How Do You Like Your Sales Greetings?

We have a question: how exactly do you feel about the obsequious Frank Nelson type who advances like a praying mantis upon you when you walk into a store, rubbing his fingers together, rolling his eyes to heaven and bellowing “Yeeeeeeeeesssssssssss?”

We ask because Eric B. just wrote us, enthusing about Restoration Hardware for our Best Customer Service contest. One of their saving graces, he writes:

    Time how long till someone greets you. Not a pushy sales greeting like, “Ooh you look good on that sofa how many do you want to take home?” But an actual human greeting like, “Hello.” RH: 60-90 seconds, per employee training. PB: Infinity. (RH trainers sometimes take new recruits into PB to show how it’s NOT done.)

That’s a far cry from the sales push, but we were curious how many customers were annoyed even by that. I would personally like to have no contact whatsoever with people working in a store until I actually require them. That makes me seem callous and unfriendly, but what seems to be a friendly “Hello” issued by a salesman often times becomes a sales pitch when you respond in kind.

Am I the minority here? Is a greeting when you walk in the door something that makes you feel all gooey, or an imposition that puts you on guard? Let us know in the comments.


Edit Your Comment

  1. I’d say you’d be in the minority around here, but then again, “around here” is Texas. Were I to walk into a normal-sized store (as opposed to a cavernous mega-plex-uber-hyper-store-mart) and not get a friendly “hello” from the proprietor, I’d be a bit put out. For all our faults, Texans are genuinely pretty friendly.

  2. Josh R. says:

    I like the Moe’s Southwestern Grill greeting. When you walk in, one or more employees yell “WELCOME TO MOE’S!!!”

  3. Shaggy says:

    Personally, I like to be ‘ignored’ too. I achieve that by having a lot of tatoos and shoulder-length dreadlocks. But there are downsides to that too: getting help in most stores is damn near impossible.

  4. Falconfire says:

    I feel the same way. Unless I know the people in the store I would like to be left alone while I am there. Way too often a “Hello” really turns out to be “Hello Im going to stand 5 feet behind you so i know your not stealing anything and so i can get the most money i can out of you before forgetting you even exist.”

  5. mschlock says:

    I’m of the “leave me alone till I need you” school too. All a prompt greeting usually says to me is congratulations, you browbeat your employees into paying close attention to the door. I know it’s not sincere.

    Well, if it’s a local restaurant and I’m a regular, OK, sure, say hi. If it’s the clothing shop at the outlet mall 40 miles from my house, I’m anonymous and I’d like to stay that way.

  6. KevinQ says:

    You know what I want? I want the register monkey closest to the door to look at me, nod, say “Hi,” or “Hello,” and go back to her transaction. That lets me know that somebody recognizes I exist, but doesn’t make me feel pressured.

    I never noticed greetings until I started working for Blockbuster Video, and we were all required to greet all customers as they came in the store. We were probably a little overzealous, but now I notice the greeting.

    The trick is, the employee should not walk toward you when greeting you. That makes it feel more like an impending sale push. They should stand where they are and shout the greeting at you.


  7. Mauvaise says:

    You may very well be in the minority, but I feel the same as you. But then I’m well known for my anti-social tendancies. Not only do I like to be left alone unless I seek out assistance, I prefer to shop at places that have self-checkouts. As far as I’m concerned, the less contact I have to have the with public when I’m out and about, the better for everyone!

    However, I’m unfailingly polite when greeted or when I can’t avoid contact with service people. I’ve even been known to be friendly on occasion.

  8. TPIRman says:

    I agree that I like to be “ignored” up to a point, but I also like to have someone available when I need them. The luxury of being ignored can quickly turn into frustration when it turns out that the store employees are awfully good at ignoring.

    In Japan, the “hello” thing is universal. It’s basically a cultural mandate that when you step into a store or restaurant, you are greeted with a loud “irrasyaimase!!!!” (i.e., “welcome”). Because the greeting is so cursory and universal, it doesn’t feel pushy, but it does give you indication that they’re aware of you. Your experience after that depends on the store, but when I lived there, I generally found that the emphasis is on being available rather than proactively pestering the customer. (Enormous caveat: As a white guy who, as far as they knew, potentially spoke no Japanese, I was much less likely to be approached.) It usually struck the right balance.

