About a year ago, I managed to land a job in electronics retail. I joined a massive store franchise, the biggest in the UK. I felt that, coming into the job, it would be easy. I love computers and technology, and I’m a really social person. I thought it would be a walk in the park.
I was quite wrong. Working in Electronics retail is very challenging. It stretches your understanding of humanity to its breaking point, and you find yourself losing your sanity amidst toasters and HDTVs. Before you start thinking you can sell Electronics because you know your way around a computer, here’s a few things you should expect before you sign up to sell those white and brown goods.
- You don’t know anything
I consider myself a fairly competent guy when it comes to technology. I know my RAM from my processors, and I keep up to date with the latest graphics cards. I could tell you the difference between plasma and LED TVs. But even though I knew that, I was absolutely clueless to about 80% of what my store sold.
You see, you don’t get to choose which department you end up in. You could end up in brown goods, which involves computers, music players, televisions etc. Basically entertainment products. Or, you can draw the short straw, and end up in white goods. White goods are made up of utilities, such as washing machines, cookers and fridges. If you don’t know anything about white goods, then good luck, because you’re in for a rude awakening when a customer asks you how to set up a cooker without the kitchen exploding.
You may get lucky, like I did, and end up in brown goods. I was placed in charge of audio (Headphones, music players etc). Whilst I didn’t see myself as the number one authority on the subject, over the course of a few nights I brushed up on what I needed to know. However, I wasn’t safe from being needed in another department. Often at times, I would need to go help a customer in the freezer department because I had caught their eye. My store manager would go and tell me to help any customers who looked like they were in need, regardless of what department they were in. It would only take a couple of minutes of talking to me to realise that I knew nothing about tumble dryers, so customers got annoyed.
So after a harrowing first week, I really buckled down and studied, especially where white goods were concerned. You need to work out what makes them tick, the best brands, and what questions are most likely to come up regarding each department. You have to put a lot of effort into remembering all this information. You can’t walk into your store expecting to know everything right off the bat. Get ready to do some research before you apply for this kind of job.
- The stakes can get high.
Rarely, you’ll get a customer just walk in without a problem. It might not even be a big problem, might be something small. Maybe they need a computer because their old one’s breaking down. Maybe they’re looking to upgrade their television. But either way, they need to solve said problem, and woe betide you if you get the answer wrong.
You see, you may sell £500 computers every day, but it’s a big decision for the customer. If they are not 100% happy with their purchase, you can bet your life they will come back to give you an earful. Even if it’s something trivial to you, it’s definitely not trivial to them. They’ve just spent hundreds of pounds on something that they consider very important, so you’ve got to get into that mind-set. Every purchase is personal. Same with people buying televisions and consumer items. It’s not a simple purchase for most people. But where the stakes get really high is when it comes to white goods.
People NEED white goods. You need a cooker, you need a fridge. When those break down, you can bet that there will be people rushing into the store in a rage. I once got a distressed woman rush in a week before Christmas, almost sobbing because her cooker broke down, and her relatives were coming tomorrow. She tried to appeal to my moral side, get us to lower the price. Which leads us to…
- The rules are unbreakable
I get the point of rigid store policies. I really do. But working at this store, it was very surprising how little leeway we were given whilst dealing with customers. Following on from the situation with the woman and her cooker, I was not allowed to give her a single penny off. I asked my store manager, and he said that unless she bought our cover (a nicer word for insurance) we could in no way offer a discount. She had to leave the store empty-handed because she didn’t have enough money, but not without cursing my name to the skies. If not for the money I needed, I would’ve quit that day. But instead, I grew thicker skin and learned how to deal with these problems.
I had a lot of customers shout at me because I didn’t discount prices on goods. They genuinely tried to haggle with me, because TV personalities told them they could ‘get one over on the big corporations’ by haggling with sales assistants. When I told them that it was against store policy, they’d walk out, or worse, get angry.
We also had other rules, such as we could not open products to demonstrate their functionality to our customers. Fair enough, if it was in sealed plastic, but I’m talking about products that could have easily been taken out of a box. Another time, I couldn’t help an old woman with her iPod without charging her money. It would’ve taken 5 seconds, but instead I had to charge her £10 and tell her to come back in an hour. It was actions such as these that really wore me down, but the worst of all was…
- Get ready to sell some insurance
If you ever meet me, don’t talk about insurance. Insurance sets my teeth on edge and makes me see red. At this store, we sold insurance on pretty much everything. To be honest, the insurance policies were pretty solid. If it broke, we’d fix it with minimal hassle. However, it was the fact that we HAD to sell it to every customer that annoyed me.
I get it, okay? Companies make more money from insurance than the actual product. But we were forced to sell it to customers, and to sell it hard. It’s not a simple conversation of you asking and them saying no, you had to keep at it. I’ve seen so many deals go sour because tempers flared at the discussion of insurance. You’d be surprised how many customers will turn very angry at the mere mention of protecting their brand new purchase.
But the reason we push insurance so hard is because we got penalised if we didn’t. We had a black mark against our sales record for the day. We had to sell insurance with our products around 66% of the time. And when you work with rates like that, that’s when the sleazy salesman in you comes out. I was pretty much ripping people off, getting them to sign up for insurance using psychological mind games, making them doubt themselves. I felt absolutely awful, but I had to do it to keep my job. If you don’t sell insurance, you’ll find yourself out of the door pretty quickly.
So if you’re thinking about working in an Electronics store, thinking it’ll be an interesting and new opportunity, heed this article. Use this advice wisely, and hopefully you’ll be prepared when you step into the world of brown and white goods.