Momma Told Me: Shopper Profiling: Discriminiation Based On Assumed Sales

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Shopper Profiling: Discriminiation Based On Assumed Sales

Recently, the other half and I, began a determined search for the perfect bed.

We'd been saving up for quite a while and, over any possible vacation or splurge, I had my heart set in the indulgence of a proper night's sleep. Our current mattress is a hand me-down Queen in which we promptly meet (sink) into the middle of each night. It's safe to say there is little to no support, and my often aching back and sleepless nights can by attributed. Now, as funny as it may sound; I have purchased cars, computers, large appliances, and even leased my own home- but I have never known the pride of a bed I particularly purchased for my own. (It's no wonder I've often been so restless at night!)

Those who loyally read my blog already know my stance on the issue of cost/money. While Momma was/still is a fierce couponer, she taught me a fiscal method much more valuable than any free can of soup; "Just because it is free, does not mean it is the best value." But everyone loves a good deal, right? Well, it is my earnest belief that a 'good deal' or 'value' is not measured by the bottom line, but the execution of the product's function, and overall life. However, This does not mean that all expensive things are consistently better. As a golden rule, when making any large purchase, I will often set a budget cap. When researching I will limit the items considered by that cap, but consider every choice between the lowest and even just over- never weighing out the prices until the end. Instead, I will (either physically or mentally) list each of the pros and cons of the various options until I have a 1, 2, and 3 choice. Only then will I bring price into consideration. At that point, it is simply a matter of the most, overall, benefits for the price. It goes without saying that this especially applies to my bed, which I will spend approximately 30% of the next 10-15 years of my life in.

Now, many of you also know I am an avid Fashionista; following all things beauty and vintage chic. But you also know I enjoy lounging in PJs and heading out to thrift stores for vintage finds. Well, the other half and I recently decided to hit the local thrift stores on Main St, and enjoy a casual meal at our local Chilis. The day's wardrobe? Well worn Flip Flops (we live on the beach, what else?), a pair of comfy jeans, and a Pink Floyd Tee. The other half was decked out in Metallica and jeans of his own, with Oofos Sandals. We weren't a mess, we simply weren't dressed up- it was a typical Southern California, lazy beach day. As it turns out, pulling out of the restaurant in the next town over, I happened to recall there was a nearby (major) Mattress Store. Unwilling to retire so early, we decided to head on in and browse the selection, as we had only previously shopped brand exclusive storefronts (Serta, Sleep Number, etc). I was curious to see what a Mattress store, offering multiple brands, and sales reps, would offer.

Well, we entered the establishment and were immediately off to a bad start. From behind a desk, about 25ft away in the center of the warehouse sized showroom, was the only visible employee. This gray haired gentleman, whom would seem to have years of industry experience and knowledge I might find particularly valuable, was listlessly browsing on a laptop. I visually scanned the perimeter to see if any other salesmen were on duty, or if he was perhaps assisting a customer. We were the only ones there. As the door was quite loud, and I had heard chimes upon entrance, I proceeded to make my way to the right hand side of the showroom, quite lost. Remember, I have never purchased a mattress before, and when you are willing to pay multiple thousands for the best fit, you could potentially be a star customer/sale. Unfortunately for me, on this particular day, it seems to have labeled me as in-genuine and unworthy of this individual's time.

Not only did we visually appear out young age (mid-twenties), but we were dressed casually- something I assume the salesman read as 'not worth his time'. We browsed some higher end mattresses for a few moments, before I became anxious and moved closer towards that solitary desk to engage the salesman, myself. "Hello?" I hesitantly called out, making eye contact. I was met with a cold glare, and a sigh, "Hi". Biting my lip, I turned back around to browse by myself, the salesman eventually making his way over. Once in the area he stood without remark, until I, again, engaged him; "Hi, I recently visited the Sleep Number Store, and have my heart set on an Eastern King. I was quoted $3,500, and I thought I'd see what else that might buy me, in another brand, before I make the commitment," I explained.

