“Everyone is selling!” but is anybody BUYING?

A real-life tale of how bad a ‘sales experience’ can be.

A step back in time

Three years ago, I wanted to buy a new TV. Rather than take the easy route of ordering online, I thought I would take the revolutionary step of visiting a physical store (what can I say? I’m a rebel).

So I went to a certain store based at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol. It’s a well-known retailer, a big name in electrical goods.

How hard can it be to buy a new TV?

It was early evening and as I entered the store I noticed that it was very quiet. I was one of very few shoppers browsing the store, which was fine for me as I’m not a fan of huge crowds or being in the middle of a stampede of rabid shoppers.

After browsing the TV’s for a while, I eventually found one that I liked and decided to buy it. The sale was pretty much done at this point, it was now just a case of me getting the TV and paying for it. Or so I thought – naive fool that I was!

Why are ‘good-buys’ so hard?

So far so good, and if the story stopped there it would be pretty boring. But no! Let me tell you how just one staff member from this store managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and made sure I would never shop in that store again…EVER!

The first problem arose when I tried to find a member of staff to help with the purchase. The display TV had a sign saying to ask a member of staff for help to purchase (what a waste of space that sign was…).

Could I find anyone? Nope.

After wandering around the store, I eventually spotted a member of staff standing at the end of an aisle. They were texting on their mobile phone, but I was sure that I could get some help. Boy, was I wrong!

Incompetent staff + poor attitude = wrecked sale

After ignoring me for a while, he eventually deigned to glance up from his phone and acknowledge my presence. When I asked if he could help me with a TV I wanted to buy, he gave a look that suggested he had far more important things to do than to help a customer actually buy something.

Very begrudgingly, he followed me to the TV I was after and informed me it would definitely be in stock. So I asked if he could get it for me so that I could buy it.

HA! I may as well have asked if he could do 7 backflips in a row and then plunge his head into a bucket of mud. He could not have looked more disgusted with my query if he had tried.

“I’ll TRY to find someone to help you, but they are all very busy,” he condescendingly informed me. “Everyone’s busy selling.” (I kid you not, those were his exact words.)

Looking around the empty store, I wondered where all these people were hiding and where all this “selling” was apparently taking place.

A Sales Manager who couldn’t be bothered to sell

As this point, I began to suspect that the staff member I was talking to was the sales manager for the store. Looking back now it was obvious. I mean, all the clues were there for me to see:

• He didn’t want to talk to an actual customer. After all, he was far too important for that; he was management!
• He kept telling me how everybody was ‘too busy selling’ to help me buy the TV,
• Texting on his mobile phone was more of a priority to him than helping a customer who wanted to buy something.

The sales manager then told me he would get someone to help me as soon as they were free, although it was said in such a way that it sounded like he was doing me an enormous favour.

I asked if he could help me himself as he was actually right there with me, but he dismissively replied that he was ‘too busy checking on his people who were all busy selling.’ (Yep, he really did say that.)

And then he walked off.

And so, being the patient guy I am, I waited.

And waited.

Waiting for Godot (SPOILER ALERT: He never appears)

Much as the main character in Samuel Beckett’s play never appears, my help never appeared either.

After a lengthy period of time without anyone appearing, I walked towards the exit. Unsurprisingly, I saw the sales manager standing by himself, once again staring at his mobile phone. He was doing nothing.

I asked him if anyone was ever going to come and help me. “Everyone’s busy selling” he said, yet again.

By this point, I was so fed up with the ‘sales experience’ I’d received, I asked him point-blank “But is anyone buying? I wanted to buy something but you’ve made it so difficult I’ll be buying from your competition”.

And I left.

As I walked past the tills, I couldn’t help but notice how quiet they were. Nobody was buying anything. The checkout staff were all sitting patiently, waiting for someone (anyone?) to buy something. I can only imagine from the words of the sales manager that the sales staff were all still “busy selling”…

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s to online I go…

There’s a lot of discussion now about the threat online sales pose to ‘brick and mortar’ shops. And it’s clearly true. Often things can be cheaper when purchased online.

But the main reason I buy things online is that it’s easy. It’s far easier to place an order online and have it delivered. And I don’t run the risk of being treated like dirt by a member of staff for daring to want to actually buy something.

Many (most?) stores nowadays seem to hire people who have no idea what the words ‘sales’ and ‘assistant’ mean from their job title of ‘Sales Assistant’.

Many who are described as being ‘customer-facing’ don’t seem to have got the memo – I often find I am able to buy something in a store without the sales assistant even looking in my direction at all (they’re often busy chatting with a colleague about their life).

Do you find the same thing happens to you?

It’s sad to see and depressing to realise that this is now the ‘norm’ for sales experiences in the UK. To be good doesn’t involve much at all now – just looking at the customer seems to be exceptional!

The bar is set so low, you should find it easy to deliver an outstanding customer experience. After all, none of your competition are likely to be doing so!

What happened next, and a warning for your business

More than five years have now passed since my ludicrous experience in that store. Yet I still feel angry about the incompetence, apathy and sheer laziness shown by the sales manager. He had no excuse for being that bad. (Believe it or not, I’m normally a very calm and patient guy!)

I haven’t been in the store since and will not return there again, despite regularly buying technology items. My lifetime value (LTV) as a customer would have easily been in the thousands of pounds to the store. Instead, they got nothing from me (and never will).

Not only that, I have actively told people about my bad experience with them, and warned them about it.

Three key lessons:

1. If you annoy a customer, they are going to tell people about it. A lot. And for a long time.

2. It doesn’t matter if you have the best advertising and marketing in the world. (The store in question runs numerous ads, both online and offline.) If the buying experience is bad, your profits will suffer.

3. Measure, track and assess ALL your staff (even/especially the sales managers!) on a regular basis. You need to know whether or not they are doing the job they’re paid to.

Please make sure that you provide a good sales experience for your customers.

It’s really not hard to do and it will help you stand head and shoulders above the ‘mediocre majority’ nowadays. Sadly, it doesn’t take much to stand out from the crowd – you just need to “not suck” as much as them!

First published on

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