Search for a Topic

Sign Up for FREE Tips

Your email:
cta webinar

Got a ?

The Retail Experts

Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

How Sleazy Have You Become?


Has The Recession Taken Its Toll On Honesty, Integrity And The Way We Do Business?
sleazy salesmanBefore you think this is going to be an X-rated article, it’s not. It is about retailers’ policies and practices that are going to hurt all of us if they continue. Over the last three days I have experienced retail policies that outraged me. Let me share my experiences.

Four years ago I bought a Breitling watch from a first class 110-year old Boston jeweler. I was thrilled with the service and I remembered something about an additional service they had-- in a few years you could bring your watch back and it could become totally cleaned and basically returned to a brand new condition. It was a service that is offered from Breitling itself and the jewelry store simply sends it back to the factory. The cost for the service, including freight back and forth, was $345.

A year ago I had chipped and scratched the watch and considering it was an investment that I hoped to pass on to my son someday, I thought it might be worth sending the watch out and I did in August of 2010. It took 7 weeks for the watch to return and it was just as they had promised in superb condition. However, a week later one of the stems that controls one of the functions of the watch fell off, but I was able to quickly screw it back on. I called the store and asked when would be a good time to bring it in for them to look at. I was told that the factory service was covered for a year and I could bring it in anytime. They assured me that everything would be taken care of to my satisfaction.

I went to Florida and wore the watch all winter and a couple of times the stem fell off again. When I returned to Boston I brought it in and I explained what had happened and that I wanted it to be sent back. The customer service representative said, “That is going to cost you extra because we don’t guarantee anything on the outside of the watch and that it might be very costly.” I was fit to be tied and asked to see the manager who quickly and professionally informed me that everything would be taken care of and I shouldn’t worry.

As the manager walked away, the customer service person felt obligated to tell me how she was making an exception for me and that I should appreciate it. Then she continued to say “I take in watches all the time for repair, and we never guarantee the outside of the watch.” In other words, she had to prove the point that she was correct. Hopefully the manager will read this article and do some personal training.

My next example of the Sleaze Factor came when I went shopping for a pair of jeans. I love to shop at a chain of casual clothing stores in the New England area called Bob’s that was once owned by TJX, the owners of Marshall’s, Home Goods, and TJ Maxx. But they sold it off in 2008.

When I found my Wrangler jeans, there was a Sale Sign that just said $34.99. Something didn’t seem right. I remember buying the jeans for around $30 but there was something that triggered my curiosity-- a not so common price sticker that was put on the Wrangler label. The sticker only read $34.99 with no other bar codes or description at all, just the price. I then noticed that on the Wrangler label that had the suggested retail price printed on it was torn off (removed) from all of the jeans. That is EXCEPT FOR MY SIZE which showed a suggested retail price printed from Wrangler at $34. In other words, not only were these jeans not on sale, they were being sold at a price higher than the suggested retail price of the manufacturer.

It got worse because I now looked at another pair of jeans that had an individual sticker of $42 with the suggested retail price ripped off, but I looked to see if I could find one that someone forgot to rip off. Sure enough I did and the suggested retail price was $38. Not much of a sale was found there either. I decided to purchase the $34.99 pair of jeans, went to the counter, and asked the cashier why were these jeans on sale for $34.99? Her response was that they were regularly $50. I responded with “That’s strange since the suggested retail price is $34.” I then asked, “Does that mean you sell them for $16 more per pair than the manufacturer suggests?” She was smart enough to call the manager to adjust the price.

The manager was pleasant and professional and informed me that she would sell me the jeans for $34 which would save me 99 cents. I then said, “I guess it’s not on sale” and she started to say “yes it is” but caught herself and then she informed me the classic “I was only doing what I was told to do.” I then said, “You did it to the wrong person because I like this store and I care enough to write about it so that policies like this don’t continue.” I said that because if a store gets a reputation of doing things like that it will kill their business. And that is why I am writing this article.

