Reprinted from October 1993
Many years ago, the harried housewife found it difficult to get to the local department store to do her shopping; thus, the store “shopper” was established.
The busy lady could then sit back in her easy chair and literally “pick and choose” whatever she desired right in the comfort of her own home.
The practice proved to be a boon for the department store, but for the little lady to sit at home and phone the jeweler for repair estimates is an unbelievable pain in the neck for the jeweler.
I had a good example of that one day. The phone rang when I was very busy, and a sweet voice inquired, “Do you fix watches?”
“Yes we do,” I replied.
How much, indeed, I thought.
“Well,” I said carefully, “that depends on what is wrong with the watch.”
“It needs cleaning,” said the sweet thing. “How much to clean it?”
“That depends on what kind of watch you have,” I answered.
I heard her breathe heavily on the telephone, felt sure she was becoming irked at me.
“It’s a 17-jewel,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, “But there are all kinds of 17-jewel watches. Is it an automatic or regular?”
“It’s a regular 17-jewel watch!”
“Well, we will just have to see your watch to say for sure.”
“You’re being very evasive,” accused the lady. “It’s a regular 17-jewel watch that needs cleaning. What’s your price?”
Honest, I tried to be very patient.
“That’s something to go on, but you can’t always be sure that cleaning is all that’s needed. We will just have to see the watch and check it out first.”
But she came back with the curt remark, “Oh yes, I’m sure. I’ve already had it checked and the jeweler said that all it needed was a cleaning.”
By then, my Arian personality was beginning to feel strained.
“I’m sorry,” I said flatly, “but we don’t give phone estimates.”
“However,” I continued, “if you’re looking for a bargain (and by then I was sure she was), I can tell you with assurance that we do good repair work on all types of watches and we have many regular, satisfied customers, but we are not cheap.”
I heard a gasp and then a moment of silence. The lady said a quick “thank you” and hung up.
Immediately, pictures flashed through my mind. I could see this lady at her telephone calling every watchmaker and jeweler in the yellow pages. In my mind’s eye I could see many hard working, dedicated watchmakers away from their benches, wasting time and talent to patiently and courteously explain the “facts” to this bargain basement shopper who thinks she can buy a watchmaker’s talent cheaper – like shopping for a day-old loaf of bread. It made me sick!
And the thing that made her price-checking easier was that indispensable instrument, the telephone.
I wondered on my wisdom of handling the situation. Would it have been better to quote a ridiculously low price over the phone and then attempt to upgrade her when and if she actually came into the store with the watch? Would that be ethical? Maybe there are no cut and dried answers.
A friend suggested I give this response if the situation arose again:
“Lady, they taught me a lot of things in watchmaking school, but ‘over-the-phone’ diagnosis wasn’t one of them. I cannot give an estimate on that which I have not seen.”
Now, according to the phone company, a listing in the phone directory is a most important asset to your business, and it really does have its good points. Your listing in the directory can aid a new customer in locating your store, or an established customer in checking on his goods. It helps salesmen reach your store with their goods or services, so it seems we cannot get along without the telephone.
On the other hand, I have heard that a phone is unequalled as an instrument for rudeness. It doesn’t care to whom you may be talking – when it rings it will not be ignored. It ruins sales by butting in. It causes frustrations and tempers to flare. It gets folks out of the bathtub, or wakes them for a wrong number in the middle of the night. Yet, because we cannot get along without the telephone, we must learn to live with it, as obnoxious and annoying as it is.
All this brings us to what we should do when a “phone shopper” calls. I would suggest:
1. Restrict the quoting of prices for repair work over the telephone. Better still, quit the practice altogether.
2. Closely supervise prices given out on store merchandise over the phone. It is hard enough to create the desire for your product when the customer is standing right there, much less when he isn’t using his sense of sight to help him make up his mind.
I do not remember giving a price on the phone and actually culminating a sale as a result, but sometimes I have given prices only to kick myself later.
Whenever someone does wiggle a price out of me and my husband is within earshot, he draws a loud gasp of breath, but says nothing. This is a little gesture, which translated means, “Don’t hold your breath that they’ll be in.”
It is a point well taken.
I’d say the telephone shopper is a curiosity seeker, a voice looker or whatever you want to call her or him. They will leave their watches wherever the price proves to be the cheapest, regardless of the quality of the work.
So, if you turn out quality work, don’t be brow-beaten by the phone shopper. Hold up your head and your price and remember: one customer in your store is worth 10 on the telephone.