Awhile back, I was shopping with a friend at Nordstrom. We were in the shoe department when she pulled me over to introduce me to a friend. This “friend” was one of the shoe salesmen and she actually introduced both of us to each other as her friends (as in “Debbie, this is my friend so-and-so” and “So-and-so, this is my friend Debbie”). At first I wondered if she had a friend who just happened to work in the Nordstrom shoe department, but it soon became clear to me that she only knew him from their interactions while she was shopping for shoes. She shopped so often that she had started to consider the salespeople her friends.
I Have a Confession to Make…
Lest you think I’m being overly judgmental toward my fellow shopaholic friend, I have a confession to make. I have also come to view salespeople at various department stores, shops, and boutiques as my friends. I’m not sure if I ever introduced them to others as my “friend so-and-so,” but I did consider them friends in my mind and, more importantly, my heart.
But now that I’ve taken a few steps back from my all-consuming “shopaholism,” I’ve come to see things differently. In today’s post, I share my insights on another reason why many of us shop too much, for connection with others.
The Need for Connection
Personal growth guru Anthony Robbins outlined six basic needs for all human beings in order to survive and thrive in the world. One of these core needs is connection. Connection is defined as a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something. Regardless of whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert, we all need to feel connected to other people.
Ideally, we will feel close to our significant others and family members and we’ll also have a close-knit community of personal friends. But for one reason or another, not everyone has this ideal situation. Many of us lack deep and meaningful relationships with people in our lives, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to feel connected to others.
Loneliness and Overshopping
As I wrote about in “The Reasons We Shop Too Much,” many people who overshop struggle with loneliness and a lack of personal connection in their lives. I am one of these people. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I’m not close to most of my family and I have very few close personal friendships. Although I’m extremely fortunate to have a wonderful husband and a happy marriage, one person cannot fulfill all of the needs of his or her spouse. We all need multiple people with whom we can share both experiences and confidences.
I often shopped as a way to be around other people and I frequently engaged in lively conversation with fellow shoppers and sales associates. Many of the sales associates were so friendly that I started to consider them my actual friends. After all, they were always happy to see me, they remembered details of my life, they asked me personal questions, and they seemed interested in what I had to say in response. These interactions felt like a real friendship, so it makes sense that I would begin to consider these sales associates my real-life friends.
But There’s a Difference…
I’m not saying that sales associates can’t actually like their customers and enjoy talking to them. Sure they can… But there are a few key differences between our relationships with salespeople and our real friendships. For one, our friends aren’t being paid to spend time with us. When we get together with a friend, it usually happens when we both have free time and we’ve agreed to spend time with each other. With a salesperson, she is on the clock and is in the midst of doing her job during our interactions.
In a good friendship, the relationship is equitable. For the most part, the only things the two parties want from each other are companionship and support. In contrast, a salesperson is trying to sell us something in order to earn a commission, or in the case of a store owner, in order to pay the bills. He or she has a vested interest in our buying something and is usually disappointed when we leave empty-handed.
When we’re conversing with our salespeople “friends,” we often feel a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) pressure to buy something. In essence, we’re buying our salesperson “friend’s” time and attention, although he or she may not consciously feel that way. They may not have any sinister intent toward us, but they are doing a job and trying to earn a living and we are the focus of that effort. If they talk to us for a long period of time and we don’t buy anything, they may have missed out on helping another customer to whom a sale might have been made.
Stores Foster these False Friendships
Retailers have caught on to the basic human need we all have for connection and they have started to train their sales associates accordingly. Many stores now have personal shoppers and “friends and family” programs which capitalize on “salesperson as friend” concept. The retail powers-that-be know that if they can build our emotional attachment to store employees, we will buy more and keep coming back.
It’s in the best interest of retailers for shoppers to see sales associates as trusted friends and confidants, but it’s not in our best interests! For those of us who overshop, seeing salespeople as friends is like Kryptonite to Superman. It weakens our resolve and leads us to buy far more than we want or need. I don’t know about you, but I know I’ve left many a store with items that weren’t on my list and that I didn’t love – or even really like – simply because I didn’t want to disappoint the salesperson.