This was met with aggravation, "All I ever hear from customers is how they get rid of their Sleep Numbers after 4-5 years. It's not a mattress, it's an air mattress- you're still sleeping on an air bed." I pursed my lips, waiting for more information. I'd expected a salesman to immediately trash whatever pre-conceived notion I'd had about the only brand not sold there, but I'd also expect a counter sales pitch. Nothing. I watched as he fidgeted, glancing towards the back of the showroom, his eyes wandering. There was absolutely no sense of customer service, or even pursuing a potential commission from a sale. I had now told this gentleman my potential budget (which included over 70% of the showroom's options), and given him a blank canvas. I was a first time mattress buyer; I'd practically told him to SELL me a bed. Growing frustrated, I continued down the wall of Cooling Gel Top and Memory Foam beds. I was lost, and the customer service (or lack there of) was making me increasingly aware of my ignorance in this category.

Spotting a mention of 'cooling gel layers', I turned back towards the salesman and inquired, "I didn't know mattresses were using cooling technology- is this exclusive to this brand?" I received an agitated expression, as he drew closer towards where I had ventured. "Only SERTA makes bed with Cooling Gel layers." (A fact I later found out to be incorrect, in their own showroom). Still no offer of information, no leading me as a customer, no questions about my wants or needs, no 'Lay down and tell me what you think'. I felt my stomach tie in knots, and now began to consider that this man simply felt we were not worth his time. Even the thought of sliding out of my flip flops to try out a mattress made me nervous and embarrassed. Did he think we were not good enough for a premium bed? I half expected him to open his mouth and have the audacity to suggest we take a look at the opposite of the showroom from something more in our 'range'.

Perhaps I was being ridiculous, making something out of nothing, I was determined to give it one more chance. Having found a mattress we both showed interest in, I inquired about sizing. I had clearly mentioned, upon introduction, we were shopping for an Eastern King. All display size charts topped off at Standard King. "Do all of these mattresses come in Eastern King options?" I inquired, expecting that this would have been something the salesperson would have already narrowed down if not. "No, but we can order this in Eastern King." Again, this was the end of the conversation. I'd never been in a less pleasant, more disjointedly painful sales scenario- especially one pertaining to such a big ticket item. There I was, ready to spend my hard earned cash; simply asking for the gentleman (who would assuredly be pocketing a commission from it) to help me decide how to spend it. One would have thought I was asking him to hold my dog, or wash my feet- the disdain was evident.

The interactions continued as such for another 10 minutes, until the salesman eventually wandered back to his desk (and laptop), with no closing or salutation. We were left in the middle of the sales floor, lost. On our own, we managed to find a few viable options, but the only information we could deduce from various models was the generic card tied to each bedpost. I didn't dare approach the salesman for help. In the end, it simply came down to my stubborn desire to not let that particular individual profit from what would have been a certain, and easy sale. After all, I felt as though I'd been severely profiled, and (with no other customers in the showroom) without any cause! As an individual who worked furniture sales, and moonlighted as a waitress, for many years- I understand customer profiling. When your time is strapped, and you can only be in so many places at once, you tend to prioritize, based on potential commission. It's an awful truth, but when dealing with limited hours and endless bills, a reality.

Now, an individual who feels that they are secure enough in life to profile their sole customers to the point of insulting and inevitably turning them away- well that is either one lucky (rich) salesman, or an individual who should not be working with the public at all. I work hard for my money, as I am sure all of my readers do- it doesn't grow on trees. When I see such a lack of hunger for the sale, I can only assume I am not being taken seriously. Unfortunately, in this case, I feel that is precisely the case. Should I put on heels and a skirt to go bed shopping? Is it my fault, as the consumer, for not presenting myself as their target client? In my short life (so far) I have seen generosity come from those least expected, men in suits on corners begging for change, and been bought a 'round of drinks' by a little old woman in a straw hat at a club.

For me, next to lying, judging someone based on appearance is one of the ugliest human traits. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most natural. For whatever reason, we are conditioned to expect certain behaviors based on an individual's presentation. Whether it's for self preservation (like a cat learning not to swat a bug with a stinger) or self narcissism, it holds no place in an empty showroom, on the clock.

Have you ever been profiled before? How do you handle customer profiling?

