Tough Times in Retail

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I have to take my hat off to all those hi-fi retailers who are still in business, because it’s a tough out there. Not only is the government making it ever-harder for small businesses to operate, with increasingly onerous responsibilities regarding employment, superannuation, OH&S issues and so forth, landlords are jacking rents sky-high, and don’t even get me started on the cost of electricity. At the same time, high petrol costs and increased traffic congestion make it less likely that consumers will drive too far to a hi-fi store. Then there’s the internet, with its tempting promises of wider choice and lower prices. Because of this, I think that anyone who’s still in hi-fi retail in Australia is doing it because they love it.

Many of those retailers will know of Bob Johnson, who writes a regular column for Appliance Retailer magazine. Johnson has recently devoted several columns to highlighting some of the things a salesperson should never say to a customer, which include: ‘You'll have to’, ‘I can't’, ‘I know how you feel,’ ‘I don't know’ and ‘Will that be all?’ Of this last Johnson wrote: ‘This is a really dumb question from several angles. First, how would the customer know if they have everything they need? With most products you sell there is a plethora of accessories and add-ons; some are simply nice-to-have and others are must-haves. You are a professional in your particular area of selling, so it is your job to advise every customer of what they need to get the most out of their purchase. You’re the expert so replace these with confident, informed statements like, “You’ll need a surge protector, quality 3D glasses, a protective cover, a wall bracket…” and so on.’

This is excellent advice, because while it certainly benefits the salesperson, by increasing the monetary value of the sale, it also benefits the customer by increasing the usefulness and performance of the product. I know that if I get home with any product that requires me to have something else before I can use it—be it a printer that needs a cable, or a device that comes without batteries—I become outraged.

So I was amazed to read the following comment by a reader of Appliance Retailer on Johnson’s story, which I reproduce (with the permission of Patrick Avenell, editor of Appliance Retailer) verbatim: ‘Salespeople are there to put the item in the bag and register the sales, not to suck up or be their councillors to fix their psychological problems and educate them. Try google if they want to know anything instead of wasting everyone's time. What retails pays and the hours we work, we don't need to fix their problems. Get a life instead of spending the weekends wasting our time.’

If you’re a professional salesperson, you should be coughing in your coffee right now. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a wake-up call for anyone employing people in sales roles that they should make sure their employees know what they’re supposed to be doing, which most certainly is not ‘to put the item in the bag and register the sale.’ I’m no salesman, so I won’t try suggest what salespeople should do, but as a customer, I can assure you that I DO want to be educated about a product I am buying; I DO want a salesperson to enquire why and how I will be using it so they can offer suggestions and perhaps even help me with my decision as to what to buy; and I most definitely want to know about ‘extras’ that would increase the value to me of a product I’m buying—even if it’s going to cost me more—and, yes, I am most certainly prepared to pay a premium to receive this advice, and also to ensure I have a real person I can return to if I have any further questions (or an issue about something I have purchased.)

Nowhere is this more true than in audio, where all customers know they want ‘good sound’ but very few have any idea about what they need in order to achieve it. # greg borrowman [hifi@nextmedia.com.au]