TDmonthly Magazine!
August 2015 | Vol. XIV - No. 8


Sales Training: The 5 Stupidest Questions To Ask Retail Shoppers

People who sell retail have to up their game, or their brick and mortar stores will bleed customers.

And don't blame online sales...

In spite of the relentless onslaught of online retailers, 85% of transactions are still expected to be done in a brick and mortar store well into 2025 according to McKinsey.

Since that's the case, it would be good to stop looking at omnichannel and online retailers as the real foes of a brick and mortar store and confront the real one...

Most retailers don't make us feel comfortable enough to buy from them.

And usually this is due to untrained or poor sales training allowing employees to speak before thinking. To help improve conversions, you need to give sales training for retail staff. Part of that is knowing what not to say.

Here are the five stupid questions never to ask your shoppers:

1. How are you today?

Admit it, you don't care; the shopper knows you don't care. This leads to the customer having to parrot back the expected answer, "Fine and you?" To which the retail employee responds with another expected answer, "Fine," or they launch into another unthinking question or go silent.

Why it's wrong: You never want to make customers have to lie to you.

What to say instead: Good morning, feel free to look around and I'll be right back.

2. Are you looking to buy today?

I know, shocking to read but that is still asked by people trying to sell you everything from a car, to eyeglasses, to you name it.

Why it's wrong: Trying to decide between lookers and buyers based on their answers is ludicrous. Many times people go into a shop not intending to buy but they get so romanced by the environment, displays, and salespeople that they treat themselves anyway. And just as many intend to buy, but a pushy salesperson's comments and attitude have made them leave without their intended purchase.

There is nothing to say instead.

3. Isn't this weather-related noun (heat, snow, rain) awful?

Doesn't matter if you are in the deep south during a brutal humid summer, the northeast during a windy spring, or the drought-struck southwest, you rarely – if ever – will get another person to agree with you. Then you just look foolish.

Why it's wrong: If you get someone to agree, you've put yourself in misery's company. You build rapport with someone by first finding out what positive things you have in common – not fishing for misery. And not about the weather.

What to say instead: Something positive about what they are wearing or holding.

4. Can I help you find something?

The mark of a truly untrained salesperson. I know you've heard it hundreds of times when you've shopped, but that doesn't make it right. Customers tell you I'm just looking to get away from such an aggressive question.

Why it's wrong: Because it starts from the idea that customers all know specifically what they want, that they all are trying to fix something. But that's not the case. Most trips to a store are not like a trip to a hardware store where, "Can I help you find something?" leads to, "Yes, I'm looking for #2 screws." Most trips are based on a customer trying to solve a larger problem.

What to say instead: If you are indeed a hardware store, What's your project today? If you are a furniture store, What room gets the makeover today? If you are an electronics store, How can we connect your world today? You get the idea...

5. Do you have a budget?

This is another hack question determined to tie-down the customer. While customers will often say a sale is only about price, they're liars. By asking this question up front, the salesperson runs the risk of not getting a true answer.

Why it's wrong: This question supposes that customers won't spend more than they plan. It allows the salesperson to limit the customer's choices and removes what probably would be the best solution. The best solutions cost more. You know this yourself...if you see something you really like, you'll move heaven and earth to get it... and pay whatever it takes to get it.

What to say instead: We have a range of options and price points, to find your best solution, may I show you them all?

In Sum

There are a lot of mistakes we make when selling ourselves and our products. Use these retail management tips to remove these five stupid mistakes from your selling presentations and then give your crew sales training to grow your sales.

Bob PhibbsWriter's Bio: Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor®, a best-selling author and speaker who has helped thousands of independent businesses compete. His new book, The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business has received praise from both Inc. magazine and USA Today and can be found at your local bookstore or ordered at He and his work have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur magazine. Questions? Contact Bob at This article was reprinted with permission of the author, Bob Phibbs, aka The Retail Doctor®. Read more articles by this author


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