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I found a very interesting answer to a question on Quora. It was, “Why do some people feel awkward when shopping?” The answer reveals something about the shopping experience that I wish most sales people understood. I will cut and paste the answer to the question and then bold the parts that provoke a visceral reaction in me.
But first, why I think the question and the answer are interesting.
1. They are both interesting because this question and the revelatory answer show how shopping is not really ever a transactional process, so our ideas of “value” for the consumer are really off. The process is really more like a negotiation: Person A brings into the store and the shopping experience a set of unspoken and non-linear values about himself or herself.
2. The answer reveals the rich context of this particular consumer, but it goes a far way to show how often the information a sales person has is admittedly way off when it comes to “why” the person is actually shopping. The sales person is getting all of his ideas about value and need not from the consumer, but from a training manual and the store’s quota system.
3. All that being said, there is a non-social element to shopping, in that nobody in this experience actually knows or cares to intimate what is actually going on in the other person’s head — either the shopper or the sales person.
The answer comes from Quora user Marcus Geduld. He answers the question about awkwardness by saying that people feel awkward because they are introverts. The shopping experience, he says, brings smoething too social into an experience that should be made to be singular and for one person only. Check it out:
Another note: though, as I’ve said, I like socializing, to do it well I have to “go into social mode.” My wife is already in that mode as soon as she enters a room full of people. But it’s like I have to pull a computer chip out of my brain and put another one in.
(I’ve learned to not focus on something really “interior” before going to a party. If I read a programming book or a chapter of a novel and then immediately walk into a party, it will be very hard of me to switch from “thoughtful” mode to social mode. I am much better off if I spend some time chatting with my wife or even “talking” to people on Facebook before going to the party.)
When I am shopping, I have a goal. My goal is to examine all the printers and buy the one that exists in the perfect nexus of cost-effective and feature-rich. That’s a somewhat interior task. I can’t easily do that AND socialize at the same time.
You may not think of making eye-contact and saying “Have a nice day” to the cashier as socializing, but to me it is. I’ve literally been thrown for a loop by a clerk asking me “can I help you find something?” while I was focused on examining merchandise.
Here’s a slow-motion look at what goes on inside my brain:
1. Let’s see. The Canon printer is $199, and it gets good ratings, but the ink is expendive. On the other hand, the H.P. model is…
2. Nssd. Rrr-rr. Clb ap zelp oo?
3. I am totally befuddled by the above. What is it? What does it mean? Where is it coming from? What does it have to do with H.P. Printers?
4. Realization! It’s a clerk saying something to me. I can’t parse it, because I’ve turned off my English-language modules so that I can totally focus on printers.
5. Switch on Social Module.
6. “I’m sorry. Did you say something to me?”
7. “Yes. I just asked if I can help you find something.”
8. “No thanks. I’m just looking.”
9. “Okay. You should know that we have a sale on hard drives today. The sale is only today, so you should act fast if you want to…”
10. Realization that the printer information is going to go out of my head if I keep listening. I will have to start examining printers all over again if I keep listening to the clerk. The Social Mode takes a lot of energy — especially since the clerk is a stranger, which means I have to parse unfamiliar facial expressions and vocalizations. That takes up too many resources for me to also keep track of information about 19 models of printers.
11. “Thanks. I’m not interested in hard drives.”
12. “Oh. Okay. Well, can I tell you about our sale on DVDs and…”
13. PRINTER INFORMATION ALMOST GONE!
14. “I’m sorry. I just want to shop by myself!”
15. “Sorry. Sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you.”
16. Oh shit! I was rude. I really need to try to be friendlier.
17. Realization: social mode and guilty feelings have driven out all the printer information. Sigh. I will have to start over. I’d hope no one else tries to talk to me. Okay. the Canon printer is $199, and…
18. Oh no. Here comes a friendly looking old lady, the kind that likes to talk to strangers. Don’t make eye contact! Don’t make eye contact!
Okay, that was bit of a self-parody. I’m not THAT fragile. On the other hand, it’s only a BIT of a parody. Introverts tend to suck at multitasking and I’m no exception. I am very good at doing one thing at a time in a methodical, diligent, often creative way, but I can’t easily do two or more things at once, and
I can’t flip quickly between things. I need to do one task until it’s done or until I get to a natural break. And then do the next task. If I’m switching between two different sorts of tasks, I need time to transition.
Shopping involves too many mixed tasks at once. I try to online-shop as much as possible (BLESS you,Amazon.com!), because it’s 100% about a transaction and 0% about socializing.
Go back up to number nine that I bolded. That’s it. That’s the reveal.
Regardless of what was going on in this shopper’s head, the sales person comes over and pitches a deal and a sale that is not even in the emotional or analytical framework of the shopper.
This portion of the answer sums up a little for me one of the reasons I have never felt comfortable in shopping situations.
It is because they are fundamentally NOT social.
Yes, there is a person talking to me and that person is telling me things in a conversation. I am talking to the salesperson about what I want, or think I want.
But nobody ever asks intimate, real questions about the self. About the why or the how. We are not given the right information to choose to buy or choose to sell. The whole system of shopping is like being in a Sam Shepard play or a Howard Pinter play where all the emotions that anyone watching would recognize as human are cast off, inhibited, or thrown away at the bequest of some absurdist narrative.
Why are we lying to each other, in a sense? Why exists this gap of the social?
It’s because the experience of commerce was never about knowing people. It was always about quickest thoughts to create a market. It was about creating false emotions. It was about creating false needs.
This post was written by Brian Tolle, author of Shortcut: Getting Through to People Who Slow You Down.
The DISC framework of behavioral styles is based on the work of William Moulton Marston. Marston described these four behavioral styles in his 1928 book, Emotions of Normal People. Since then, researchers have further refined the framework to reflect a two-axis, four dimensions depiction of behavioral styles: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. Marston himself never developed an instrument or assessment tool to measure behavioral style preference.
The DISC framework is based on the degree to which an individual views his or her circumstances, or frame of reference, as favorable or unfavorable. A favorable frame of reference reflects the belief that one operates within a supportive environment where he or she can feel comfortable. An unfavorable frame of reference reflects a belief that one operates within an antagonistic environment and he or she feels challenged by these forces. This is the first principle.
The individual’s behavioral response to the situation depends on how much power the person feels in relation to the supportive or antagonistic forces in the environment. For example, if I perceive myself as more powerful, I will act on the environment to achieve my purpose. If I perceive myself as less powerful, I will accommodate to the environment. This is the second principle.
These two principles intersect to produce four responses directed by emotions (four behavioral styles):
Acts on an environment perceived as unfavorable
Acts on an environment perceived as favorable
Accommodates to an environment perceived as unfavorable
Accommodates to an environment perceived as favorable
Individuals tend to use two of these four preferred behavioral styles, a primary style and secondary style. Since these are behavioral styles, everyone is capable of using all four styles. For some, though, they may consider a particular style more of a “learned behavior” and therefore may feel awkward when expressing these behaviors.