Commission Retail Sales: What To Do When Someone Steals Your Sale

a retail employee stealing a sale

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Updated July 11, 2024

A reader asks, “My fellow salesperson scarfs up my customers between the time I properly greet and pass by them (with a prop) and the short time until I once again approach the customer. I have spoken with him to no avail. What would you suggest I do and say to the customer to ensure they remain my customer?"

In a perfect retail environment, employees receive retail sales training that ensures all sales staff work together to increase the store’s sales and bottom line.

Unfortunately, this perfect retail environment does not exist in a store where incentives or sales bonuses are awarded, which fosters a culture of competition between salespeople. The upside for many luxury retailers is that they directly reward employees for their sales performance. That’s the system I thrived within for many years.

If you don’t have a commission system, bonus program, or another incentive, you never have to deal with this – that’s too bad because, more than likely, no one is trying to be a superstar by exceeding sales goals.

Let's back up for those of you wondering, what is commission sales, a sales commission is additional money your retail sales employee receives for exceeding sales quotas or goals. Commissions can be based on a weekly or monthly basis. 

With an incentive system can come a culture of competition; the manager can be dragged into those she took my sales conversations, or he stole my customer. And make no mistake, some employees snake around the sales floor to do just that.

There was a time I had a snake on the sales floor who knew exactly what he was doing – he’d keep a keen eye on every person who walked in the store, and when he spotted the least inclination to pick up an item, would pounce.

Because he was so good, he usually made the sale. As a sales manager, there's only so much you can be responsible for fixing. It has to be up to the salespeople to get along. (If you manage such a team, I have some tips for you below.)

If you are the one often saying they took my sale, here are a few steps to increase your probability of retaining your customers and commissions.

Get clear on your store’s policy

Before we discuss what you can say or do to ensure that your store’s visitors know they’re your customers, let’s discuss your store’s policies and the retail sales training you’ve received.

Some stores consider a customer fair game, regardless of who greeted them. You should approach your store's management for clarification. Ask questions about how this problem might be resolved without naming names. Keep it professional - don't finger-point, whine or complain. Understand that even though your co-worker may not be playing by your rules, she’s still probably making sales and profits.

And high sales cover a wealth of sins.

Learn from your competition

Since you’ve already asked your co-worker to stop, and he’s ignored your request, get clarity on how it’s happening. What is your co-worker doing, and what are you not doing, that enables him to connect with your customers? The next time you are working together, observe your co-worker. Watch and learn, and you may be able to identify where you can improve your timing and fix the situation with a better follow-up technique.

Take a candid look at performance

Returning to your original question, what can you say or do to ensure a customer knows he belongs to you? At the end of your pass-by greeting, you could pull a card with your name and tell the customer to call you when they’re ready to make a purchase.

You could also pull out your phone and take a picture of the customer (for documentation).

You could put a sticker on the customer that says, “I Belong to (Your Name).”

If these scenarios sound ridiculous, it’s because they are, but I’ve seen variations, and you might have—think car dealers.

The best way to solve any sales problem is to improve your own performance.

Are you giving your customers a reason to work with you? Are you following up in the right time frame? Are you establishing rapport with your very first word? Is your presentation and attitude top-notch? These are areas that every salesperson can easily improve.

After all, just because you said good morning doesn’t give you ownership of the customer or the sale. You have to earn it.

Don’t get me wrong. I know firsthand that working with a co-worker who steals your sales can be stressful if you allow it to be.

Rather than allowing your co-workers' behavior to distract you, focus on your performance and concentrate on competing only with yourself. Great salespeople are first students of human behavior—their own and their customers'.

If you are the retail manager, adopt some ground rules to minimize having to referee fights between your thoroughbred salespeople.

Here are the ground rules for commissioned salespeople:

  • Consider an ups system where each person gets to greet one customer and then move to the bottom of the order whether they sell that customer or not.
  • Once the customer walks out, you do not get credit for the sale.
  • Close 'em or lose 'em – no business cards given to customers to ask for me.
  • Never cut in on a sale unless the other person allows it privately first.
  • Never mention whose sale it is or incentives in front of a customer; otherwise, both of you will lose credit.

Sometimes, customers don’t want the original salesperson and will intentionally avoid them. Those customers are giving your business a second chance, so it is better to allow them to decide whether to speak to someone new or the original rather than a strict ups system.

The best thing to say to a customer to keep your sale from the start is, “Good (time of day),” feel free to look around, and I’ll be right back.” Connect with them by looking into their eyes long enough to tell their eye color.

Be sincere.

Be gracious.

Be humble.

Actions speak louder than words.