If you want to have
more trouble-free sales, educate your customers with facts and take care
that your RSAs do not spread misinformation or disinformation.
If you pay much attention to the news, you have probably heard the term
misinformation. According to the dictionary definition,
“misinformation is incorrect or misleading information presented as
fact. Disinformation (usually a wartime tactic; i.e. George Washington used
it to mislead the British) is deliberately deceptive.”
No matter what you call it, trust in our institutions is ebbing. I’m
talking about institutions like government and politics, medicine, science,
sports, and even retail sales.
Are Retailers Guilty?
Well, yes, frequently. Have you ever noticed a lot of your customers
don’t want to talk to you when they come into the store? It’s as
if they believe they can get the information they need to make informed
buying decisions through some sort of osmosis. Why do they try to avoid
salespeople? Can you blame a long history of misinformation?
Retail misinformation includes such things as inventing new facts,
exaggerating existing facts or omitting important facts about products,
prices or policies. Opinions and facts are two different things. An opinion
is not necessarily misinformation as long as it is expressed as an opinion,
not as a fact.
So, why did I introduce this subject with such a long-winded diatribe?
Because it’s my opinion way too many furniture and bedding Retail
Sales Associates (RSAs) and stores continue to spread misinformation about
their products and services as well as those of their competitors. Too many
RSAs also give their opinions when they should be sticking to the facts and
letting their customers develop their own opinions.
What’s The Point?
The goal of every RSA should be to make every customer sales interaction as
trouble-free as possible. Troublesome interactions may result when shoppers
form an opinion of a product or service based on misinformation or opinions
provided by an RSA or from the store’s advertising.
Customers are as ignorant of the facts about mattresses and other home
furnishings items as they were before they became “internet
experts.” Although there is an ocean of available information, much of
it is designed to sell products, services and ideas by advancing half-truths
"Omitting critical information is pretty
much the same thing as misinformation. This happens all the time with
warranties. How many RSAs actually explain to their customers how warranties
work or understand the details?”
How Do We Inform Correctly?
How would you like it if your child’s fourth-grade math teacher did
not know how to count to 100, much less do long division? There’s a
similar problem in our industry by virtue of the fact that many RSAs learn
on the job. Shoppers expect RSAs to be experts and they may claim that
title, but many have not put in the necessary work to justify their claim.
Are Your RSAs Really Experts?
An excellent way to determine if the RSAs in your retail operation are
experts is to check out the RSA self-test found in the online archives of
Furniture World at
www.furninfo.com/furniture-world-articles/3813. The title is Bedding & Mattress Sales Bedding Exam, but the questions
can be adapted to suit any home furnishings category.
This self-test that includes over 100 questions is a starting point to see
if RSAs are on their way to amassing the knowledge they need to be effective
and truthful. It can form the basis for sales education programs or to craft
a detailed outline for topics to review during weekly sales meetings or
self-serve tutorials that RSAs can review during downtime.
You might also start by asking how well your RSAs know the ‘Five
Groups of Knowledge’ as defined by John F. Lawhon in his book
“Selling Retail” (available new on Amazon for about $11). If
it’s been a while since your last reading of “Selling
Retail,” here’s a quick review:
1. Product Knowledge: Of all the five groups of
knowledge, product knowledge is the one that is most important in shielding
the consumer from disinformation. Shoppers may have read some material on
the internet, but once they engage with your store, your RSAs should have
the wherewithal to be the ultimate source of product knowledge. If an RSA is
lacking in this area their deficiency will be recognized by most shoppers
pretty quickly. RSAs who are endowed with an impressive amount are better
prepared to set their customers on a path to purchase, whether they’ve
been exposed to misinformation from competitors, the internet or are just
starting their purchase journey.
Below are suggested ways for RSAs to increase their level of product
- Memorize product specs on every SKU their store carries.
Seek out product information from manufacturer’s reps. Nobody knows
more about their products and how to sell them.
Review information presented on websites of the manufacturers that are
carried in their stores. It may be skewed to make them look good, but it
is still useful.
Check out the websites of manufacturers that competitive stores carry as
well as the websites of those stores. What are they saying about their
products? Is it accurate?
Visit websites that discuss the construction of mattresses and furniture.
Learn about the materials, good, mediocre and bad, that can be built into
your products. This is a good way to learn the difference between quality
and so-so products.
Customers are usually vitally interested in getting their money’s
worth or more. They are afraid of making a bad decision they will regret for
years. These fears are real and can only be allayed by an expert RSA who has
put in the time to amass the education and skill to help make customers
comfortable with their decisions.
2. Company Policies: How fluent are your company’s
RSAs with your customer-oriented policies? By these, I mean:
- Delivery policies
- Customer pickup policies
- Product return and refunds
- Comfort exchanges
- Special orders, etc.