My last sleazy experience is from an industry that has been practicing bait and switch and all sorts of misleading advertising which can only be construed as sleaze. Of course you know the industry I am talking about and that is the retail automobile dealer. I own a 2006 small SUV with 78,000 miles which is front wheel drive. Needless to say a front wheel drive SUV north of Boston is not the most popular selling SUV. Most people want 4 wheel of all-wheel drive because of the snow.

I went to the dealership that services my car when I am in Boston and they have always done a first class professional job. Again they impressed me because when I spoke with a sales rep and asked about trading it in, he suggested that it would be to my advantage to purchase the vehicle in Florida where front wheel drive vehicles are more popular. It made sense to me and I decided to wait until I return to Florida in October. No sleaze here so far until 2 days later when I received a mailing piece from the general manager of the dealership telling me that they had a real shortage of pre-owned vehicles to sell and that my car, which by the way they mentioned by style and year, was in great demand. He then quoted the value of my car at $19,500 and even shared the source where that price came from which was Then they added the line however, where these cars are in such demand we will be very aggressive with our appraisals.

My first reaction was it was either professional and they were telling the truth or the sleaziest manipulation I had ever seen. I quickly called the dealership to speak to the general manager because he signed the letter. I explained to him that I had been in this dealership 3 days earlier and explained what took place and why the salesperson didn’t even feel it was necessary to appraise my car. He seemed outraged at his salesperson’s behavior and made an appointment with me to personally take care of my needs.

I showed up for my appointment and they appraised my car which is in excellent condition, never been in any type of accident and I was positive that I would be receiving an appraisal above the $19,500 that was quoted. However, that was not the case. I was handed an appraisal form stating that my car was only worth $18,000. Following that I was informed that it is front wheel drive and everyone in this area wants four-wheel drive. Needless to say I will never return to that dealership for any service and I don’t even want to buy that brand anymore.

In each case I left with a bad taste in my mouth for the retailer. I realize that conditions are tough and I know we have to be aggressive, but these tactics and policies will only serve to hurt the brick and mortar retailer. My question to you would be is it worth it especially when I could go on line and buy the same jeans for less money without the hassle of the store and I have already received better offers online for trading and purchasing my car? We don’t have a captive audience anymore. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer – we all have more choices than ever before. If you’re trying to fool some of the people some of the time, trust me you won’t be around a long time and you could hurt the rest of us. This is just something to think about.

Have a great week.


