How do you want to get assisted in shops?

by Sylvia

How do you want to get assisted in shops

Last week I went shopping for just a little bit, which did not produce any results nor was it particularly enjoyable. One of the reasons being that I was trailed as I was shopping.

This is what that looks like. You enter a shop and 2 assistants are happily talking to one another, but as soon as I step in, one of them comes standing very close to me and starts following me at close distance as I go through the shop’s merchandise following my every move.

It happened again in the next shop I entered, only this time 2 assistants kept an eye on me! Both following my every move and every time I dared touching an item, they would straight away tell me lots of details about the garment and informed me that this item was also available in 3 other colors. As I was moving further into the shop, the assistant would adjust those clothes that I touched.

I don’t know about you, but I REALLY dislike this behaviour. It makes me want to flee and leave the shop as quickly as possible.

I like to browse the shop by myself without being watched. This gives me the time to explore an item, to check the fabric if I’m more interested and to ponder wether or not I have a need for it. That whole process is terribly interrupted when someone starts interfering or I feel 2 eyes burning in my back.

If I want assistance I know where to find you. Until that time, please leave me alone.

I also cannot stand it when an assistant starts adjusting the clothes while I’m still looking. It makes me feel like I’m interfering with their impeccable shop environment. This happens most often in small shops which are not busy, so why not wait until I have left the shop? This is not how you would treat guests in your own home would you?

I love shopping in small independent stores, but here in Singapore this kind of behaviour from the shop’s assistants is very common and it really puts me off. What a relief to then enter a bigger store where I’m just left alone and can take my time browsing.

So what should the shop assistant do in a small shop you may wonder? This would be an ideal approach.

  1. By all means welcome me with a friendly hello and a smile.
  2. Offer your help, but let me choose as to how much. You could say: Welcome, is there anything I can help you with? If I say no, or answer that I’d like to browse then leave me alone. You can also offer you help in a committal way: Welcome. Let me know if there is anything you like my help with. (before moving on to doing your own things).
  3. Then start doing something in the shop or keep yourself busy. Don’t watch my every move. You don’t consider me a potential thief do you? Really, if I need your input, I know where to find you!
  4. If I’m trying something on, THEN you can be of service. (It’s funny that sometimes assistants go missing when you really need them). If I’m by myself, I will need someone to get me a different size etc. This is the best time to build some rapport and perhaps make some of your suggestions.
  5. And please, give me honest opinions when you comment on the clothes and their fit. I will respect you so much more and will trust any recommendations that you make.

I realise that not everyone is the same, but I believe a good shop assistant should try and get an impression of the kind of customer that walks into the store and not treat everyone the same. The first welcome and possible question will give you all the information you need. If shop owners/assistants understand their customer better and give them only the help that they want, everybody will win.

What kind of a shopper are you? Do you like to be followed by the shop assistant? Do you like to engage them in a conversation and actively seek their help?


{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laura

I agree completely with you. And, while I like being acknowledged entering a small shop, when I shop at a large chain store, I would prefer to not be greeted at all and left to wander at will. There’s been a plague of this since Steve Jobs said that it’s more likely that someone will buy something if they are greeted at the door. In a large chain store, that’s the one thing that is most likely to send me back out again. It’s best for me if staff just be available within eye sight, but not hover or want to talk unless I ask to.


2 Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

I’m with you – I like to be left alone. Of course I don’t like the other extreme either, when I can’t find someone to ring up my purchase!


3 Rebecca

I totally agree with you and I work as a sales associate part time in a woman’s store in NYC. I believe in just greeting the customer and if they are new mentioning how the store is organized (there are only limited sizes on the floor).
There is a happy medium between greeting and following someone around and I can’t stand a store in which no one looks up when you come in or a store in which you can’t browse without someone following you around.
Great topic!!


4 Ann

I completely agree, to close and I leave the store. I’m noticing this is happening more often now. I wonder if there’s a fear of shoplifting or desperate to sell more? Whatever it is the customer is made uncomfortable.

blue hue wonderland


5 denton

I like a SA to greet me and let me know they are available to answer questions, then leave me alone until I have a question to ask!

