However, what could have been a nice afternoon out soon turned into a strange, almost Kafkaesque adventure, and after six shops and an ocean of disappointment I decided to go back to the safe, clear and quiet cyberwalls of my favourite online merchants.
My shopping bag was still utterly empty, but I got home with quite a few examples of bad marketing that prompted me to think about the thin lines between helpfulness and intrusion, and something more. Here's what I mumbled on my way home - courtesy of a bunch of rude high street shop assistants.
#1 Listen to your customer. Always.
Especially because the shop assistant decided that I didn't really want earrings after all.
In fact, this pretty little lady started shepherding me around the latest collections ... of bracelets, necklaces, scarves and belly jewellery (yes, those things actually exist!). And when I dared reminding her that I was looking for a pair of earrings, she dumped me with a resounding "that shelf there, go look by yourself".
Dear pretty lady, I understand you must be frustrated because I didn't like any of your suggestions ... however, if you would have just listened to me in the first place, you wouldn't have wasted your precious time, nor mine.
#2 Don't push the sale too hard.
The guy nodded, and showed me some more. But when I mentioned I really liked a pair of them, he gave me a gloomy look and warned me that those were not "trendy enough". As I confirmed my preference, he told me again that those looked a lot like last year's fashion and that I should reconsider. When I told him that I really didn't mind my present being top of the pops but rather some decent piece of jewellery my friend could use shamelessly at work, he eventually mentioned that a present like *that* would have seemed shabby and tasteless.
Needless to say that wasn't a bold move - in fact, it breached the unspoken commandment "thou shalt never make your customer feel ignorant". Nor assume you know better.
Dear neat-looking guy, I know how these things work, and I know you were going to get some nice bonus if you managed to sell me your fluorescent green earrings a drunk designer sketched overnight on some paper napkin. But if your customer doesn't like/doesn't need something, pushing the sale too hard will just be detrimental.
I really liked those "old and boring" silver and aquamarine earrings, but you made me change my mind.
#3 Never forget politeness.
It was almost 7 pm, and after an unfruitful afternoon I was hoping at least to find someone who wouldn't treat me like a walking ATM. But the red-haired shop assistant probably wasn't feeling like serving yet another customer.
I don't know about her eyes, as she didn't even stop toying with her cellphone to spit a grumpy "What do you want?". At that point, I decided I would have just looked around by myself, and briefly walked away.
Dear red-haired lady, I understand your shift is almost over and you're probably tired and bored of showing people around. However, when a customer walks in, be it 10:45 am or 7:20 pm, it is his/her first time in your shop, and you should make sure to reserve them the same shiny smile and politeness you offered at the first customer of the day.
Many marketing gurus (especially the self-proclaimed ones) tend to "sell" marketing as some kind of obscure rocket science you will never master without their precious (or paid) advice.
However, good and bad examples of marketing are all around us, and valuable lessons can be learned just by looking at what happens to us as customers, and to how we react to the different situations. My small adventure didn't only teach me how NOT to sell a pair of earrings, but reminded me that common sense is sometimes way more valuable than hundreds and hundreds of books about marketing and strategy.
Bonus lesson no. 4
When marketing your products or services, don't forget that you're essentially a human interacting with other humans.