# 3, please! 
I'm bemused that your expectation are higher for an "off-price" retailer. The word "sale" is no longer singular. This is an example of seeing behind the curtain, and my surprise is that you're surprised at such routine practice. This whole genre of retailerplays fast and loose with "suggested retail". Realize that MSRP is often dictated by the Macy's of the world, which they do to create the illusion of "sale". When you do come across what appears to be a low price, chances are really high that it is similar, not exact, and the quality has been adjusted accordingly. Sleaze should be an opportunity for retailers with integrity, but we're a drop in the ocean. We can't ever stop calling it out, educating. But pricing integrity in the mass retail apparel world is horribly degraded.
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 6:47 AM by Peter Rose
The jewelry store was actually more a lack of training / bad customer service, than actually sleazy business practice. As retailers we need to teach our staff "it's better to be rich than right" unfortunately that can be a tough concept for some people to grasp.
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:25 AM by Kevin C
Agree with Peter & Kevin. What would you expect from an auto dealer? Inexperienced brat at the jewelry store and sloppy floor management at the Wrangler retailer. The sleaze is behind closed doors in the management suites.
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:36 AM by David Minea
Rick I think you're blowing this way out of proportion. Maybe you should get back into retail so your examples will be more down to earth. I'm not sure I could satisfy you as a customer.Your being "outraged" and calling these things "sleaze" leads me to think you need to put things into better perspective.(not excuses, just better perspective) And you're assuming that your on-line experience would be hassle free? Get more real Rick and maybe start working some retail again. These were examples of poor judgement/training but not "sleaze"
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 9:31 AM by Del
The examples may have not been exactly sleaze but certainly sleazy and a good lesson in what not to do. Years ago we ran an ad (in January) that said CLOSING OUT THE YEAR SALE. Nearly everyone read CLOSING OUT SALE. Some laughed because they had not read the whole ad and some were downright pissed that they had been "duped". Even after we explained the pricing was as good as a going out of business sale, they were still angry and left. The customers that felt duped were not the kind we'd had as a regular customer anyway but were more vulturistic in nature, then moving on to the next big sale. We won't do it again nonetheless.
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 10:31 AM by Jennifer
I too am more surprised that you were surprised! I become very frustrated with the fact that the retailer changed their position once you started complaining. Why do I have to act like an ass to receive the kind of service I should have gotten in the first place? You did the right thing; don't go back and write about it often.
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 10:42 AM by Dave
Judging from replies that accuse Rick of "blowing things out of proportion" leads me to believe that retail is fast becoming a game of deception and consumers must be tricked into falling for our tricky promotions.  
There are basically two approaches to marketing: One assumes that all customers are "dumb" and we can trick them over and over again. The other makes the assumption that all customers are sharp as tacks and any deceptive ploy will be recognized as fraudulent. Those that market to the dummies will routinely get half of the customers. Retailers that take the other approach will get and keep all of the customers. The question every retailer has to ask themselves is "am I better off with just some of the customers or all of them"? 
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 10:46 AM by Jim
As a retailer, I find it hard when manufacturers print the suggested retail on an item at all. They never take into consideration the cost of freight. Next they like to up their price, but send you old product with the old suggested price on it, there by reducing your margins even further. Then you, like Rick start to see multiple suggested prices on the same item with the same bar code. It is sad when we have to cut this off and miss a few. I dont agree though that a sale price would be any where near the suggested retail weather new or old one...come on what kind of markdown was that...not much.
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 11:44 AM by Pat
The point Rick is making is being overlooked by those who believe he should not have been surprised by these three incidents. They illustrate that training, policy and bad management decisions can easily do damage to all the good things we have worked very hard to incorporate into our businesses. Just that quickly, the trust and goodwill that is the foundation for a small retailer can evaporate. Larger companies probably are given more lattitude because a similar experience may not be generalized to reflect on the company as a whole.
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 11:47 AM by Rick
As a specialty store for educators, I can see it first hand where this all school! It's sort of what's being taught, or more so what's not being taught. Twenty years of watching the decline in family values is showing its ugly face in our educated owners, managers and staff. 
It's all about me, and what can I get for nothing. ("they" don't even know sleazy) unless your talking to people with values. 
God Bless us All
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 2:20 PM by Scott