Customers make decisions based on a variety of factors. Sometimes making a
deal depends on something like how quickly a customer can get a mattress
delivered. If an RSA over-promises, the result will be an angry customer and
possibly a lost sale. Even if the sale may be salvaged, the resulting ill
feelings can last a lifetime.
Repeat customers are the best customers. Cultivate them. There are some who
say there aren’t too many repeat customers for mattresses. Allow me to
disagree. In my mattress stores, repeat business was a significant
percentage of our revenue. There’s no better sight than seeing a happy
repeat customer—a friend of the store—walk in with a smile on
his, her or their face. Customers will return and refer only if they get
thorough and correct information. If you bait customers with misinformation,
you won’t see many repeats, or referrals, either.
What’s the best way to create repeat customers? Always give accurate
and useful information. Let your sales associates know it’s better to
admit they don’t know the answer and let customers know they will find
it and get back to them than provide incorrect or misleading information.
"Terms like same-as-cash, lease-to-own, buy now pay later, pay-in-4,
primary and secondary financing—when used—need to be second nature to RSAs
to avoid the appearance of misinformation."
3. Finance Policies: Explaining finance options provides
many RSAs with an unfortunate opportunity to mislead customers. While
finance options have many similarities, there are differences. Each option
has unique and sometimes, difficult-to-explain features.
Finance jargon can be difficult for customers to understand. Terms like
same-as-cash, lease-to-own, buy now pay later, pay-in-4, primary and
secondary financing—when used—need to be second nature to RSAs
to avoid providing either misinformation or the appearance of
4. Advertising: We all know that the purpose of advertising
is to bring customers into stores. Low-ball prices are a standard feature of
most advertising in the home furnishings business. There’s a good
reason for this. The first thing most customers look for is SALE and
low-ball prices. It has always been this way, and I doubt if it will ever
change. I don’t have a philosophical objection to sale pricing unless
it over-glorifies a low-ball SKU. And there’s no excuse for placing an
alluringly priced offer next to a photo of a higher-priced SKU.
If you advertise a low-ball price, make sure the SKU is in stock. Sure, you
ran the ad primarily to sell the advertised special. Even so, there will be
a few customers who insist it is perfect for them and want to take it home.
If you do not have it in stock, you will be accused—with
justification—of bait and switch. Nobody likes bait and switch;
it’s a deceptive trade practice that violates FTC regulations.
Another old-time feature of advertising I absolutely hate is the HALF OFF
SALE. Everybody in the furniture retail business knows how this scam works
(and it is a scam). When customers discover, to their great annoyance, that
they have been flimflammed by a store, they become an enemy-for-life and
they tell everybody.
5. Inventory: The last of the five groups of knowledge is
Knowledge of Inventory. RSAs who are uninformed about their store’s
inventory are bound to misinform the customer about the availability of the
product they want to buy. Mattress store owners usually understand the need
to keep everything in stock, several deep, especially their best-selling
items. “Buy it today, sleep on it tonight;” will always be one
of the main tenets store owners live by. But RSAs cannot always count on
stock availability. It is important not to over-promise. Nothing angers a
customer more than to make a purchase decision, often a laborious process,
only to find out that the RSA didn’t notice that his favorite
king-size mattress is out of stock. Don’t let this problem cause you
to lose a sale and a customer for life.
"Anxiety, more than ever, has become
endemic for our customers. It’s a major reason why it has become more
difficult than ever to work in retail.”
Misinformation by Omission
Omitting critical information is pretty much the same thing as
misinformation. This happens all the time with warranties. How many RSAs
actually explain to their customers how warranties work; or have even taken
the time to understand the details? This is especially true for the
notorious pro-rated warranties.
Don’t Slander Your Competition
When one of your RSAs is about to lose a sale to Canard Furniture, down the
street, it’s often tempting for them to try to verbally cut the
competitor to pieces. This is especially true if customers have told your
RSA that the salespeople at Canard have been talking ugly about your store.
So, what should they do?
If your RSAs don’t defend the integrity of your store, your products,
prices, policies, or financing, shoppers may assume you are guilty as
charged. Failing to correct any misinformation about your store is just
another act of omission. In this situation, RSAs must correct the
misinformation, always tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.
More details on how to do this will be the subject of a future article.
Anxiety, more than ever, has become endemic for our customers. It’s a
major reason why it has become more difficult than ever to work in retail.
Much has been written about the importance of providing the best possible
customer experience. Even so, the persistent problem of spreading
misinformation, either willfully or by omission, is one of the easiest ways
to ruin an otherwise flawless omnichannel experience by sacrificing trust,
which is the most important ingredient in any retailer-consumer
“Let your RSAs know it’s better to admit they don’t know the answer and
let customers know they will find it and get back to them than provide
incorrect or misleading information.”.