Monday, March 28, 2005


I had to buy a new mattress over the weekend, which meant an entirely depressing encounter with a salesperson. I had a pretty good idea what I wanted, something exactly the same as the bed I already own, except new and king size. When I found the like model in my local Sleepy's, the saleswoman basically ignored my plea to circumvent salesmanship, told me I didn't really know what I wanted, forced me to lay down on a computerized gizmo that purported to tell me what was most comfortable, tried to steer me to Sleepy's house brand, gave me a bunch of flimflam disinformation about comfort zones and so on, tried to force me to buy a $60 mattress "protector" and only barely stopped short of calling me an idiot when I refused, quoted me an excessive price, laughed at me when I told her I wanted to shop around and price compare, told me that "price comparison is a waste of time," then offered to call her manager to see if she could plead on my behalf for a better deal to prove that I shouldn't shop around, and then tried to insist the Sleepy's price guarantee made comparison shopping irrelevant. I don't know why I tried to reason this woman (even going so far as talking about "information asymmetry" at one point) who so clearly intended to regard me as a dimwit mark and a pushover. But she probably learned that her method is most successful, especially considering she'll have one chance with the average mattress purchaser every twenty years. The rarer the purchase, the more aggressive and deceitful the salesperson, who has to make most of her money on commissions from sporadic sales. This is why real estate agents are the most deceitful of all.

But commission-driven salespeople break out all the sleazy tricks, it seems, to mystify the process and make you feel weak and anxious. They prey on your instinct to be civil and nice and cooperative and use that against you, because they feel no civility toward you, seeing you as an opportunity to make money. High-pressure sales is a very bizarre career choice, seeming to require more than the usual amount of sociopathy, cynicism and contempt. It seems a refuge for the desperate, because it takes a kind of Hobbesean chip-on-the-shoulder desperation to fuel their aggressive pitches. Or it requires people who simply enjoy manipulating others, for its own sake, or for the sake of measuring the reach of their powers. Perhaps each boiler-room encounter is like chess to them, and they end up admiring the ingenuity of their tactics. But it seems to me that you're a fool if you don't view sales encounters like combat. Threaten to go to a competitor, call bullshit on what they say, laugh at their pitches, and see how flustered they become.

I ended up walking out on the saleswoman who was pressuring me, going to a Sleepy's down the street, and buying the same bed from a guy with a soft-sell approach who gave me the discounted price, which incidentally was advertised in company's newspaper circular.

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