6 Shady Retail Tactics Exposed

Growing up in the 80’s I loved going to malls with my parents so I could check out all of the cool stores and spend my allowance on what ever happened to catch my eye. When I grew up, I loved malls so much I spent a decade working in management for some of the top retail companies in clothing, Shoes, Jewelry and body care. But today, things in retail have changed and not just a little. So before your next trip to the mall, here are some things you need to know, take a look with me behind the curtain.

Loyalty/Rewards Programs:

Almost all retailers have a rewards or points card that they will push on you during your transaction. It will require you to give a combination of email, full name, Date of birth, address and postal code. While most companies do not share this information with third parties, this information is easily available for all store employees from the store to store, from manager to cashier. Retail databases can also be vulnerable to hacking. Most of these companies will also use these programs to track everything that you purchase (often this is how they can recover a customers lost receipts). There is also a script that every one behind the register must use, they are instructed not to give the customer the opportunity to say “No” because most people will go along with data collection to avoid appearing rude. Most companies have a “data collection” quota  of between 70 and 90 percent per store.

Misleading Marketing/Signage:

Retail companies are very careful to make sure that there signs and marketing are impactful and eye catching but they are also misleading the customer with deals that are literally too good to be true. Always read the fine print! Especially on sale signs. Here are some examples of how a  50% off sale might be misleading..

up to 50% OFF,  50% OFF select styles,  50% OFF ENTIRE STORE! *some exclusions

You may also see a sale like this on black Friday or boxing day: 50% OFF, PLUS take an additional 10% OFF Today Only!

Great 60% off right? Nope, because of the way the discounts are applied. the 10% discount is only applied to the reduced price so you only end up getting 55% off, so bring your calculator. Many of the sale items will also get marked up in price a week or two before the sale begins so the discount you get is lesser still.


Return policies will vary from company to company. If you are someone that has a lot of problems returning items at your favorite stores, you are most likely doing it wrong. Even though return policies vary, one thing that is pretty standard throughout retail is almost every employee has the ability to make exceptions. This is an effective tool that is used to retain valued customers. Now here’s the thing, because it is an exception it is reserved for the regular customers that employees want to return. If you are one of those people who comes in with an attitude every visit or makes a scene it should be no surprise that the person with whom you are dealing will do nothing to encourage you to return. It may sound unbelievable but a smile and a friendly demeanor will have them bending over backwards to keep you that way. Just give it a try..

Pushy Sales People:

Back in the day, pushy sales people were an indication that the retailer paid it’s employee’s with a commission based pay structure. Today however pushy sales people are much more common and not because they work on commission but because large companies have replaced incentive with intimidation by making manipulative sales tactics mandatory.

Every sale made in store is credited to a specific associate who will have several goals that they will be expected to make every shift. They will have a daily sales goal, a unit per transaction goal witch will range from 2 to 4 items per sale. Each company also has a mandatory sales model that each employee must follow. Here is basically how it goes.

  1. Greet Customer
  2. Pepper the customer with open ended questions (these are questions that will require the customer to answer more than a “Yes” or “No”) for example “What brings you into the store today? “, “Who are you shopping for?” “Do You have any big plans for the long weekend?” this will pressure the customer to engage  in conversation. While the associate determines what they can sell the customer.
  3. Upsell/Add On If possible get customer in fitting room and bring additional items. Retail research shows customers are 50% more likely to make a purchase once they enter a fitting room. suggested script would look like “I brought you a top that I think would look great with those jeans and here’s a belt that will pull the whole outfit together.”
  4. Pepper the Customer with closed ended questions these are questions that are designed to get the customer to commit to the purchase. Here is how that might look “Don’t you think those jeans look great on you?” At this price you really can’t turn this deal down, can you?”
  5. Rewards/Loyalty If the customer does not have a loyalty card sign them up, don’t give them the option to say “NO” just follow the script. It might go something like this: ” You don’t have a loyalty card? You have to have one! You will get earn discounts, and have access to special offers I’m signing you up right now. What’s your email address?
  6. Transaction and Thanks 

They will also have an average dollar sale goal usually around $100.00 This means at the end of the day when they average out all sales assigned to a specific sales associate the average sale will need to match or exceed the goal. All of these goals need to be met consistently in order for the sales associate to retain their employment.

This can be incredibly stressful (even more so, in a slow economy), especially when you consider that how much you spend, how many items you buy and whether or not you sign up at the till is ultimately up to you the customer and not the sales associate. This has created a high pressure and extremely competitive sales environment that can be just as unpleasant for employees as it is for you the customer. Don’t allow your self to be manipulated, remember it’s your money and your decision.

Customer Complaints: most customer complaints are taken seriously and followed up on by all members of management at the store level in regards to things like rudeness or poor customer service. There are some kinds of complaints that you should take directly to customer service if you want anything to be done. Some of these would be, Inventory or size complaints, Product quality, Pricing, Country of manufacture, web orders, shipping costs, or any specific company policy. Head offices are big bubbles and complaint’s made at store level almost never make it as far as head office. Customer Service lines are the best way because it’s is the customers direct line to head office.

Clientele: This is the newest form of data collection for a lot of retailers. Have you had a sales person offer to call you when a size comes in or when a sale starts? If you have left your name number, you could be on a “clientele list” and further data will be collected for use at the store level. They will call to invite you in for special discounts or sales, but what the don’t tell you is that, in addition to the name and number that you gave, the store will track what collections you buy from, what size clothing you wear, how much you spend, how many items you purchased and the dates and times of your visits.

There is a war on for your spending money at your local mall, so don’t be manipulated into spending more than you can afford to, on things you may not even want. And only give out your personal information if you feel comfortable doing so, they can’t force you.

Happy Shopping!


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