I also don’t like to be treated like an idiot or condescended to cuz I am a guy, nor ignored cuz they thought I was ‘waiting for my wife’ (this happened to me in Bergdorf’s once).


6 Lisa

Here in the U.S. non-whites have been feeling this kind of attention for years. Interesting that it is spreading when it’s so obnoxious! I prefer to be left alone except for things like bras where I know I’m going to be wanting a lot of different styles and sizes to try on in very quick order. Other than that, I prefer to be left on my own. And I really don’t want your opinion on how it makes me look. You are working on commission, or at least being praised for good sales. I would be a fool to trust your input.

Although I do like the idea of a personal shopper who culls through merchandise and finds things especially for you. I’ve never used that service, but I can see that being interesting. Still, I’m bringing a friend for her opinion!


7 fashmr paul

Assistants should definitely leave you alone and keep a distance, but be available to help when help is needed. I think pushyness comes in when sales provide commission for the assistant. In their eagerness to supplement their paypack they do not realise or perhaps even care how off putting and alienating their behavior is. Have seen that in all sorts shops and it bugs the life out of me.

As a man browsing womens cloths shops (which I absolutely love to do) I often see fear and panic in the eyes of the assistants. “its a man! I hope he leaves soon” “hes spoiling the aesthetic of the shop!” I either get 100 percent ultra attention because I cant possibly know anything about the merchandise, or else I get left well and truly alone, almost as If I did’nt exist. haha


8 Suemac

I’ve learnt the Spanish for “I’m just looking” (I live in Spain) and have to say that the assistants always respect that and leave me alone until I ask where the changing rooms are, whether they have other colours or sizes etc. It makes shopping here a good experience. I have also used a personal shopper in the UK a couple of times when I have been looking for something for a special occasion (60th birthday party for example!)


9 Greetje

I totally agree with you Sylvia. You got the “Pauw” treatment. You know these shops in The Netherlands. They definitely work on commission. One SA not only followed me around as you described but as soon as I looked at something she started saying: “Isn’t it lovely / beautiful / splendid?” As if she would say something bad about her own shop clothes.
But the SA who knows how to treat a client is welcome to be of assistance to me. Like the SA at the Max Mara shop in The Bijenkorf. She was just good. No pushy at all, sincere, helpful which is why she sold me two coats, trousers and a blouse. And I am happy with them.


10 denton

I don’t think there’s anything wrong, per se, with SAs being on commission. In any store, there must be things that look good on any given person, and other things that don’t. A good SA that has a good eye will inspire customer loyalty by telling the truth and building repeat clients. At the same time, there are a lot of bad ones, for sure. Good SAs in NYC can make a very nice living.


11 Suzanne

I couldn’t agree more with your take on shop assistants. They really need to be trained to allow people to peruse the merchandise without someone hovering behind them.

When I worked in retail I never wanted to follow customers. Then again, I often didn’t get the high sales volumes either.



12 Alison

I totally agree – all my pet hates, plus the unnatural robotic greetings they are forced to use, said so fast and so often you can’t decipher it. It’s all so fake. The large pharmacy chain always has the assistants making me feel like a thief. Perhaps we need to tell these companies their behavior is driving customers away?


13 StellaY

i am totally with you! Some SAs are a little too “helpful”, at the touch of a merchandise she chants “this is a new arrival, this looks good on you. Would you like to try.” By then, my hands are already on another item. “This just arrived. It comes in different colors.” I was only browsing and not interested in it one bit, but she has already went off to pull the different shades off the rack for me. I politely declined and said it was not my style, by then, I am usually too overwhelmed by her and walk off.
I understand that most SAs are commissioned based, but by trying too hard makes the experience feels it was commercial and sure not a good experience for the customer.


14 Alice - Happiness at Mid Life

I worked in retail when I was in college and one of the things I learned to do is read the person’s body language. You can really tell when someone wants help or not. If you sense they do not want to be bothered, give them the space they need. If they need help with something, I always ask questions to help put an outfit together that fits there needs. I an tell you that when you listen and be honest, the sale will come.

Though I shop at large retail stores now, I do try to get to know the sales people better and the service of course will be more personalized.



15 Gina Simpson

You think thats bad? Ask any black person…ask Oprah.


