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Selling to introverts – A guide for market and small shop vendors

July 2, 2015

Quirky shops in places like Camden and Shoreditch, I hope, will remain popular in years to come. But I wonder if they will survive the internet as places that sell, when it is so easy to buy something cheap from eBay or other online stores. We may get to a point where physical shops can only survive as mini theme parks, where people have to pay a fee on the door to enter. That said, Cyberdog is styled a lot like this without the fee, and evidently makes enough money from product sales to keep running. I maintain that this is because the layout of the store is conducive to a comfortable and enjoyable shopping experience.

Cyberdog is a large store and small stores are automatically more claustrophobic. It is difficult not to feel as though staff are looking at you, whereas in larger stores staff are either too busy or there are too many customers to look at them all searchingly. There is certainly no sense that you are being observed for buying habits, preferences or bad behaviour As an introvert, I feel comfortable in larger niche stores or markets that promote a sense of freedom to browse, and far less in small shops or at individual market stalls where staff have chosen (or are trained) to use traditional sales tactics, from subtle pressure to making a big load of noise.

If we are to stop websites like Amazon and eBay becoming monopolies, it’s a good idea to adjust sales strategies to understand what a physical shopping experience gives that an online one doesn’t, and what is provides that is neither needed nor wanted, and is actively off putting. Discomfort in physical situations drives introverts firmly onto the online world, which is bad news for high streets and market areas.

What introverts aren’t (necessarily): painfully shy, asocial, uninterested in trends, fashions, consumer goods, or their own appearance.

What introverts are: slightly awkward, self-conscious, preferring to find solitary or low-key pastimes and independent ways of solving problems.

Why you should sell to introverts:

Arty people are often introverted, and more likely to experiment with different materials, looks and styles – in theory. Even if we lose the nerve to actually use or wear these items, that doesn’t matter to the seller, since we’ve bought it. And, we’re likely to make that mistake again. Some such people will pay more for a specialist item, either through buyer nativity or devotion.

A good proportion of the population are introverted rather than extroverted, however much the world may appear designed and run by extroverts. Introverts can enjoy going out to shops, sometimes alone in order to browse properly. If they are interested in something, it will stay with them for a long time. To keep head above water in difficult economic times, comic book stores and sellers of games, action figures and paraphernalia rely on the loyalty and earnestness of introverted customers who take refuge in their shops and products. That’s the sole reason why Games Workshop survived through the recession.

Why you should make less effort with extroverts:

Extroverts are less easily put off by unpredictable events in their environment, or by loud noises and crowds, thus, they can take care of themselves and need no special attention. They are more assertive with their needs, so you don’t have to find them – they’ll find you. They take more time to look at things in busy places where they are likely to knocked or disturbed and they can happily window shop for hours at a time as part of a social outing. They are unabashed when reading price tags or examining items. In short, they are reliable, low-maintenance shoppers who aren’t going to disappear just because sales people stop following them around the stores. We introverts, on the other hand, melt into the floor when so much as looked at.

Top ways to put introverts off buying:

1) Hover close by / disappear. Standing inside our periphery vision makes us feel scrutinised. We can also feel you standing behind us and worry about being watched. Stand further away, preferably behind the counter, where you can be easily found. We don’t weather well the necessity of wandering around in circles looking for staff when we need them, either – this mistake has in the past compelled me to leave shops I intended to buy items from.

2) Look over too often. Looking over suggests impatience, as if the browser is taking too long. Looking busy(ish) is actually better – if you don’t have shelves to stack, read something. Just be aware enough to look up if approached. Staff seem to worry too much about looking indifferent to customers. Introverts pray for indifferent salespeople – it’s our best guarantee we will be left in peace. As long as you don’t act annoyed when you get pulled up from your book. Watch out for hovering introverts nervously clutching products while standing about a metre from the till.

3) Stand in front of goods, or arrange them close to the counter when there’s a shop worker standing behind it. Browsing near the counter is particularly awkward, because you’re close to someone who will almost inevitably look up at you, or else you are accidentally getting in the way of someone who wants to pay for something. If an introvert can avoid saying “excuse me”, they will, so if you’re standing in front of a type of product, you won’t shift much of it that day.

4) Policing the changing rooms. Large stores understandably feel the necessity of guarding changing rooms as a form of crime prevention. Small stores should avoid having anyone lurking too close to the room, or watching and talking too much to people who look like they might be approaching. Nervous people have a complex about accidentally making mistakes or breaking rules. Too many glances makes us feel like we’re not allowed to touch that product, try it on, etc.

5) Speak a lot. Introverts don’t always hate talking to strangers, but can respond badly to perceived pressure or expectation, and perceive both more often than extroverts. Saying nothing at all may look unapproachable and friendly, but saying too much unprompted feels like implicit pressure. Anything that requires no response is best, such as a simple greeting. Avoid questions, particularly open questions (those that require more than a yes or no answer).

Vocalisations to avoid:

– “Can I help you?” This sounds passive aggressive. Translation: “Are you going to buy anything, or what?”

– “How can I help you?” Though marginally better, this suggests you assume the browser specifically wants something. Then, if they don’t, that question becomes difficult to answer which makes less gregarious people more awkward.

– “What sort of thing are you looking for?” Browsers aren’t necessarily sure, yet, and that pressures them to think about it. More, some people are compulsively private. Even if the intended purchase isn’t particularly sensitive, I usually prefer not to discuss it with a shop worker.

– “Are you looking for something for yourself, or someone else?” One problem with this is implicitly restricts purchasing into two categories: gift items and things for oneself. If you were thinking about doing both, you can’t answer this question. An introvert is less likely to attempt to construct a statement of explanation and more likely to try and wriggle out of the conversation instead, including if it means leaving the shop. This question also stops those with unusual tastes from hiding purchases they feel self-conscious about under the old “it’s for a friend” disguise. When buying something I’m unsure about, I prefer to think the staff have assumed it’s for someone else. Humans constantly and irrationally fear judgement from peers and respond accordingly.

