over a certain price point for a limited time only. But, the sales people are loath to educate the consumer as to the real amount of interest paid, often 29%, on any outstanding balance.

When shopping it is important to price check and make sure that other retailers don't sell the item in question for a lower price point. Often times large retail outlets have the same suppliers as smaller chains, and as the bigger chain stores can buy in bulk they get a better discount, which can be passed on to the consumer. Grocery stores often carry clothing and gold jewelry now as well as name brand perfumes and cosmetics. You can often find regular prices in theses stores that are better than department stores and specialty retailers’ sales prices. Also, many stores offer coupons before Christmas, if you can hold out until then you can save even more. Remember, ten dollars saved here and there adds up. Discount stores like Liquidation World often have name brand items at a fraction of the regular cost and you can sign up for e-mail notifications of new merchandise.

When you purchase an item it is best to inquire as to the stores reimbursement policy if the item goes on sale after you buy it. Also, make sure to clarify the return policy for an item if it is a gift and request a gift receipt, that way the recipient won’t know how much you’ve spent but can return it if necessary. Costco may have the best return policy of all retailers, as you have a year to return an item. But, keep in mind that the original purchaser must return or exchange an item from Costco as the Costco card is necessary for the transaction.

Regarding other shopping options, on-line shopping is convenient and easy, provided the item is in stock and ships in adequate time for the holidays. Also, even thought on line purchases are often more cost effective than regular retail purchases the return policy can be sketchy, consisting of being able to send the item back at your expense within 9 or so days of the original shipping date. Also, on line payment options can be risky. It is best to stick to using Pay-pal, a secure on line service, or credit cards that have a built in insurance policy that covers online fraud. Catalogue shopping is also a nice option if you don’t want to leave home. Just make sure the item can be delivered in time for Christmas and has a good return policy. Gift cards are another popular gift choice these days. But, not all cards are created equal. Some have expiration dates that make the card null and void after a certain number of months. It is best to inquire about this when they are purchased.

I hope this information is of help to you, have a happy holiday season and good shopping.

Sharon Grant, LAD, BA, SAC, Media Phil Cert, PhD.

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