Intimate sales

How do sales people convince you to buy something?

Can anyone be convinced to fork out more dosh than they meant to, or is only those of us who are open to suggestion? Those of us who deep down want to spend money, driven by the pleasure response in our brain associated with shopping.

I was recently a guest a home shopping party for lingerie where a consultant came and spruiked her bars, clothes and underwear while we nibbled on dips and crackers and flipped through the accompanying catalogue, where the prices appeared in the tiniest of tiny prints.

My friend Jo, the host of the party, had insisted we should not feel obligated to buy anything and honestly I didn’t. I saw it as a good opportunity to catch up with a few of my friends during a fun night of chatting and finger food, while looking at some pretty things. (The phrase “that’s what they want you to think” comes to mind)

The consultant, Michelle, had an easy way about her and had obviously been selling bras for many years because she had the spiel down pat, but delivered it in a completely natural way.

We each had a chance to feel the soft fabric of the underwear and clothes as she passed it around and were encouraged to note the items that looked good to us, by jotting them down on a “wish list”.

After the presentation we each had a chance to have  a bra fitting and try on the items on our wish list. While waiting for my turn I was chatting to Jo and eating some cake she’d baked for the occasion. “I really hope people don’t feel pressured to buy anything. I really didn’t want them to feel like they have to,” Jo said. I assured her that no one did. “I went to my friend’s and I was like ‘I’m not going to hold a party’, but then by the end I was putting my name down, ” she laughed.

I knew that Jo would get a bigger discount on anything she bought if there was at least one booking for another party. That’s how these home shopping things run – for those that have never attended (which I doubt, with the variety of parties out there, is many people). Whether it’s Tupperware, linen, cosmetics, homewares, toys, cleaning products, scented candles or even chocolate, the set-up is the same. The sales consultant makes commission on the items she/he sells, while the party host gets a variety of credits, discounts and free items, depending on the amount of money spent on the night (or the likelihood future money to be spent in the case of bookings).

I thought to myself that hosting a party might be alright. I didn’t care if I got anything out of it, but Jo would get a half price item and my Mum, who had been invited but unable to come with me, would get a chance to look at the bras. If no one else booked a party, then I would, I decided.

I, of course, spent the longest time in the room Jo had set aside for fittings, with breasts that seemed to be a different size in every style of bra that I tried on. I had about six things on my wish list, totalling, I guessed, about $500. No way was I spending that much, but I did need a new black bra and a new sports bra, I reasoned.

I had nodded when the consultant had talked about investing in good quality bras and was thinking about the three of four worn-out $12 Kmart bras I really needed to throw away.

The two bras I chose totalled $180 (but came with a free pair of underwear, so I was actually saving money, right?). It was considerably more than I’d ever spent on three pieces of underwear, but at that point I thought,  ‘I knew what this night was. I knew this was a sales party and I could be influenced to spend money I wouldn’t ordinarily in a store. I don’t care. It’s pretty and I want it’.

I gave Michelle my bank card details and left the room, so someone else could discuss their “wardrobe needs” with her. Jo’s fitting was last, so she knew how many credits and discounts she had to work with. When I went in to say bye, sure enough, no else had booked a party yet.

Again I thought, ‘why not?’ I’d been sucked into this machine enough already, might as well go the whole hog and host a party too. When my bras arrived a few days after I set the date.

Two weeks later, my mum, aunty, two of my friends and two of my mum’s friends were gathered in my parent’s loungeroom eating the quiches I’d baked and the dips and crackers I’d set out while we admired the collection.

Without any authority, I’d say this is a classic example of how and why the home shopping party model has been working since the first Tupperware party in 1948. It plays up the fun side of shopping in a way that makes you want to buy items, surrounded by friends on a weeknight, possibly with a wine in hand. And sure, it was probably more profitable in the days before online shopping, but any time you can strengthen the link between shopping and pleasure, you’re onto a winner. Just ask Michelle.


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