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Comparison Shopping

Web posted on May 06, 2005

Attention Shoppers...

Today's discussion is on comparison shopping etiquette.

Retail establishments advertise their wares to lure you into their store. In person.

Advertisements are ways to let people know the kind of things a store has in it. The ads are not designed to answer each and every question you may have about any one item. That's what your happy retail sales staff are there for -- pretty pictures and enticing numbers bring you in, but humans tend to close the deal.

The Internet is a wonderful resource for comparison shopping. You can compare apples to apples in the comfort of your own home, and decide which retailer's combination of price, convenience, and service level best suits you. A 'net-savvy surfer can get all the info they would ever need.

For those who do not spend their lives on the 'net, you go into a store and look for yourself, or you get someone else to look for you. One way to achieve this information gathering from a distance is via the telephone.

Rule one for phone shopping: ask if now is a good time to do so. If I've got a lineup of 4 customers in front of me, I can't spend 20 minutes going over each item listed in a competitor's ad with you. Floor clerks tend to look at the phone as a tool for answering quick questions, such as "Do you have X in stock?" Not "Do you have X? What colours? How many? Is it the same price that's in so-and-so's ad? But is it the same thing?" and so on.

Rule two: get to the point. I've listened to a very nice lady spend five minutes describing her living room's floors and colours and giving me a full description of her windows (including measurements) before finally asking me if we carry ready-made valances. As long as you're not rude about it, just asking "do you carry ready-made valances?" works for me. If we do, further information can narrow down if we have exactly what you're looking for, but if we don't carry it, additional information is useless.

Rule three: know your retailer. If one works in a retail establishment that constantly checks the competition's ads, and bases their reputation on beating those deals, it would be expected that the sales staff would be very familiar with those ads. However, don't expect staffers to know what some store out of town has, and how it compares to their stuff. Wal-Mart is an excellent example for Guelph: if they're a major source of competition, you can bet that I'd be able to compare items for you, but if my store overlaps their stock in one item, the odds are very much against my knowing what their pricing is on it this week. To be honest, I ususally have more pressing things on my mind, whether I'm a manager or a clerk.

Rule four: retail prices are, for the most part, not negotiable. If my store says that we'll beat any competitor's advertised price, we will do so. Otherwise, the odds are that bringing in a competitor's ad will do nothing for you. In most establishments, if a clerk is caught giving someone a deal they lose their job. End of discussion. If a clerk says no, believe him or her. If you insist on getting a deal, ask to speak to a manager or supervisor - they are the only ones who can authorize a reduction in price. Please do not badger your clerk in the hopes that they will eventually give up and give you a deal - things can get ugly that way. I've given in twice in my life, and each time I had customers complain about my attitude (naturally, after they got their reduced-price items paid for). For some reason, neither customer was pleased when they realized that they were going to have to complain to me about my attitude and reluctance to give them a deal.

Rule five: staff generally don't know what will be on sale next week, nor when X will go on sale next. For chain stores, head office determines what will be on sale and when. Many front-line retail staff don't know what's on sale until the ad is published -- and sometimes, not until a customer brings in a copy of the ad. In a nutshell, no insider information is available, so don't pester us in hopes of earning the "inside scoop" on upcoming sales.

Rule six: not all stores do rainchecks, and even fewer hold over sales because you didn't know about it. If you want an item and the retailer runs out of it, that's one thing. If the item you want was on sale last week, don't expect your local retailer to give you that price today because you ask them to. Specials are special, not everyday prices.

Next column will prove to be a challenge -- making the case for paying sales clerks what they're worth. Stay tuned!

Bee has been working retail for 20 years, and has been shopping for many years more.