Sales are the bread and butter of the retail industry, and the "dough" usually comes right to the retailer's door.
But what about the sales companies that go to the public through door-to-door contact, the telephone lines or through the mail?There are a number of such companies around, and many are well-known, legitimate, honest companies that provide a real service to consumers.
Every now and then, though, you run into one that isn't so helpful - one of those persistant companies that may use trickery or sometimes even deceptive promotional tactics to get inside your door.
Once inside, the salespeople often high-pressure you to buy their expensive product - and it almost always has to be purchased that night or else you forfeit bonus features.
(See the related consumer story for advice on how to avoid or handle these "pressure-sale" situations).
- The following are personal experiences that I've had in the past four years with sales companies that I was not familiar with, but which used promotional tactics I thought pushed the limits of honest business values:
My wife filled out an entry form in a drawing at this year's Utah State Fair. Two days later a caller contacted my wife notifying her that we'd won two-night paid accommodations at either Las Vegas or Reno and asked when a delivery person could bring by the tickets and give a short presentation when both husband and wife would be home.
She made the appointment and a gentleman came by that night. He instantly went into a sales presentation (two hours long) with frequent cleaning demonstrations that gave us no real opportunity to politely tell him to stop.
We were also barraged with all kinds of figures on how much we will likely spend on vacuums during the next 25 years as a way to convince us that his vacuum - with its 25-year guarantee - is more than worth it. (Of course my 5-year-old vacuum's initial cost and maintenance cost totals are far below the estimates the salesman gave.)
I finally got curious to see just how long the salesman would continue if I didn't stop him.
Near the end, he finally got around to quoting the price of the vacuum - $1,250 cash price, or $47 a month for three years on credit. (We'd earlier asked its price, but he would only say, "I'm getting to that.")
If we didn't buy the vacuum that night, we'd miss out on a variety of special bonus gifts, ranging from free carpet cleaning coupons to free vacuum attachments.
We felt the vacuum was overbuilt and not worth that price, but the salesman got very upset because we wouldn't buy his product. He quipped that we should have stopped his presentation after five minutes if we had no intention of ever buying his product.
When my wife pointed out that the telephone caller said the presentation was short, the salesman replied that either my wife was lying about that fact, or that his company's telephone operator was misinformed and didn't say what she was supposed to.
The salesman then asked to use our telephone and proceeded to call his boss and explain to him in a very sarcastic step-by-step method his presentation outline to us. He said that he did his best, but that we were basically too stupid to buy the vacuum. (He talked loud enough for us to hear this two rooms away!)
Finally, we had to sign a proof of delivery slip before receiving our free tickets - a practice that obviously verifies that he's really a "delivery person" as explained over the telephone.
After he left, we couldn't stop talking about what we should have or could have said to counter the sales tactics and logic used against us.
We also wondered why we ever let ourselves get into that sales trap in the first place since it invaded our privacy and ruined our evening.
Later, after carefully examining the hotel gift coupon, we found that it not only had a host of age and check-in-day restrictions, but that we would be asked to attend a time-share resort seminar after we checked-in at the resort of our choice! Double whammy! We didn't use the coupon.
A week later, our vacuum pulled up a large strand of carpet likely loosened by that salesman's all-too-powerful vacuum.
2. Water softener:
A local company kept calling us and offering free water softness tests until we finally agreed.
The salesman came, administered a test and proved that our water was exceptionally hard. He then tried to pressure us into buying his $1,500 water softener (with a lifetime guarantee) and stressed that if we didn't buy it that night, we'd miss out on the bonus of a free two-year supply of soap.
We were even told that most of our neighbors already have water softeners (a fact I later discovered to be untrue.)
The salesman had problems accepting a plain "no" for an answer. (I guess the fact that we agreed with many of his arguments meant to him that we just needed more pressure in order to close the sale.)
Finally, I had to show him our basement and its lack of a suitable location for a water softener before he gave up.
The company still keeps telephoning us regularly.
We received a phone call informing us that we had been selected from among many to be a special "advertising family" for the company that used to sell such-and-such a soap on TV (giving us the impression that we would receive free samples of their product to test and possibly endorse in some manner). An appointment was made.
When the two salesmen arrived, we were told that their company no longer even sells soap or advertises on TV. Now it sells children's books to selected families. Also, since it spends no money on media advertising, it could afford to offer us an inexpensive deal on sets of books.
After an hour-plus sales pitch, the price was finally announced ($800) and the salesmen stressed that we MUST buy that night or the cost would go up dramatically and we wouldn't get such-and-such bonus books.
We didin't agree to buy and the salesmen finally left in an angry mood, almost yelling at us how stupid we were.
4. Time share.
We received a notice in the mail explaining that we had won one of the gifts listed and to call for an "appointment" to go and pick up our prize at a time share resort east of Salt Lake City.
Possible prizes included a new automobile, a television set and a barbecue grill, among others. (The notice guaranteed that so many of each of the gifts would be given away.)
My wife called and made an appointment. She knew we wouldn't be able to afford such a time share, but she wanted one of the advertised gifts. She also knew there'd be a sales presentation.
We spent approximately 21/2 hours at the resort, saw a film, were taken on a guided tour and received a well-presented 30-minute sales pitch.
Of course, the seller got a little upset when she realized that we didn't want a time share, just our free gift. Naturally, our name had previously been drawn to receive the most inexpensive of the advertised gifts. But then we were told our particular gift was, strangely enough, "not available" right then, but would be soon, if we would come back next week.
We got somewhat upset ourselves, but we did receive and accept another invitation, this one for free ice cream in the resort's restaurant.
Since we didn't want to drive all the way back to the resort for our gift, my wife made a half-dozen phone calls in the next two weeks before she finally convinced the company to let us pick up our gift at its downtown Salt Lake business office.
We finally got the free grill and it worked fine. (But my wife's parents got an identical grill from the same time share offer, and it broke the first time it was used.)
We estimated the grill to be worth about $15 to $20, and we also realized that even though the company finally made good on our gift, most people would probably have given up long before they got their gift because of all the inconvenience.