There Has to Be a Better Way!
If you’re like me and you want to shop less and only buy items that you need and love, you need to stop viewing and treating salespeople like your friends. Befriending salespeople will only get you into trouble and feed your overshopping problem. If you want to shop smarter and honor your own needs and limits, a different approach is in order.
I’m not suggesting you start being rude and aloof to salespeople. A complete 180 turnaround is not necessary and I would never advocate being impolite to anyone in a service role. For those of us who have had such jobs, we know they are not easy. Anyone who deals with the public is worthy of our kindness and respect. I don’t know if I’d have the patience to do such jobs at my age, but I remember what it was like to be treated badly by customers, so I always endeavor to be polite and appreciative when dealing with service professionals.
Tips for Dealing with Salespeople
Here are a few tips for dealing with salespeople that respect them as people and professionals but also honor our own needs to spend wisely:
- Shop With a List – When you shop, know what you are shopping for. Having a plan, as well as a shopping budget, will help you to resist sales pressure.
- Express Your Needs – If a salesperson approaches you and you don’t need help, let her know. It’s perfectly fine to say you’re just browsing. Thank her and tell her you’ll ask for help if you need it. Smile and be polite, but also be firm.
- Don’t Be Too “Chatty” – Don’t engage in too much conversation with the sales associate. Keep the conversation professional and to the task at hand. If you get too “chummy” with the person who’s helping you, you might feel more pressured to buy.
- Be Open and Honest – If you’re shopping for one specific thing and only that thing, let the salesperson know. If he or she brings you other items, politely decline to consider them. Offering multiple options is something that salespeople do, but you don’t have to try something on simply because it was brought to you.
- Don’t Accept Too Much Help – If you know you’re not going to buy much, don’t take too much of the salesperson’s time. For one, you don’t want to buy things you don’t need out of guilt. Also, you want to allow him or her to help other customers who may end up buying more from them.
- Leaving Empty-Handed is Okay! – If you don’t find what you need, or if you don’t love the options on hand, thank the salesperson for his or her time and leave the store. You’re under no obligation to buy anything, even if the salesperson gave you a lot of time and attention. While we should be respectful of their time, sometimes we truly want to buy and it doesn’t work out. That’s perfectly fine and okay!
I hope you find my tips helpful. I’m sure you have more tips for dealing with salespeople and I’d love for you to share them. I also welcome your insights on the concept of salespeople as friends and how that has affected you in terms of your shopping behavior. I’d also love to hear the other side of the story from those of you who currently work in retail or have done so in the past.
Fulfilling Our Need for Connection
Before I close, I want to say one other thing. In addition to changing our views toward and relationship with salespeople, those of us who shop for connection need to find alternate ways of fulfilling that need. I know from personal experience that this is easier said than done, but the first step is understanding that we have a genuine need we’d like to have fulfilled. The next step is to look for ways to fill that need besides shopping. We may want to reconnect with some of the people in our lives or we may prefer to forge new relationships.
It takes time to build deep friendships, but we can start by finding new hobbies and interests. Often friendships grow out of shared activities, so that’s a place to start. Taking a class, doing volunteer work, visiting a place of worship, or engaging in athletic activities are all ways of meeting new people. For introverts like me, putting ourselves out there isn’t easy, but if we don’t do it, we’ll continue to feel lonely and disconnected. We need to take the plunge even if we feel anxious and uncomfortable, as there is no growth without risk.
I will be exploring the issue of hobbies and interests in a future post and I’m sure I’ll write more about relationships and friendships soon as well. For now, however, I vow to stop viewing salespeople as my friends and looking for connection through shopping. That’s a powerful first step and good foundation on which to build. Although salespeople are not our friends, we are worthy of friendship, connection, and love. We just need to find these things in the right places!