Thursday, September 29, 2005

Hungry to Sell Shoes

The following is a personal reflection of being in a situation where I was being persuaded, and the kinds of techniques that were being used:

Persuasion is about aligning your thought structure with someone else’s and then influencing them to come up with the same conclusion as you, whether it be through their acceptance of your opinion, or by them acting in a way as to react to a mutual problem. For salespeople, you not buying the product or the service that they offer is the problem. The solution is for you to purchase it.

So I was looking at some $80 plus shoes because they were on ‘sale’. The ‘sale’ had already convinced me to come in the store, but it had also subtly suggested to me that these shoes were regularly way more expensive then they were at $80 a piece, thus adding opportunity value to them. What they had done by marking up the price of some shoes in the store while putting others ‘on sale’ was change the category or stereotype I had of shoes that were typically under $80, and put them in an exceptional category; high-end shoes. As well, the limited quantity of shoes that were on sale made me think they were even more valuable because they were rare. It added urgency to my shopping experience.

After several minutes, I was asked if I needed help, then whether I was “having trouble with the styles?” No, no styles were attacking me. “Just ask if you need any different sizes” was the polite offer that made me feel more laid back and relaxed. I felt valued as a customer because I was allowed to stand in their store picking up random shoes and not really doing much. Rhetoric has this tradition of seeming easy when you mean business, and seeming stern when you don’t have the intension of going through with it. It is like poker, or as Fran Gregory once said: “it’s a dance.” They knew not to pressure me too much or else I would feel threatened. By being accommodating and relaxed, they made me put my guard down.

Finally I asked a question about the leathers of the shoes. Do some last better through the winter than others? If they were forcing a pair of shoes on me over another, I wouldn’t have trusted their opinion, but as it was, we almost answered my question at the same time, with me hesitating “…well I guess” and her coming in with “…it depends on how you treat the shoes.” The shoes all of a sudden became more like an involving possession to cherish, and what we were doing was implicitly sharing our respect of shoes, by my being concerned with their durability, and her confessing that they had threats to their longevity. She used authority and said she could “show [me] which products to use and how to use them to keep the shoes looking and feeling great.” (They could sell me some of their products). Notice how she stressed the positive, which is another technique of exaggerating the shoe in the first place: ie. It looks and feels great right now, therefore you should buy it. I appreciated her advice to stay away from suede, because I had never thought of them being of lesser quality before, but now I did. It’s important when being positively persuasive, to be negative about something, otherwise you have no credibility. She also exploited my senses by painting several descriptions of what the shoes would hold up to, so that I’d visualize myself wearing them. Ex. “Well, when you’re wearing them out in the rain or the snow, you’ll have to give them a day or two to waterproof…”

I tried on a pair of shoes, and she asked me first of all how they felt. I said they felt great, but unfortunately they looked a little pointy. She reacted with surprise: “Really?! We’re seeing more and more of that. That’s where styles seem to be shifting.” By saying this, she was bringing in some fashion context to try to validate why I should feel that they looked good. If I wanted to be smart and resist her influence, I might have said something like “if that’s where styles are shifting, then perhaps I’d do better to look for the least stylish shoes.” But for some reason, what she said worked on me, and I started noticing other shoes that I like that were also pointy, so perhaps my dislike of pointiness was eroding. She was slowly using the four walls technique on me because if I didn’t like pointy, then why was I in the store? I wanted to look good and have my shoes last. I wanted good leather and good style. If I was in a store surrounded by European-style shoes that were all pointy to some degree, with very few suede shoes, it was only a matter of time before I found something I liked.

Luckily, I found a pair of boots that I liked above all others, not because I was going to buy them, but because I hadn’t shown as much enthusiasm for any others, so I wasn’t in any great danger of making a purchase if there was any problem with these. When my eyes lit up, the salesperson reciprocated my impression by stroking them with her fingers and saying she also loved the grainy texture of them, thus bringing out an additional feature that added aesthetic appeal to compliment her sensual treatment of the boots. I genuinely liked the pair, but they were too big. As I was taking them off and she was about to check for another size, we chatted about them more. She was working a sex appeal thing on me, going on with metaphors about how “hot” they were and how they were “jump-me” boots, suggesting that I would be a hot commodity as an extension of the boots if only I’d buy them.

Unfortunately for her, she didn’t have the right size. She still persisted by offering to call another branch to see if they had them, thus gaining her points as a peer, and then when they didn’t she thought maybe they would fit with insoles in them. I doubted it, but she suggested I try, “just in case.” Then, because I thought that regardless of insoles, they’d still be too long on the outside, she found a pair of the same boots in black that were the right size. Of course, she had disadvantaged herself by commenting on the grain of the other boots, because these didn’t have them, so the positive feature was lacking, but they were still the same general style. I passed on the boots but thanked her for her services. It was like a relationship. We had both gotten what we wanted out of it, but now there were no strings attached.

In terms of persuasion, I felt the best technique I could use was to have genuine reactions and interests to remain consistent with my rationale behind choosing or refusing what the sale had to offer. I had to remember what their stake was in selling me the product and compare that to the points of the argument that I agree with. I wanted to decide what I decided because of the points I agreed with, but I was appreciative to have some helpful advice.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice post....!!
sometimes i'm easily persuaded and sometimes i'm not....but you definitely shed some light on well.

9:43 a.m.  
Blogger joe said...

interesting. I never thought too much about what salespeople say, except to either give them the back off and don't bother me look, or chat them up about anything, while I comtemplate what I really want. but the best is when you flirt with them. :)

very interesting analysis. you know you could write a whole training manual.

11:47 p.m.  

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