Mystery Shopper: So helpful, but can't we TRY to close the sale?

For North Tampa Bay, it was an unusually chilly Saturday afternoon in mid-January. The SNEWS® shopper – let's call him Billy Bob – stopped into the Busy Body Gyms to Go store in the strip mall on Dale Mabry Boulevard. His shopping ruse: Out-of-shape, knee and back problems, desire to re-gain some fitness.
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This is the second installment of our continuing and occasional series of stories about our mystery shopping experiences at fitness stores. Since it's only the second (the first for fitness was Dec. 20, 2004), we'd like to briefly review our intent in running these stories. They are and will always be an educational tool, and only an educational tool.

Our goal is never to call onto the carpet any one store or any one salesperson. Frankly, we could perhaps go into the same store that did well on another day and find it flunks out completely on the next round. That's why we stress this is about education. Everyone, good or bad, can learn from the next. This is really all about helping the entire industry lift itself up another rung, and a great well-trained sales team that offers great in-store shopping experiences is a huge part of that.

So read on for another glimpse into a retail selling experience that any one of your customers at any one of your stores could have.

For North Tampa Bay, it was an unusually chilly Saturday afternoon in mid-January. The SNEWS® shopper – let's call him Billy Bob – stopped into the Busy Body Gyms to Go store in the strip mall on Dale Mabry Boulevard. His shopping ruse: Out-of-shape, knee and back problems, desire to re-gain some fitness.

Billy Bob strolled into the non-descript, rather Spartan store, noting the staffer was on the phone, and started to peruse the equipment, but he said "it didn't take him longer than a minute or two to head over to me."

"Need any help?" he asked politely. "Got any questions?"

Our shopper, Billy Bob, explained the problem with injuries and asked what he would recommend. He had already sized up the lineup of cardiovascular equipment that lined the perimeter of the store with all the strength equipment in the center. Everything was clean and gleaming.

Three options, he was told, including a treadmill, an elliptical or a recumbent bike. "Which one you choose will depend on how your injuries react," he cautioned. He added that he thought a treadmill workout might cause problems, but that trying them out first was key. He went on to say that a recumbent bike might be good, but it would take a bit longer to work up the desired sweat.

"I think you should try an elliptical," he suggested, since it would lower impact.

Billy Bob asked what brand he would recommend and was impressed when the answer came back that it depended on, one, how much he wanted to spend and, two, how each brand felt since they were all different. Despite probing to get him to name a "best" brand, the clerk declined, stressing only that he needed to try them out. Billy Bob then was led around to try out ellipticals from Precor, Life Fitness and Vision.

"All of these are good products and worthy of your consideration," the sales clerk said.

Funny thing is that the helpful, non-pushy, patient clerk, who had said price was a key component, never did ask how much Billy Bob wanted to spend to be able to help him zero in on a product. Odd, Billy Bob thought, that he never did probe farther about price or when I might be ready to buy, all factors in helping to close a sale. Meanwhile, Billy Bob had focused on the Vision since it had fold-up legs that intrigued him for space reasons. He stated his interest in it, but the sales person still didn't prod farther about timing or price.

Onward the tour went through the store that was packed full of equipment. On and off of treadmills and even on and off a couple of recumbent bikes for the nearly 30 minutes Billy Bob spent in the store. Finally, our shopper asked for some literature to review.

Hmmm, says the clerk, going to the desk to root around for brochures or something, finally coming up with a brochure from Vision. But no more.

They shook hands, kind of small-talked for a couple of minutes, then Billy Bob left.

"The salesperson was very knowledgeable, pleasant and helpful," Billy Bob said later. "Given I was the only one in the store, he was really able to take time and gave what seemed to be very good explanations. His service and demeanor were very good.

"As far as stores I have visited, the experience was pleasant and informational, but I really can't get over it that he didn't ever try to figure out how to sell me something… He never once asked me if I wanted to buy.

"Isn't that what a sales person should do?"

SNEWS® View: That is what we say too. Perhaps fitness retailers are so focused on being extra helpful and educational – especially since many have some background as trainers or instructors – that they forget they are also there to sell. Selling doesn't have to be a hard-sell either, but can simply be about asking the appropriate questions about when someone might be interested in a purchase or how much they're willing to spend or any number of other leading questions to help a customer make the decision and hand over the plastic.

All in all, both this experience and our previous one (SNEWS®, Dec. 20, 2004) were basically good ones that would not intimidate a customer or make them run for the door. Now if only the sales staff would help them better pinpoint their needs and lead them toward a purchase. Having a supply of good literature would help and even offering a business card and the invitation to call with any additional questions would be a start.

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