In praise of stupid sales help

by on July 15, 2006 at 2:21 am in Economics | Permalink

In Lyon most of the sales assistants are quite smart.  Unlike many American sales clerks, they can actually help you, at least when they choose to.  There is not much unskilled labor walking around the typical FNAC store.

But this is a mixed blessing.  A clerk will spend half an hour "helping" a customer.  I wait and wait.  (It is worse than the Falls Church Public Library.)  I do not understand their conversations.  Did in fact Sartre grasp Heidegger’s critique of phenomenology, and what does that mean for the purchase of a cell phone?  The question has not been resolved.

Customers cannot talk for so long to a stupid person.  So if you know what you are doing, you might prefer that the sales people be stupider.  Stupid people will spend more time, in percentage terms, helping the already informed.

"Batteries are over there."  Even a stupid person can manage that.

michael vassar July 15, 2006 at 3:22 am

“”Batteries are over there.” Even a stupid person can manage that.”
This seems to me to be a classic example of overestimating stupid people.

jn July 15, 2006 at 9:15 am

Your observations may be correct when making cross country comparisons, but my impression is that sales clerks in Paris today are less skilled/clever/qualified/helpful than they were 15-20 years ago, when French unemployment was roughly the same.

Moreover, FNAC may be a weird example because the bookstore equivalents — Borders and B&N — seem to attract quite well-read clerks in many parts of the US.

Your point is more relevant for clerks of Samaritaine/Printemps vs. Nordstrom’s. But here is where the decline in French help over time seems most obvious.

cllam July 15, 2006 at 1:30 pm

The ideal is when the capacity of the individual is exactly equivalent to the requirements of the job. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. An overeducated salesclerk is merely an annoyance, but an incompetent surgeon is tragic.

J July 15, 2006 at 1:50 pm

It hasn’t been my experience that the ability or desire to discuss philosophy is in any way connected to how intelligent an individual is. And I think you’re confusing stupidity with lack of subject knowledge in any case – if I walk into CompUSA looking for a new router that requires properties specific to the VPN client I’m using, the fact that the salesperson has no idea what I’m talking about doesn’t make them stupid -indeed, if I found someone with a knowledge of network configuration worth $75/hr working an $8/hr sales job I probably would think they were stupid (or deranged). In this case, the conversation you heard may well have been germaine to the customer’s needs. Did they know where the batteries were?

thought July 16, 2006 at 1:21 am

I find this amusing to find someone actually complaining about knowledgable sales help.

First, if you don’t want the conversation to carry one for so long, just end it. A supposedly “smart” or well-informed customer would know that. No one forces you to just sit and listen to a salesperson pontificate.

Second, did it ever occur to you that some people actually like conversing with a salesperson? Not everone is so rushed that they want to just go in and make a purchase. Some actually enjoy the shopping experience, and moreso if they can strike up a nice exchange with the salesperson.

In fact, I’d venture to say that there are a whole lot of rather lonely people out there who would love to chat with a good salesperson.

So to me this complaint about too knowledgable sales help is well, just “stupid.”

jim July 16, 2006 at 2:16 pm

Niclas,

Why don’t the Europeans apply the same logic and pass a law banning low
quality automobiles from the streets (ban all cars more than 2 years
old, for example)? After all, then YOU as a driver would not have to
tolerate traffic interruptions as frequently.

The reason, of course, is that such a law is inefficient, that is, it
would reduce the wealth of society. We tolerate traffic interruptions
because allowing people to drive older cars means that the resources
that would have gone into new cars all the time is available for other
things (i.e., the opportunity cost of having only 2 year old cars is
too high).

Minimum wage laws, and all the other laws mandating worker fringes and
proscribing labor contracts, have the unintended consequence that they
block low skilled people from opportunities to work their way out of
being low skilled people. Employers would hire more people and would
train them were it not for all these laws in Europe.

ninnin July 17, 2006 at 2:15 am

‘Employers would hire more people and would train them were it not for all these laws in Europe.’

Boy, that is the sort of remark I expect to see – speaking only of Germany, it is merely ignorant, and not mean-spirited, though.

German employers are intricately involved in training their workers in ways both Middle Age (the whole apprentice/master system) and ‘modern’ – many workers finish their education while being educated by their employer.

Generally, German employers such as BMW or Mercedes or Bosch were shocked at the average level of education (notice – not skills, which were completely lacking) of the potential employees when they started building their own North American facilities in the mid-1990s. And they never expected to have to send hundreds of normal plant workers to just get production off the ground and teach their new American employees how to work in a factory setting.

When VW had a similar experience in the 1970s / 1980s (as I recall), it was blamed on the union atmosphere in the Rust Belt. This time round, in Spartanburg, SC, I don’t think the explanation is union attitudes.

One reason Germany is still the world’s largest exporter (yes, France has a larger GDP than China, and Germany exports more) is due to the training the workers are expected to possess.

Maybe if America adopted more German practices (you know, fairly universal health care, six week vacations, actually manufacturing quality goods other people want to buy, saving money instead of going into debt), it could actually start becoming less successful in at least one area – after all, being the number 1 debtor nation is not really an achievement to trumpet while talking about how European employers are hobbled by labor laws.

Paul Gowder July 17, 2006 at 11:03 pm

I’m afraid customers can spend a while talking to stupid salespeople. Particularly, yelling at them. Or explaining the same damn thing, over and over.

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