  9. At first, I thought the ‘Welcome to Moe’s!’ was cute, but that got annoying after a while.

    I don’t mind a ‘hello’, I just don’t like ‘Can I help you?’. I like being acknowledged, but I don’t like being stalked. That rarely happens though. Maybe it’s a Denver thing?

  10. Amy Alkon000 says:

    In France, also, it’s customary to say “Bonjour, Madame,” or “Bonjour, Monsieur” when you enter a store. And to have them say it to you. It’s nice. Anything beyond that feels akin to being prey.

  11. LintMan says:

    I don’t need or demand it, but a simple “hello” or “let me know if you need help” is nice. It makes me feel the staffer is willing and available to help if I need it, without feeling pushy or my needing to respond with anything more than “Hi” or “OK, thanks”.

    It’s subtle though: anything more than that, like “What can I do for you today?” or “Can I help you find something?”, starts to bug me, since it requires me to explain myself, ie: “No, I’m just looking right now”, and makes me feel like I need their OK to look around on my own.

  12. etinterrapax says:

    I don’t mind “hello,” but a) I hate when it’s followed by anything else, including, “Can I help you find something today?” which implies sales pressure to me; and b) since I worked at HellMart, I no longer find greetings innocuous. Wal-Marts have greeters so that shoppers feel an employee presence as soon as they enter the store–to forestall shoplifting. There’s nothing friendly about it. It’s true that loss is a major concern there–one store’s LP person told me that fully 25% of all WM customers, including associates, have stolen from the company–but even if nothing’s working on me but Catholic guilt, I resent the implication that I am already a suspected thief the minute I come in. I tend to spend more when I like the company and I like the people working there. I don’t know why more businesses don’t capitalize on that. I spend more than I should at Williams-Sonoma just because of how nicely they always treat me. They could give seminars on that.

  13. hardcle says:

    I prefer to be ignored as well. It may sound unreasonable, but my ideal customer service experience would be for the employees to remain invisible until just before I needed them. I feel this way because when I go into a store it’s for one of two reasons: I’m just looking around to kill time with no intention of buying anything or I know exactly what I want and I’ll go straight to it, purchase it and leave. In the former case, I’ll never need help and in the latter, I’ll only need help if the item is not where it should be. In either case, I find greetings or “may I help you?” somewhat annoying.

    I am reminded of a training video I once had to watch for work. There were two scenarios: one where a customer asked a clerk where an item was, the clerk told him and the customer went to get it. In the second, the clerk engaged the customer in what I felt was a highly personal conversation before helping him. Of course, the second thing was what we were supposed to do. My immediate reaction was if a clerk tried to engage me in such a conversation when I just want to know where the toothpaste is, I’d run out the door, never to return.

    I don’t need retail clerks to be my pals. They are there to give me information I request and to take my money. That’s it.

  14. ModerateSnark says:

    I agree with most comments. In a big store, no greeting is best; in a small one, “hello” is ok as long as I’m not approached or followed. And I feel I can’t complain too much about “Can I help you find something?” if a response of “No thanks, I’m just looking” is readily accepted.

  15. Doug Nelson says:

    What’s a PB?

  16. I like a “Hello” and the occasional, “Can I help you (find something)?” I’ll save the “conversation” for actually needing to ask them about a product.

    There are some stores where it’s not productive to be ignored and left alone by sales staff, and often the people who claim that’s what they want will then turn around and complain that they can’t find someone to give them assistance.

    Try being stranded in any large appliance section of a BestBuy for instance and having to search high and low to find a blue shirt to answer a question or heaven forbid, ring you up.

  17. drsmith says:

    In my vocabulary, RH = Right Hand and PB = Lead. Since neither of those make sense in the context of this post, it would be appreciated if someone could explain what they’re supposed to stand for.