Rick, Rick, Rick.. who wears a Breitling watch and Wrangler jeans this side of the Mississippi? Second why don't you buy your jeans from an independent retailer? Stores like mine are getting beat up by Bob's and the like with their slick "we have the best price" ad campaigns. You preach to us about being like Disney and make it about more than price. You didn't shop at Bob's for the service or the experience. You shopped there for the price. You were looking for a bargain and then you were "outraged" when you didn't get one. Next time come see me. You'll get integrity of pricing, value and customer service and and experience you'll never forget. All for now, Honest in Antrim
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 7:03 PM by Diane Kendall
I'm not sure I consider these examples to be sleazy;maybe just a sign of the times. Being a small, family-owned business, we cannot afford to take everything back whenever, warranty everything for a lifetime, and always be able to beat or meet my competitor's prices on different items. We pride ourselves on providing exceptional customer service and standing behind our product but have found lately customers are certainly taking advantage of this. I have customers returning items that they bought years ago for replacement because they "broke." With some wild, made-up story about the defect of the item, I am supposed to exchange it, send it back for repairs, or give money back, all for free, sometimes years after the sale. It's getting expensive and honestly seems like customers are taking more advantage of retailers than they ever did in the past. For our regulars, of course, I will ALWAYS stand by my items but it is impossible to train my sales personnel for every possible situation to do the right thing for the customer AND the store.
Posted @ Tuesday, May 17, 2011 9:25 PM by Julie
No one ever knows the whole story. For example, I brought an item into inventory 4 years ago. 3 years ago the manufacturer raised the MSRP, but I still had inventory on hand. I've held that item at the former MSRP for three years. In the mean time I've brought in similar inventory at the newer price. Finally - after THREE YEARS - I've increased the price on this item to match the 'current' price. Like Pat, some of the merchandise I *still* receive with the old price (which makes me wonder why the manufacturer was so "out-of-our-control forced" to raise the price: who's the sleaze?). I've given customers a three year grace period. That's far from sleazy. 
Another example. MSRP on one item I carry is 12.99, but a DISCOUNT catalog retailer I compete directly with lists the MSRP as 29.99 but on SALE for 14.99. Who's the sleaze? But who gets more sales, and who get's more "love" for having such great prices? 
Return policies have to be tight to protect myself from customers who bring back $500 of tattered and worn out merchandise they "never used" from five different purchases over the last 6 years demanding a full refund. 
You're time and time again too quick to judge, and too absolute in your judgements. NEVER going to buy that car brand again just because of one salesman (or even dealership)? You're only hurting yourself. 
Let's turn the tables. I heard a motivational speaker say something once I don't agree with. It just didn't work for my store. So now I refuse to listen to any motivational speaker, I think they're all stupid and it's an easy jump from there that they must all be criminals. I'm sure they're all evil. Yeah, that's a fair judgement. 
Next time, shop with Diane. Bob's clearly isn't giving you your Disney expectations, yet they've got you hooked on their drug of choice: S.A.L.E. Seek help. Shop local.
Posted @ Wednesday, May 18, 2011 1:05 PM by Daniel
I had a similarly poor, I mean POOR experience with SEARs. Claimed 30% sale (wasn't per web), scheduled delivery, confirmation call Sunday night & then de-committed delivery Monday morning 1 hr before they were to arrive with new refrigerator ... which was no empty. Could not install ice maker line & dinged railing. In all cases, SEARs blamed a 3rd party from manufacturer to delivery company ... horrible!
Posted @ Wednesday, May 18, 2011 6:06 PM by tinagleisner
Wow! Years ago while I was working at a convenience store to put myself through college, I had to go through Customer Service training. The company realized that well trained employees and the money it cost to train them were well worth the trade off. I am horrified on an almost daily basis with the customer service that is given almost every where now days. One person comments that it has to do w/ family values or something along those lines. That might be part of it in some cases but as a mother of two who teaches her children about work ethic and friendly attitude no matter what you are doing, I firmly believe that most of it falls on the heads of EVERYONE. We do not teach manners and etiquette anymore. When you pass in front of someone staring at the shelf in a store do you say "excuse me"? My mom taught me to, my teachers reinforced the lesson and so did almost every adult that I came into contact with. And I'm trying to pass that along to my children.  
It's so easy for people to blame someone else - but things won't change until we all take action.  
If you own a store, like I do, choose which suppliers you use based on more than just price. And if you don't like one of their practices - speak up. They might not change it but it might make them think about it. When you have customers that expect to be able to return things that you don't want to accept - where is your return policy? Without one you're flying blind. And as for poor sales staff - they are extension of you business owners - if you need to/want to hire employees, train them. Make sure you hire the right person for the job - if they aren't friendly in their interview do you think they will be when they are dealing with a customer? And if you make a mistake in choosing - undo it and get rid of them before they hurt your business! 
Rick - I hope that with your business and your skills took the time to try to "educate" these stores on where you think they went wrong.  
Sorry to rant for so long but Customer Service has been slidding into the sewer for a very long time. 
Posted @ Friday, May 20, 2011 2:04 PM by Gwen
Comments have been closed for this article.