Antidotes to Pushy Salespeople


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During the holidays last winter, staffer Tod Marks was accosted by a manicure-kit saleswoman who grabbed his pinky, buffed the nail “as though it were Aladdin’s lamp,” he says, and peppered him with personal questions. He escaped only by yanking his finger away. Readers of his Tightwad Tod blog posts suggest these strategies for handling the (fortunately rare) salesperson who is too aggressive:

Say you’re just looking

Salespeople might walk if it’s clear they’re wasting time trying for a sale that isn’t about to happen.

Be decisive

If you’re unsure about what you want, say you’ll peruse on your own but will check in if you have a question.

Ask for a business card

If you decide to buy, you can ask for the salesperson, who will get any commission.

Say you’re comparison shopping

You’ll seem like a savvy shopper not easily impressed by slick talk.

Use body language

You don’t need to stomp your feet to be left alone; just avoid eye contact, smiling, and other gestures that make you seem approachable.

Be direct

When you encounter a grouchy customer-service rep, ask if the person is having a rough day. If the employee continues to grumble, demand an explanation for the rudeness. “Both techniques make that person snap out of it and consider their behavior,” a reader says, “if only for a second.”

Go elsewhere

That’s what a reader did at a shopping-mall hair salon when the receptionist introduced him to the stylist, who was too busy texting on her cell phone to offer a greeting.

Give a canned answer

To whatever question a pushy salesperson asks—whether it’s “Are you a businessperson?” or “Would you like to save a hundred dollars today?”—a reader repeats “No thank you, excuse me, goodbye.”

Develop 'the look'

Another reader suggests “the look of hitting the mall with a toddler in tow … a cross between exasperation and madness.”

No matter how brusque the salesperson, there’s no excuse to spew profanities or step on the person’s feet (two suggestions we received), says Renee Evenson, author of the book “Customer Service Training 101.” “Back off, remain calm, and take a deep breath,” she says. State clearly and respectfully to the salesperson that you’re having a problem with the way you’re being treated. If the hounding continues, complain to a higher authority.

Everyone has a bad day now and then, Evenson acknowledges, and a little empathy (“I can see you’re busy, but can you spare a few moments to help me?”) can often result in better service. So can words such as “please” and “thank you.”

And about rude customers …

Salespeople, in turn, are especially riled by shoppers who demand rather than ask for help, blame employees for problems, don’t show common courtesy, or use cell phones while soliciting help, customer-service expert Renee Evenson says.

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