Some advice on what retail sales associates can do to be more effective—and respected—on the job
BY GERRY MORRIS
Does this headline get your attention? It did mine.
CHAIN TESTS NEW CONCEPT IN MATTRESS SHOPPING: STORE WITH NO EMPLOYEES
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The story reads: “Operated by the owners of a local chain of furniture stores called Penny Mustard, the proposed venue would have an array of mattresses for prodding and testing, but it won’t have a sales staff. The stores would open and close electronically, and would be presided over only by security cameras and a lone computer.”
How about that? I’m not going to pass judgment on whether this is good or bad. Rather, I will explore what would lead a retailer to even consider this idea and what that says about our industry as a whole. And I’ll offer suggestions to help make retail sales associates more effective and important rather than less.
What is it about the buying and selling of mattresses that puts shoppers at such odds with sales associates?
It begins with human nature. Consumers approach the process of shopping for mattresses warily, seeking to find a good value. While brand, comfort, durability and other issues are important, justifying reluctantly spent dollars remains a powerful motive.
That perspective leads to an absence of emotion and impulse when someone shops for high-use utilitarian products such as tires, some appliances and mattresses. Products are selected using intellect and logic to discern value and evaluate functionality.
This sets up what I call the negative dynamic: shopper seeking value, RSA trying to demonstrate value in a product with little differentiation made from relatively simple ingredients.
Hit-and-run buying and selling
Shoppers tend to view buying a mattress as a one-time purchase. They don’t plan on becoming a regular or frequent visitor to the store, so the thought of “relationships” doesn’t register.
Most RSAs see the process as a one-time opportunity as well. The stress of working on commission can lead to pushy or aggressive selling. After all, what does one have to lose? “Once they leave they won’t be back anyway.”
Sadly, years of negative experiences have lead to a stereotyped perception of mattress RSAs as used-car salesmen. (Used-car salesmen really get a bad rap, don’t they?) While this blanket indictment is untrue and unfair, as they say, perception is reality.
The store owners echo that perception—and, unfortunately, that reality—in too many cases. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the owners of Penny Mustard visited some 50 mattress stores to research the market and likened their salespeople to (guess what?) “used-car dealers.” “The vast majority of the people who worked in the stores smelled like they had just had a cigarette,” one says. “The experience of buying a mattress in the traditional venue is about as awful as it could be.” Ouch! No wonder they are seeking a new direction.
They go on to describe their concept. “There is no salesperson standing over top of you giving you their sales pitch, no salesperson standing around the corner waiting to make a sale, no one there at all! You lay (sic) on the mattress and choose which one feels right for you.”
Uh-oh. Consider the consequences if the shopper heeds the advice of Slate magazine’s consumer advocate, Seth Stevenson. In one of the most widely read consumer shopping advice articles of all time, he wrote: “The secret to mattress shopping is that the product is basically a commodity. … So just buy the cheapest thing you can stand and be done with it.”
I’m concerned that consumers, left to their own devices, would tend to make that same decision, never knowing what they were missing.
Even though today’s mattress shoppers can arm themselves with knowledge online, they still have questions and they seek guidance, reassurance and validation for their decisions.
That’s why RSAs are so important. The truth is that RSAs are still one of the most important factors that shoppers rely on to
What instills trust?
Trust is built through competence, confidence, compassion, product knowledge and concern for the shopper’s well-being.
Focus on each person in a calm, casual manner, just as you would when meeting someone new. Let her know that your mission is to help as many people as possible improve the quality of their lives.
Rather than selling, adopt an attitude of selfless serving, discovering and prioritizing the shopper’s needs and wants over your own. Include your shopper in the process of discovery with a give-and-take dialogue rather than a one-way presentation.
Putting shoppers at ease will allow you to overcome objections by using your product knowledge to add value with the features and benefits that address their unique situations.
Perhaps a segment of consumers will prefer this innovative self-serve concept. For Penny Mustard’s sake, I hope so. But I happen to believe that, at the end of the day, most people enjoy the experience of buying from someone they like and trust. That’s a good incentive for you to be prepared to serve your customers well.
Sleep well and help others do the same!
Gerry Morris is an author, consultant and training coach with more than 20 years of experience in the mattress industry. Morris’ Inner Spring training company recently formed a strategic partnership with The Furniture Training Co. to offer a premium online training course, “Sell More Mattresses with Gerry Morris.” To view the course, visit www.furnituretrainingcompany.com.