– “Down there / over there is the women’s / men’s / children’s section only.” Similar to the above, this automatically imprisons customers wherever they think they ought to be in the eyes of the staff. Metrosexuals, theatrical dresses and transvestites have no hope in shops where they feel as though they are being firmly pointing to the correct part of the shop for their biological sex. Small shops can’t afford to scare away people with unusual preferences. They could be your best customers.

– “What size are you?” If you are being asked to find something in particular, the size will probably be told to you as a matter of course. Introverts may prefer to try something on instead of ask, if they can do so in peace. Quite apart from anything else, introverts aren’t social shoppers, so probably haven’t learned as much about sizes, shapes, types and materials as gaggling groups of avid extroverted shopaholics, and won’t know what to say, making for awkwardness. We don’t like asking for help, but if we do, it’s more likely to be from someone who seems approachable than someone who asks a lot of questions. The two are not the same.

Approachable: Smiles, talks at a reasonable volume, seems willing (rather than resigned) to help customers, gives you space.

Unapproachable: holds impassive or neutral faces (these look like frowns); chats to friends and colleagues constantly whie on the job; eats on the job; stares at customers; talks loudly; looks terrified when spoken to; looks bored out of their mind; looks like they think they are too good for the job; looks too busy to deal with customers; helps grudgingly; never speaks; responds shortly or impatiently.

The best way to greet shoppers: “Hi. Let me know if you need anything, OK?” It’s friendly, it’s open, you’ve breached the conversation barrier so it makes you approachable, it doesn’t require a response and it doesn’t imply that the listeniner must buy something, and buy it right now. This is best said just as someone walks into the shop, rather than after a delay. Otherwise, it does look like you’re trying to gee them up. If that gets boring, just “Hi” will do.

Top ways to gently massage nervous shoppers:

1) Smile. A smile is your best form of communication. Anyone who can’t handle smiles won’t make eye contract, anyone who does make eye contact may or may not want something and will be put off by anyone who doesn’t look approachable. But there is such thing as “too nice”, or too friendly – introverts often feel awkward by stranger’s attempts to conduct a conversation, even about trivial matters, especially with staff – we know staff are there to sell things and are nervous of being caught out by sneaky sales tactics.

2) Be cool. Too often, a conversation turns into a hard sell mid-way through. This is when we take flight, and probably never enter that shop ever again. You can’t fool people who aren’t sure they want to buy something into thinking they do want to buy it by applying pressure. All that will do is make potential customers want to leave and avoid that situation. It also stands to make them even more nervous of any shop worker who so much as speaks a few words to them.

3) Be patient. Introverts are often cautious buyers but have a greater tendency to become enchanted with particular items. All that’s needed is time. If you can’t take your time looking around the shop, or don’t feel safe returning to it, you will never buy that item that caught your eye. It can take weeks to get into one’s comfort zone within a particular shop, then to work up the nerve and yearning to buy an item. Above all, shop workers should make sure people want to return to the shop.

4) Make the environment comfortable. Introverts typically like things which are interesting and a bit unusual to look at and play around with, from lights to mechanisms and colours. Making the environment interesting will make us more likely to return, which makes buying more likely. But that’s only half the story; however interesting a shop is, an introvert will avoid it if the experience shopping there is uncomfortable because they feel too scrutinised.

5) Maintain manufactured privacy. Shopping is enjoyed as a solitary activity for introverts. You need time to look at items without feeling on display or constantly bashed around by staff wending to and fro, looking for trouble and stacking shelves, or customers rushing past to get to the next stall on the market. Stores which are more open plan might make it easier to see everything that happens inside, but it make customers nervous. Introverts love to lurk quietly among the shelves, so make it possible.

6) Compliment. Even people who prefer not to be spoken to like confirmation that they are making the right choice. Never mind if the staff don’t mean a word of it, it’s still nice to hear.

7) Respect a choice. Minds can change, but trying to change people’s minds to suit you is insidious and it feels it. You aren’t a friend or relative or someone with that person’s best interests at heart – you’re trying to sell them stuff. If someone says they aren’t sure they want to buy something, the correct response is to open the door gently and with good grace, so they can easily walk back in if they want to – not to try to shut them inside the shop. That turns a potential returning customer into someone who flees the first chance they get never returns. Then, they give the shop a terrible review from the safety of Yelp. If a buyer picked the item up in the first place, they were interested. Often, further browsing across different shops renders no better results, so customers will return to the first – as long as they didn’t despise being there.

I can’t speak for all introverts, but I can tell you that for me, every word I speak is like a push on a bicycle peddle. Once you work up a good speed, you’re having fun, but the longer you go, the more energy you drain and the more of a rest you have to take, or you burn out. As you practise you become better able to last long periods of time, but still have limits. For this reason, I often seek to save my breath, thus conserving energy for other things I like to do. Places that expend a lot of energy are not relaxing places, and can’t be returned to as freely as no stress environments. Vendors should consider that a sales months, not the within the next ten minute after a person comes in through the door. After all, if we were in a hurry, we could buy it online in 30 seconds. People go to clothes & accessories shops and boutiques to enjoy them.


From → British Culture

One Comment
  1. Very interesting. My son has dropped out from college with anxiety issues. I am now sure the reason stems from him being an introvert. I know little about this so I need educating so I can be supportive. Can you recommend any books? Also he cannot think of any job he would feel comfortable doing. Any ideas? He is arty and interested in sociology . Thanks

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