by MR Magazine Staff


Jack-Abelson-FEATURED.jpgOn a recent client store visit, I entered the acknowledged leader in sales and service at the mall and walked over to men’s shoes. Quickly approached, as expected, I asked the salesperson where a certain upscale label was located. As he showed me the table displaying the brand, he asked my size, again as expected. Perfect execution of the store DNA, I thought, as now he could bring every style in my size, forming the base for a large sale. What happened next was not expected, however, as he announced he would “see what is available on the sale rack.”

Whuuuut? Did I ask about sale? I did not. Do I look like I could only afford the brand if it was on sale?  I would like to think not. Then, please someone, anyone, explain this opening gambit; is this what salespeople at the foremost department store purveyor of service are taught as optimal selling? Or is this just symptomatic of the expectational mindset of retailers everywhere, i.e., if it is not on sale, it is not of interest to the consumer?

Regardless, this is disturbing. I know; many of you are thinking, where has this guy been for over 30 years? Call me naïve, but isn’t it really “all about the merch,” as another client maintains? If one begins with the premise that Nobody Needs Anything, then there must be an emotional connection to the goods, created by their appeal, then fostered and nurtured by the staff. To begin the selling process by presenting sale items reminds me of an episode of “The Sopranos” in which one of Tony Soprano’s intended love conquests asks about his children and he responds, “There goes my hard on!” In polite language, help me fall in love more, do not turn me off!

Of course, my encounter could merely be an aberration, conflated by me into a daily occurrence in all stores; well, you answer the following question:  When was the last time you were approached in a retail store and did not hear, as the first salvo after “Hello,” about the day’s promotions? Come on now, all sweaters in shades of green are 30% off, with another 20% off if you were born on an even day (or an odd day, who cares?), and versions thereof. Never mind that the sweaters are boring and unattractive, they are on sale! This is akin to the new app for your phone that really does nothing for you but it is an app and it is on your phone! If that is all you need to provide value, what a wonderful world we live in!

I have a great idea; let us have a one day event in retail where nothing is on sale and all the merchandise in the store is exciting, compelling and displayed magnificently. There are no sale racks to check first before bringing out examples of the brand a customer asked for and further, all stores are staffed with well trained, enthusiastic people.  Even in outlets, there are no added incentives and the race to the price bottom is suspended, at least for a day. Could you imagine the joy for consumers who are finally treated properly? I can.

One final point, and an update on an earlier piece in which I extolled Shake Shack for going to hand cut fries at great expense, instead of the frozen crinkle cut version, because they were fresher and therefore an improvement in their offering. Turns out the “Shackerati” were not pleased and Shake Shack has gone back to the frozen variety, albeit with improvements on the original in nutritional value, etc. The lesson again is, and will always be, pay attention to your customer and give them what they want, regardless of the price. For it is not price alone that drives the buying decision, but rather value, of which price is merely one component.

Jack Abelson is an industry consultant with many years of experience in the apparel business. He can be reached at