I was buying an assortment of things in my local branch of H&M the other day when, as I lifted my wallet to pay, the assistant uttered that ubiquitous phrase “would you like anything else with that?”
It was enough of an incongruous statement to stall me in my tracks. Anything else? No, I don’t think so, If I had wanted or needed anything else that that item would have accompanied me to the till in a similar manner to the ones that I am buying. But more than this, is a jumper, some tights, and a hat not enough of a hefty purchase for this particular Scandinavian retailer? Or is my particular selection so stingy, so unlike that of the other customers that the shop assistant cannot help but question whether that is all?
Moreover, there are no items around the till. Do people ever say “yes, I would also like to take that wool dress in the distance over there. I can’t see the size or price but what-ho who needs to try on their clothes anyway?”
Well I did not do any of those things. I simply said no thank you, paid, and walked away.
I still thought about it though. Is the annoying modern trend for asking “would you like a drink/coffee/any pastries with that” coming to our clothing retailers? Will they start saying it in supermarkets? Will the electronic checkout stop saying “unidentified item in baggage area” and start asking “would you like anything else with that?”
I had to find out. I found out the following:
“Would you like anything else with that?” is insidious. I practiced some questions by buying coffees in a variety of outlets (Pret a Manger, Eat and Paul I am looking at you). On each occasion I asked for one coffee “with nothing else at all.” (I realise at this point I must appear like an angry old man). On each occasion the automatic response was “would you like anything else with that?” This may be more difficult to change than I thought.
Saying no to “Would you like anything else with that?” is a bit like arguing with a drug pusher or small child. I was in Nandos when my table was approached by a woman. “How is your meal? Would you like anything else?” When that was met with a “no thank you” the matter was pushed. “Any chips? Drinks?” No. “No sauces? Coffee?” No! No no no no no!. “Ok”, she said, thus satiated. “Enjoy your meal.” This was after ordering ten minutes ago and being asked all the same questions. Interesting.
“Would you like anything else?” makes you feel like you are being tight. The subtext is that you are only having a coffee or only having a quarter chicken whereas everyone else, those generous souls, are buying the same things but with lashings of ginger beer or that pastry that they always suggest. You feel like you are disappointing people.
“Would you like anything else?” is not asked in bars. In bars they ask you “Is that all?” To this, you can answer ‘yes’, which is far easier than answering ‘no’ to “would you like…” They want to know if that is all before they leave you to go pouring drinks etc. It’s more about practicality than selling you something.
“Would you like anything else?” is not just reserved for the till. I was just queuing for some vitamins in Holland and Barrett when to my horror I see an assistant going up and down the queue asking people with their baskets if they would like anything else. It’s like those London Underground announcements telling you to “mind the gap” or your mum reminding you to carry a hanky. All the time.
“Would you like anything else?” is subtly practised in online shopping, with Amazon telling you what other people bought, and Sainbury’s telling you the buy two get the third free offers. These are infinitely more useful than the vague question.
“Whatever you are selling, at the time of purchase you have an opportunity to sell something else”, explains Melina Abbott on her website How to Recession Proof Your Business.
“You do not have to spend any more money to get [the customer] there. They are a captive audience,” she goes on, and gives some examples of upselling. Such as suggesting certain accessories to go with a clothing purchase or car.
Abbott is correct. Upselling works. In New York recently I went into a clothes shop. The assistant greeted me with ‘Hello beautiful” then put me in a changing room with a selection of little black dresses. One looked better than the rest and she immediately produced a beaded belt which looked great on the dress. Around five minutes later and USD 100 poorer I walked out of the store with the black dress and belt when I had not intended in getting either.
If you take this experience compared with my H&M experience you wonder if it is not the upselling but the question that is the problem. Is the vague question just annoying?
In the name of a fair test I decided to go to a different branch of H&M for some socks. Sure enough, the assistant asked me “Would you like anything else?” so an internal memo must have gone out in their UK stores asking them to do this at the till.
Is the coffee shop question appropriate in a clothes shop? When you are buying vitamins? How do you feel about it? Would it cause you to buy more or would it simply serve to make you behave in a rather irritable and unattractive manner? Please discuss.