Never Make Assumptions About Your Retail Customers Again

retail customer selling tips

It was during a huge clearance sale shortly before the holidays. The rack sign read 3 shirts for $20. A woman held up several to her elderly husband's chest, picked 9 and asked, "Can you give me these for $50?"

The harried clerk took one look at her soiled and tattered jacket and unkempt hair then declared, "No. See the sign? It's three for $20. That would be six for $40 and nine for $60." He then turned away.

She stayed at the counter...

"Young man. Young man," she said until he finally turned around.

"What!" he said in an impatient manner as he continued to ring up another shopper. The sale was being held in a tent and the wind blew a receipt off the desk.

As he reached to the floor to catch it, she insisted on asking, "How much is that brown jacket?"

She was pointing to a brown satin jacket that was hanging on pegboard behind the clerk. This particular one in chocolate was embroidered with the store's logo in gold, red, and black and made a dramatic statement.

"THAT jacket?" he said incredulously. "Two-hundred dollars," as he turned back around to help another shopper to his left.

"Can we see it?" she patiently asked.

"Can we see it?" she asked louder.

"What? ... Fine." He took the jacket off the pegboard.

"It's a medium," he said as he handed it to her.

She held it up to her husband's chest, then said to the clerk, "We'll take two."

The clerk was dumbfounded...especially when the woman paid cash for the entire purchase.

We've all had those retail experiences when we've misjudged how much someone could afford.

You never want to make assumptions about your customers and what they can afford.

Remember, Howard Hughes dressed as a hobo and people thought he was homeless.

If Mark Zuckerberg walked in with his flip-flops, faded jeans and hoodie, would your employees know that as the creator of Facebook he could buy everything. Would one or more of your employees be tempted to turn him away? Especially if you are a high end store...

For another example, see the post about a $30 red shirt that led to a several thousand dollar sale.

Employees make assumptions about customers for three reasons:

  • They've sized them up and decided from the way the customer is dressed or how they talk that the person can't afford it.

  • They've empathized with shoppers based on what was read or seen in the media (see my post on Survivor Guilt.)

  • They assume the customer can’t afford a premium item and that they'd like a cheaper option because they, the salespeople, have never paid full-price for such an item.


Making these assumptions is bad for your business. Invest in retail sales training so your employees will be open-minded and accept every customer who walks in the door.

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