As Required by the FTC: This post was in no way associated with any of the above mentioned companies. I was not compensated for my opinion, nor and mentions. It is simply a piece of good, old fashioned, blogging.


  1. Truthfully, I am regularly "profiled" because I'm a Muslim... sometimes in a good way, and sometimes in a bad way. I agree, it's disgusting indeed!

    Excellent customer service is sadly disappearing from so many establishments these days... I'm glad you ultimately left and refused to order a mattress from that store.

    I would strongly encourage you to print out your blog post and send a formal letter to the store (and if it's a chain store - be sure to send one to the district office AND corporate office).

    We are all quick to share our complaints with our friends, families, even strangers - but I believe it's just as important to let a company know when they have failed their customers. (It's equally as important to praise them for going above and beyond - which I've also done)!

    I even wrote a very lengthy complaint to Kaiser Permanente after a horrible experience in the ER with not one, but two arrogant and downright RUDE doctors. I know for a fact my letter raised some feathers because the next time I happened to come across one of the doctors in passing at the hospital he gave me a very icy glare (I'm pretty sure that complaint letter found its way to his personnel file - where it rightfully belongs given the terrible things he said to me and how he treated me).

    Let your voice be heard!!!

  2. Great post! See, it happens to us all the time too? The SO and I, we can dress it up...but we also loove our casual side...sweats,, so we can look like a mess too. Those darned sales people always ignore us if we're dressed down but they're the first to come over and ask if we need any help when we're all dressed up. It's rude and annoying! We actually had people look shocked we got into our car b/c it "didn't look like" something we'd be able to afford. When we work on the car, we also have people slow down and watch us, asking us whose car it is. C'mon, like we need to steal a car and we're going to try and steal a car in broad daylight!? Just your head a bit.
    Whirlwind of Surprises

  3. Darn typo...I meant *just use* your head a

  4. Wow that's horrible. Sometimes I feel like I'm being judged by how I look but I try not to assume what people are thinking. But when you go into a more expensive store wearing average clothes and no makeup etc, I always feel like they are thinking, "why are they in here, they obviously don't have the money."

    What I get is when my hubby and I go to an appt like a bank appt or something that deals with money or a large purchase, the sales person always directs his questions to my husband, like I don't know or can't make the decision because I'm the wife. Grr. Even when i ask a question or repeatedly answer their questsions, the next question still goes to my husband.

  5. I find mattress shopping to be the biggest smoke and mirrors game out there (even without rude salesman). They try to push you towards whatever mattress is on special or that they get the biggest commission from. Excellent customer service is so hard to find. I think that's why so many people are relying on bloggers these days instead of salesman.

  6. I find that it happens to me occasionally. I live out in the Seattle area where everyone tends to dress casually. Otherwise I would find it happening all the time as I wear jeans and a t-shirt at work.

    What I really hate is when myself and my husband will go in some place and they assume he is my kid. I don't look old for my age but he is 44 and looks 24. So they will try to sell him so that he can convince me. I never spend money at a shop that pulls that one.

    I agree with Serena. You really need to send a copy of the blog post to the corporate headquarters as they need to know the quality of the employees that they hire.

  7. If a salesman doesn't want to sell you something from a $5 breakfast to a $40,000 car just because you are dressed down means they don't need your money and to go elsewhere. Anyone who had heard you say you were willing to spend big money on a mattress and then not even try to sell you anything they felt was better or more worth your money because it was from their store is an idiot. Glad you walked out and are going to find your mattress somewhere else.

    You might consider sending this post to the owner of the store so they can see they lost a sale.

  8. Write to the store and corporate office, and maybe you should consider posting about your experience on the store's facebook page. Your experience sounded horrible, and the higher-ups at the store should know about it.

    A customer is not only purchasing a product, they are also purchasing service....and salespeople should be held accountable for the way they treat their customers.

  9. So sorry to hear you had to go through that. Customer service in a lot of places is poor to begin with and only gets added when a person doesn't dress to their expectations. I recently went to a large electronics store to check out cell phone service plans. I had to fight tooth and nail to get any type of service and finally just gave up. They missed out on potentially selling three cell phone contracts.