16 Lisa

In the U.S. Not sure that it applies to every country represented here.


17 catherine

I belief these ladies working on commision. Here in Belgium it is different just the opposed. They standing there, some of them don’t say hello, look at you and thinking, oh oh what she wants.


18 Gina

I totally agree with you. I really dislike this behavior from shop people. When they hover, I leave. I like to shop quietly with my thoughts. I’m usually thinking about how I would wear something or what I could pair it with, or I have something specific in mind, and I’ll know it when I see it. I also dislike it when you enter a shop, and the salespeople are so busy talking to each other they don’t even look up at you. I do want an acknowledgement that I’m there, but I will ask for help when I need it. Great post Sylvia.


19 Annette

I can’t add anything to what you have said, Sylvia as I completey agree with everything!

Annette | Lady of Style


20 Maria Allen

Interesting article. What you describe doesn’t happen to me in the US much, but it happened about half the time I shopped when I lived in Egypt. My impression is not necessarily that the sales associates are working on commission, but that their clueless bosses think they aren’t earning their pay if they aren’t hustling customers and keeping the stock tidy. I have told managers that I am offend by clerks almost snatching items out of my hands to refold them, but I’ve never felt they believed me. Also, Egyptian ladies really do like to be waited on, so maybe my shopping style isn’t the cultural norm. By the way, the other half of the time, I could bleed to death on the shop floor and the clerks would continue to drink tea and talk with one another.


21 Alison

I think you are correct that it is a cultural issue. It is the same here in Asia and I guess that the locals prefer the ‘special treatment’.


22 Petra

There are a couple of dress shops that I like but I won’t go into because whenever I do, the sales women pounce on me, and keep pulling clothes out for me to look at, and keep asking me questions about what I’m after, and what they would suggest, when all I want to do is to be left to “think”. I know what suits me, I know the fabrics I like, the colours I like etc without them thinking they know me and throwing items in my face. It winds me up, so I don’t go back which is a real shame. So yes, on going into a shop, I would rather the sales women to be polite and let me know that they are there if I need them. I find shoe shops are better for just browsing. Interesting topic 🙂


23 Erika

I don’t like to be greeted if it requires a response from me. Just say hello and tell you’re there if I need you, then leave me alone and let me look. I’m on a mission and focused, even when I”m just browsing. Where I would love more attention is when my arms are full and I need someone to take the clothes into the dressing room. Also, when I’m in the dressing room and need another size, color or style. THEN hang around and be helpful.


24 Tonya

Sometimes I know what I am looking for when entering a store and want immediate help. Other times I like to browse and be left alone. I do want someone to greet me and ask if I need help. If I am just looking the salesperson needs to move on. If I feel pressure I flee. There is a certain store in Rancho Cucamonga that pounce on you. I went to try a pair of shorts on and then my dressing room was full of clothes and shoes that I hadn’t come for. I hate pressure and walked out not buying anything so that I could “think”. I did go back hours later to just buy the shorts I went in for originally. I think the best place I have found with extremely helpful saleswomen who are professional and LIKE their job is in Chicago on Magnificent Mile. Here in CA I find the saleswomen at almost every store I go into are non-existence and appear to hate their job and just not care. If I ask if they have another size many salesgirls say no instead of checking their computer for another store. I have had much luck with a few saleswomen at the AT in Mission Viejo.


25 Stefanie

Thank you for raising this issue, Sylvia. This is a significant problem for both independent stores, where I prefer to shop, and for certain department stores (at least here in the northeast U.S.). I feel it is important for sales associates not to put their customers in a defensive position. I have learned the hard way that I can make mistakes with my purchases when I am in that defensive zone and have no mental space to think about my wardrobe, my needs, and the impact of a potential purchase. And so I have trained myself to always leave a store if I am being engaged or pushed too much. It is so much better for SA’s to allow customers to navigate the store on their own and then to be available and helpful when they want to try something on or if they have questions. Those are the stores that earn my loyalty.


26 Mare

I agree completely with your assessment. Even if it is the only shop in town that has what I already know I will buy, I will just turn around and leave. That accomplishes little/nothing for the shop or the customer.


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