    Otherwise, I live in the state of NY and my attitude about greetings follows what most have said above. In most instances, I’d rather be ignored until I need something. One of my biggest pet peeves is the over eager salesperson that asks “can I help you”. You see, what s/he doesn’t realize is that they’re the 5th person to ask me that in a 10 minute time period. I used to get rather angry about the whole thing, but then I decided to just count the number of times I had been asked if I wanted help and then to tell the associate which number they were. Something like:

    associate: Can I help you?
    me: You’re the 5th person to ask me that.

    Usually it only takes a couple of visits to the store for the associates to then talk to management, explain that they’re annoying customers, and get the policy changed. It’s gotten extreme in some cases – I even had a manager try to lecture me on being polite after one of these exchanges. I told him to stuff it, left the store, and never returned. Sometimes you have to just vote with your feet and your wallet.

  18. DeeJayQueue says:

    RH= Restoration Hardware (or Resto as I call it) and PB= Pottery Barn. The article says he works for Resto, and I would assume that since Pottery Barn competes directly with them that it would be the logical fit to the acronym.

    I like being greeted in large stores like Bed Bath & Beyond or Lowes just so that I’ve got a tracker on where an employee is if I need them. Often times a smock or apron is the only indicator of someone’s status there, and sometimes it’s only a nametag. In mid-box stores it gets a little hairy because sometimes they work on commission or will try to start a sales pitch. Small box retail is the worst and probably the hardest not to get noticed in. Most retail joints have some variant of the “10 foot rule” which is every time you come within 10 feet of a customer you should at the very least make eye contact, or say Hi or offer some sort of greeting. Mostly if they need help that’s all the impetus they need to ask for it.

  19. Das Ubergeek says:

    PB = Pottery Barn; RH = Restoration Hardware.

    I actually really like the way the Koreans do it. When you walk in, people look up, bow and greet you — the same way, everywhere, no matter what kind of business it is: “Annyeong haseyo!” (“Hello!”), called out forcefully. Because it’s so universal, it doesn’t feel like they’re trying to be your oily best friend… and then, of course, you bow (but not as deeply) and return the greeting. It’s all reflexive.

    In general, I want the staff to be attentive — I don’t mind being asked, “Is there something I can show you?” but I don’t want them to come over and start talking about the products. When I walk in, a simple “Hello” suffices, or even just a nod and smile.

    The opposite of the gregarious overweening greeting is just as bad, BTW… at Macy’s, you can walk through the entire store and never be acknowledged by a single person… which means you’ve got to get up the gumption to go and be a bit assertive when you need something.

    Also, I’m a snob. I don’t want to be greeted with “Yo, whussup dog” or anything like that.

  20. Madrid says:

    When I used to work at a Virgin Megastore in Las Vegas back in my teen days, it was customary to oogle the beautiful foreign women until they disappeared in the aisles, while the male patrons received little or no acknowledgment unless they were buying or stealing merchandise.

    For those confused hotel patrons (Caesar’s) we did help, we often received tips. On the rare occasion that the customer was late a 30-something recently divorced woman who rarely experienced unfamiliar discourse with a male who, in the interest of commission, feigned genuine interest in her, we would receive hotel room keys and instructions to visit during the late hours.

    Now how’s that for service?

  21. kostia says:

    It completely and totally depends on the type of store. If the employees are random schleps, I don’t need them to ask if they can help me: I know full well they can’t. The frigging greeters at Wal-Mart, for instance. But if previous experience with the store has taught me that the employees are knowledgeable and helpful, I want one to approach me.

    In a Williams-Sonoma, for instance, where you can pretty much assume the people working there are familiar with what they’re selling and know where it is and what it’s used for, but everything is a little complicated and likely difficult to find quickly in the store, I’d like to be greeted AND asked if I need help, so I can tell them what I want and they can tell me where to find it.

  22. A friendly greeting like Hi is nice. Can I help you or what are you
    looking for is slightly obnoxious, if I’m looking for something, I’ll
    tell you. Stares or a second approach are just plain annoying.