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How To Deal With Salespeople

Illustration for article titled How To Deal With Salespeople

Clothes-shopping can be stressful for lots of reasons, not least the social: how do you turn down those $400 jeans the salesperson thinks look so great on you, or tell her you don't need any help without sounding like a jerk? Today we answer these and more questions about interacting with sales staff while attempting to get your ass clothed.


Be nice.

This is pretty basic, but it's easy to forget. Maybe you need a dress for a funeral but every story just has little glittery shit and you are pissed off and sad and stressed out and you really need the one goddamn appropriate dress in your size right now (just, like, hypothetically). It still behooves you to treat the sales staff like people, not dress-bringing robots specially designed to do your every bidding (unless they are, in which case where is that rad store?). I talked to Melody Fortier, author of The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping and owner of Tangerine Boutique, who says,


Please and thank you are so easy to say and they are much appreciated. If a salesperson is very busy or overwhelmed and you need their help tell, them you can wait a moment. This helps to relieve the pressure they are under. A flustered sales clerk makes mistakes which makes things take longer. PLUS they will be grateful for your understanding and want to help you quicker.

On that note just being patient and polite in general, usually pays off in better service. Smiles help too.

But be firm in your rejections.

One time I bought a pair of jeans that definitely did not fit, because the saleslady said that they were from Mischa Barton's special line. I didn't even like Mischa Barton. But there I was stuck wearing her jeans because I didn't know how to say no to a sales pitch. Here's how, says Fortier:

Be polite but firm and tell them you are not interested. I tend to go overboard with the niceties so I would probably say something like "It's a very nice (such and such) but it's really not my taste...or style...or it's not in my budget."

If that sounds a bit much, a polite "no thank you, I'm not interested" should suffice.


Esmé Weijun Wang, formerly of Fashion for Writers and now of The Diarist, adds this hint: "Be careful of pointing out exactly what you don't like about the garment they're trying to hard-sell you — they're likely to come back with ten more pieces!"

Ask for privacy if you want it.

Some people like a lot of help when they shop. For others, having a salesperson constantly hovering a foot away can simply be nerve-wracking. Says Wang,

This always makes me nervous. Do they think I'm trying to steal something? Or are they just trying to make a sale? My MO: smile and say firmly, "I appreciate your attention, but I really shop best without distraction. Thanks for understanding."


If that feels too intense, Fortier offers a slightly softer version:

The nicest way for a customer to "shoo away" a "hovery" salesclerk is to simply say something like "Thank you for your help. I'll let you know if I need you" Nine times out of ten the clerk will take the hint. If not then smile and tell them you would like to browse alone, and walk away.


Deflect unwanted advice.

Sometimes a salesperson's advice can be helpful. Says Fortier,

I was a dressmaker for many years before I became a vintage clothing dealer so I will always tell a customer if I feel a garment is ill fitting, even if they do not ask. The majority of times my customers are grateful. On the rare occasion that they are not, I back off.


Then there's advice of the less-helpful variety. A saleslady once told me a long skirt I was eyeing was really for taller people, causing me to slink away from it in short-person shame. But there are better ways to deal. Says Wang,

Sometimes a salesperson can offer some pretty bummer-y unsolicited opinions. I once had one exclaim that I was definitely pregnant due to the fact that I couldn't fit into the [insert size here] that I was trying on. I was too cowed to say anything back then, but now I think I'd say that ol' chestnut, "Thank you for trying to help, but for now I'd like to look around by myself. I'll let you know if I need any assistance." It opens without being too harsh, follows up with a firm statement, and follows up with an opening in case I actually do want an opinion later. If they keep bothering me, I explain that I'd really like to concentrate on their [insert positive adjective] clothes and make up my own mind. Also: I am a big fan of leaving a place when I feel uncomfortable or harassed. As much as I love clothes, two firm-but-gentle reminders are enough for me to hope for another salesperson next time (or never).


Be a considerate shopper.

Beyond basic common courtesy, there are a few things you can do to make sure you're a favored customer and not a pariah. Says Wang,

Say hello when you enter a store, and exit a store with a thank-you and a good-bye. Don't leave your tried-on clothes in a heap on the floor in the dressing room. If you're at the type of store that asks for the name of the person that assisted you, work to remember the salesperson's name as soon as they first help you.


Jezebel alum Sadie Stein, doyenne of Dress Code and retail aficionado, adds these helpful hints:

Leave your dressing room in good order, try not to get blood/baby spit-up/breastmilk on clothes, wear underwear, don't try clothes on directly from a 5-mile run and — most important — IF YOU RIP OR BREAK SOMETHING, TELL A SALESPERSON. I know it's embarrassing and the instinct is to rush out, but personnel would always rather know, and have you feel like you can return to the store! Trust, this happens all the time and most stores have a go-to seamstress/dry-cleaner. If you put something on hold, have the courtesy to call if you're not coming in, especially if you want it held another day. Oh, and don't shoplift.


Follow these simple rules, and the employees at your favorite stores are more likely to like you, which should translate into a better experience for everyone.

Need help with a sticky social situation? Email us! We'll sweep your social minefield!


For all Social Minefield columns, go here.

The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping
Tangerine Boutique [Home]
The Diarist [Home]

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The other thing to remember is that the salespeople are just doing their job the way they're supposed to. My second job is at a shoe store that DOES NOT operate on comission, but from all the crap we're supposed to "suggest", *ahem* shove down customers throats is more like it, you would think we were getting a direct cut of what we sell. We have scripts we absolutely must follow to the tee. It's ridiculous. Whenever the higher ups are in, I have to do everything by the book and I know it annoys the hell out of people. Our old DM was so pushy customers actually left the store because of him.