9 of Your Customers’ Biggest Pet Peeves About Retail (and How to Address Them)

Have you ever wondered what irritates your customers the most?

Have you ever thought about the things you or your employees may be doing that are sending shoppers away?

If so, keep reading.

We recently took to LinkedIn and asked consumers one question: What is your biggest retail pet peeve?

We got several great responses, and we’ve compiled the best ones below. To make things even more interesting, we’ve also included tips and action steps to help you address these pet peeves and provide a better customer experience.

Let’s dive in.

1. Failing to read the customer.

“There are two types of shoppers: those who want to enjoy the shopping experience and browse and those who want to find what they are looking for quickly and get out spending as little time as possible. Whether it be online or in brick and mortar, it’s frustrating when a store can’t read the shopper and cater to which type of experience you need.”

Liz Fitzwater, Senior Graphic Designer

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for all your customers, which is why you and your associates should take the time to observe, listen, and figure out what each shopper needs. Are they in a hurry or do they have time to spare? Are they open to a sales pitch or do they want to be left alone? Answer these questions before delivering your spiel.

Recommended Reading

Need more advice on reading and relating to customers? Check out the following posts:

2. Insincere compliments

“I don’t like being told things look good on when clearly they don’t.”

Julie Katz, Regional Specialty Leasing Manager

Telling customers what you think they want to hear and showering them with fake compliments can easily backfire. Shoppers can see right through such tactics, so steer of them.

Instead, choose to be honest with your customers. If a garment doesn’t look good, tell them and then recommend an alternative — even if it’s something you don’t have in your store. Doing so builds trust and shows the customer that you’re not just after their money.

Even if they end up buying somewhere else, you can bet that your honesty will be remembered and they’ll likely come back to your store in the future.

3. Uninformed staff

“Lack of product knowledge when you ask a sales associate a question.”

Mike Saraka, Assistant Manager – Operations

Employees who don’t know what they’re doing aren’t just bad for customer service, they can also diminish sales and loyalty.

That’s why it’s important to invest in top-notch training for your staff. For best results, use a combination of training materials and practices to improve knowledge and retention.

As Maxim Fishman, Dean of Vend U says, “One format may not be enough to answer the needs of diverse learners.”

To ensure the success of your training efforts, utilize two or more learning methods to educate your staff. For example, you can verbally teach your employees about company policies, then reinforce the information through handouts or videos so they can refresh their memories when they need to do.

Or, if you’re training your staff on how to use systems such as your POS or inventory software, it’s best to demonstrate the programs in person, and then refer them to how-to videos that they can come back to.

Another staff training tip that’s been proven to work is role-playing. Gary Johnson, a Senior Consultant at Prevention Advisors, says that role playing sessions not only help employees practice, they can also increase their confidence.

Johnson, who personally facilitated such sessions, shares that staff members always feel more empowered and comfortable after role-playing different scenarios. “It’s one thing to think — in your head — what you would do or say, but it’s a whole other thing when you actually have to articulate it out loud and practice what you need to do.”

Enter to win

Take your employee training programs to the next level. Vend has partnered with Graff Retail to give away $1,500+ of essential retail training for sales associates and managers

We’re presenting one lucky winner with a retail training package that includes a 1-year subscription to two of Graff Retail’s top training programs – Get Selling! and Get Managing! The winner will also get a 45-minute live consultation with Kevin Graff. Enter now!

4. Associates who are missing in action

“Having to hunt down a sales associate. Hello! I’m trying to GIVE you my money here!’ – Candice Wilson, PR Student

You’ve worked hard to get people to your store, the last thing you want is for them leave empty-handed simply because no one was there to assist or ring up the sale. Address this by always having enough associates on the floor. Be aware of your store’s peak hours so you can schedule shifts accordingly.

Do note that it’s not enough to have employees on the floor; you have to ensure that your associates are able — and willing — to assist shoppers. Instill the importance of customer service and see to it that they understand how significant their role is in the shopping experience.

5. Disheveled stores

“There is no excuse for messy or dirty displays; do the basics right and customers will have more respect for you.”

Alan Dunwell, Retail, Recruitment and Administration

There may be some wisdom in the phrase “it’s what’s on the inside that counts,” but the fact is, in the world of retail, looks matter — A LOT. The appearance of your store and products will make or break sales, so keep your shop presentable.

Create beautiful window displays and invest in high-quality fixtures and shelving to showcase your merchandise. Also ensure that your employees are constantly tidying up, as those displays can quickly become disheveled shoppers go through your store.

And don’t neglect basic store upkeep. Every part of your shop — from the sales floor to the fitting rooms — should be cleaned and dusted every day to avoid the accumulation of dirt.

6. Lengthy checkout queues

“Long lines at check out.”

Valerie Herron, Recruiting Consultant

Long lines at checkout don’t just turn people off, they literally send people away. Research has found that “Americans will abandon a checkout line and leave a store without making a purchase after eight minutes of waiting in a checkout line. British shoppers won’t even wait around that long. They’ll walk out after just six minutes.”

