“Can I help you?” Language that slams the door on sales
Most of us, at one time or another, have worked in retail. For me, it was a 7 month stint selling hiking boots and clothing at an outdoors store.
My sales usually started the same way. A new customer would walk into the store, eyes darting between the overfilled racks of winter coats, to the wall of footwear, and beyond. I would adorn my most helpful smile and approach them.
“Can I help you find something?”
They would shake their head and reply; “Just looking”…the politer cousin of “Leave me alone”.
I would gracefully back away as they wandered through the merchandise maze, thumbing through accessories and picking shoes off the display wall. It was then my job to a) look for my opportunity to jump into the sale and b) make sure they didn’t steal anything (my manager was an especially suspicious type).
And on it went; the typical retail experience. It’s something that I didn’t think about again, until recently when I read the book ‘New Profits in Wireless Retailing’ by consumer electronics guru Edmond Legum. And Ed really threw me for a loop. He asserts:
“Can I help you?” is one of the quickest ways to build a barrier between you and your customer.
“Customers have been customers much longer than your typical retail salespeople have been salespeople. They have rehearsed their lines for years. They know what to say when a typical salesperson greets them with ‘May I help you?’ The answer is, ‘No, I’m just looking’.”
– Ed Legum, New Profits in Wireless Retailing (2008)
Shut down. Game over. That sale is over before it even begins.
I’m not going to lie, I was taken aback.
And it’s so true. I dutifully follow this script almost every time I enter a retail store, even when I actually am looking for something specific, or really could use some help.
If we don’t know what our customer is looking for, we can’t sell it to them, and they risk walking out empty handed. So we cope by stalking their every move, barraging them with information every time they touch something they pass by. And, the last time I checked, harassment is not a viable sales tactic.
If “Can I help you?” is out, what SHOULD we say?
Legum suggests a personal introduction, followed by a pointed “What brought you into our store today?”
Break the script, and stalk no more.