Home » The Four Worst Words in Retail

The Four Worst Words in Retail

You know them. You’ve probably even said them. More than likely you started cringing even as the words were floating across the ether.

Can I help you?

You say those words and the response is automatic.

No thanks, I’m just looking.

Here is why those words are so bad.

First, the knee-jerk reaction, even from someone who actually wants your help, is to say NO. The last word you want your customer to say is NO. NO puts up a wall between you and your customer. NO ends the conversation and makes you feel bad, too.

Second, you just got your customer to say out loud that she is Not. There. To. Buy. She told you she was just looking. She told herself that she was just looking. Once she says it, she starts to believe it. It becomes her reality.

Third, about three-fourths of your customers are scared to be approached by your staff in the first place. In part it has to do with how we communicate – especially the guys.


I’m going to share a secret with you. Men and women communicate differently. Yes, I said it. Crucify me now if you want. I speak the truth.

Men speak vertically. Did what I say make you think higher of me or lower of me? This is why guys don’t like to ask directions. To ask is to imply that I don’t know. To ask is to make someone think lower of me. Sorry, I’m just not comfortable doing that.

Women, however, speak horizontally. Did what I say draw me in closer or push me further away? Women love to ask for help. It draws them into the inner circle.

For men, when the sales staff approaches and asks to help them, they immediately go into a shell. They put up the wall of defense. They say “I’m just looking,” sometimes before you even say a word. In reality, they are just looking. They are looking for a sign to tell them the information they need so that they don’t have to ask anyone. If you want to assist a man who is shopping, you have to say things that empower him and make him feel important and smart.

For women, understand that even though they like to ask, about half of them need time to formulate the proper question before they will ask. Those are your introverts. They will engage, but only after they have figured out exactly how they want to engage. You have to bring them into the inner circle on their terms. Get too close too soon and up goes the wall.


Rather than bombard your customers with a barrage of “Can I help you’s?”, Try a different approach. Say “Thank you for coming in,” with a genuine smile and appreciation. After all, they didn’t have to come to your store. With all the options out there, they chose you. Be thankful. The guys will feel empowered. The gals will feel like they are invited into the inner circle. The introverts won’t feel threatened. The wall won’t get built.

Then you have a chance to do what you’re really supposed to do with your customers – build a relationship that leads to trust.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Building a relationship that leads to trust isn’t as hard as it sounds. If you were paying attention, the last three posts were about the parking lot, the front door, and the greeting. Building the relationship is next.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.