The Dread Of Going Shopping

On Saturday I visited a major outdoor clothing retailer. The experience confirmed why I dread shopping and got me wondering about the management thinking that underpins and drives the activities of sales assistants.

Much has been written about the changing role of the retail outlet in the context of increased online shopping. It seems apparent to me that there is a disconnect between the rhetoric of retail changing to suit changing shopping behaviours and the death grip of a pushy sales mentality.

Retail psychologists will recognise some of the irks I have. Firstly the experience of being mugged the moment you step across the threshold with the notionally friendly greeting of ‘are you alright there?’ . Whilst the content of the communication is friendly, it is socially inappropriate and is not an expression of interest in my welfare. It is a vacuous utterance from a shop employee who really wants to ask me if I’m going to buy anything from them. In that sense it is deceptive.

Talk about ‘processing’ customers as resources to extract their value. Step one open the ‘process’ with a technique that obliges people to say ‘yes’ because pop psychology tells us this is a good thing. Good for who? The customer?

Having resisted the urge to run out the store because my need to privately explore the product range I have been browsing on the Internet is stronger, I am then confronted with my ‘new best friend’. My new friend wants to follow me around the store to notionally help me but the ‘spider like’ attempt at constraining me in a silken cocoon of product feature verbiage is suffocating.

I just want to escape. I don’t want to be in the place. I don’t want to ‘helped’ to make a buying decision as if I’m suffering from a knowledge and capability disability.

When will retailers learn that sales assistants (sic) driven by an aggressive sales philosophy sugar coated with facile friendliness is bad for business?

People are going shopping for different reasons now. They are going informed and they are going to explore. In that exploring they will use their own capability as thinking adults to buy the product they want.

This was a black experience for me and one that might just stop me exploring the outdoor brand I like in that retail outlet even though the T shirts tell me I shouldn’t.

Is Selling The New Marketing?


Pick up any classic marketing text and one of the first things you are told is that ‘marketing isn’t selling’.
Not only that you are told that selling only has a bit part in the whole marketing performance, and that marketing done properly means selling isn’t actually required.

On the other hand, walk into any business and get talking to the staff and one of the first things you are often told is that ‘this is a people business’. That people develop trust between one another and that they buy from people who help them solve their problems.

Doesn’t this strike you as strange? In practice, the arts of social influence, relationship building and service are seen as key. In text books these very same things are relegated to a mere feature of the marketing mix.

Robert Louis Stevenson said “Every one lives by selling something”
It is how things are made to happen. Its how people are persuaded and convinced of the benefits of value propositions. In mass consumer markets selling is invariably the responsibility of marketing communications in business to business it is what happens face to face.

Skilled selling is a strategic necessity for business. Skilled sales people can differentiate your company/brand from the competition.

The September 2009 edition of the European Journal of Marketing carries a special series of articles themed under the title, ‘Sales Evolution and Revolution: The Sales Function in the 21st Century’

Over the last few years Sales has been rediscovered and its strategic importance re-stated. Its no longer necessary to keep sales at arms length as the domain of silver tongued masters of deception. The province of mere functionaries who do the bidding of ‘marketing’. Selling is increasingly being recognised for its strategic value creating impact (see Harvard Business Review special edition on Sales- 84 7/8 2006 -The Top Line by Thomas Stewart)

Susi Gieger and Paulo Guenzi in their European Journal of Marketing article say that academic interest in selling is moving on from what Williams and Plouffe (2007) classed as concerns with motivation, the Saxe & Weitz SOCO scale, relationship building and trust. Most of these issues are now well taped by practioners. Academics need to help in other areas such as scenario, sense-making and forecasting capabilities.

So what is happening with this changing attitude towards Selling then? Storbacka, Ryals, Davies and Nenonen say that businesses now see Sales as a process not just a function, that it is integrated rather than isolated, and crucially strategic not simply operational.

Sales people might be last step of the getting a product to market but they are frequently the first step in getting the market to the organisation. Classic marketing explains what happens in linear rational terms. Everything is about getting your ‘ducks in a row’. Now that might be fine for creating planning documents but it doesn’t reflect what happens in reality. A more systemic view seems more appropriate. Seeing things this way emphasises inter-dependencies and the simultaneous nature of ‘doing business’. As Peter Senge explains, thinking is circles rather than lines is more like reality.

Are you sold?

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