I was browsing Reddit’s /r/Geek and encountered an image that could be applied to any number of things, a fact that is fairly tragic:

It’s so incredibly true.

I’m not thinking of it from the point of looking down on staff – obviously some customers are going to be better informed than they are – but I can’t think of more than a single physical shop that I don’t feel this way about. The exception in this case is Pulp Fiction here in Edinburgh – Steve really knows his stuff.

If I wander into any given shop I find sales assistants asking whether I need help. I might well do but on the few occasions I’ve asked they’ve been woefully under informed. I’m not suggesting they need to stop asking because it annoys me, I know full well that their overlords and the corporate policy they’re required to enforce are the issue.

ScienceOf course I’m sure there’ll always be customers who are ignorant of virtually the entire world and need the comforting hand-holding of the aforementioned sales staff. They want to have someone take an unreasonable sum to make whatever problem they have go away.

The question is though – are there enough of those people left in modern society to support the bloated corporations that up until now have dominated the retail sector?

Something I’ve talked about before that factors into this is physical retail space. I buy most things online because it’s cheaper, less hassle, and I don’t have to be needlessly condescending to some poor sales droid. That said I don’t mind physical shops, I just mind needless ones. The most recent time I was buying clothes with a female friend I wasn’t allowed to try things on with her anywhere nearby or vice-versa. What’s the bloody point of bringing a friend in that case? I might as well have browsed online and then ordered in my sizes!

The point of the physical trip was so we could try things on, critique each other, then try a few different combinations. I can look in a mirror but ultimately I can’t watch myself like someone else can. That’s something a physical retail space can provide that the internet can’t. Of course that can’t possibly be allowed to happen – gods forbid we see each other in any state of undress, that’s why the shop provides complimentary cassocks!

Similarly if I want to see products in person there should be some sort of advantage. Oh, wow, this smartphone weighs marginally less than the other one. Cool. That was totally worth the trip.

Instead sales staff have been given a role of customer deception. It’s their job to say whatever it takes to get me to buy things I don’t want or need. I know I am not alone in that as soon as someone tries to upsell me I’m incredibly likely to walk away. Does that sales model work to the extent that it’s worth continuing or is it simply a matter of stagnation?

Surely at some point access to smartphones will make the role of sales assistants fairly redundant. Not completely but to the point where they do not generate sufficient income for the business to be worth the paperwork it takes to employ them.

Personally I’d rather their jobs be shifted to be one that actually complimented the unique advantages of a physical retail presence.

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