Avoid and eliminate long checkout lines by always having new registers (and cashiers) on standby. Consider using iPads at the checkout counter so you can easily open up a new register quickly, instead of having to deal with large equipment and wiring.

Another benefit of using an iPad is that it lets you untether the checkout process. Rather than being stuck behind the cash wrap, you can quickly take the checkout process to the customer and ring up sales from anywhere in the store. This can improve traffic flow in your location and allow shoppers to move about more freely.

7. Price tag mishaps

Prices not being on items and having to then find someone to ask how much it is. Then machines not ringing up the item for the correct amount.

Summer Staten, Business Consultant

Pricing is a big factor in people’s purchase decisions, so if they can’t find the right pricing information in your store, they’ll walk out… most likely to your competitors. How should you address this? Simple — be more diligent about tagging your merchandise. Regularly check products and shelves for missing or incorrect price tags so you can fix them immediately.

If you don’t display prices in your store (a practice that can be seen in many high-end stores), then make sure your associates are standing by to provide pricing information. Instruct your employees to keep an eye on shoppers so if they need assistance, they can quickly get to them.

8. Not acknowledging customers when they enter the store

“Not receiving a simple ‘hello’ at the door.”

Kathleen Viti, Retail Professional

It’s a small gesture, but saying hello when a customer walks into your store goes a long way. Acknowledging their presence makes shoppers feel welcome and more comfortable. This, in turn, increases the chances of them staying in the store and making a purchase.

Greeting your customers can also prevent theft. Saying hi to someone when they enter your shop sends the message that you’re aware of their presence, thus discouraging them from trying anything sneaky.

9. Irrelevant sales pitches

“Having a sales associate ramble on and on about a sale on things I never asked about; instead of letting me lead and through questioning deciding what to pitch.”

Christopher Mahlberg, Member specialist at AAA

Look, people who walk into your store want to be sold to. But as we mentioned earlier, you can’t just launch into a sales pitch without digging into what the shopper wants or needs. There’s a right time and place for a sales spiel, and it’s the associate’s job to figure this out.

How? By observing and listening to the customer. As Christopher Mahlberg notes above, you need to let the customer lead and use questions to determine the best way to give them what they’re looking for.

Your turn

Can you name other pet peeves that people have about retail? If you’re a retailer, what are you doing to ensure you stay in your customers’ good graces? Let us know in the comments.

Win $1,500+ worth of retail training

We’d like to help you train your associates and managers, so you can keep customers happy and ring up more sales!

Vend has partnered with Graff Retail to give away $1,500+ of essential retail training for sales associates and managers. We’re presenting one lucky winner with a retail training package that includes a 1-year subscription to two of Graff Retail’s top training programs – Get Selling! and Get Managing! The winner will also get a 45-minute live consultation with Kevin Graff.

This is a fantastic opportunity for any merchant who wants to achieve retail success in 2017.

Enter now!


About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

  • Former Clothes Associate

    Just to say, honesty when professionally suggesting another outfit as more appropriate doesn’t always make the customer feel any better. The woman immediately snapped at me, claiming that I was insulting her. Scene: She was squeezing herself into a size 8 when the actual size required was a 12.

    But for men, they were more understanding and appreciative.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience! It goes to show that when it comes to hearing the truth, some people will be more receptive than others. This is why it’s so important to read customers and determine the right approach.

  • eleyfied

    When stores try to be ‘clever’ with their pricing. My absolute worst is when you get to the checkout counter, and the price they ring up is higher than the one you saw on the price ticket in the store. You point out that it’s wrong and you’re informed that the lower price is only for “loyalty card holders” and that if I swipe my loyalty card, the price is automatically reduced on the system… You know what? I’m being pretty loyal by spending my money in your store, don’t give me that. Give me the price that I saw on the price ticket…first. If you have a loyalty reward system, that lower price needs to be the second price mentioned. (Just as annoying, they make you feel like a moron because the ‘non-loyalty price’ is on the ticket, but it’s just 4xSmaller in a faded colour hidden under the Price you, and everyone else, sees first.) Basically it’s trickery, and it’s not clever – no customer ever said, ‘that was smart, they sure got me good, I’ll go back there’.

  • Leilani R Whitmire

    All these are great points, from the consumer and the business side. Overall, when customers walk into a store, they want an experience. Otherwise, retail will lose customers to DTC sales. I am obsessed with the ease of shopping through apps and subscription services, so when I enter a store, it’s more for leisurely experience rather than necessity. Engaging the customer can turn this around, as it is my biggest pet peeve to be passed by an associate with out a greeting or a smile. It’s going to be impossible to compete with omni-channel offerings- so retail will figure out a way to incorporate it all in store. It will have to.

  • I <3 customer service

    I think a huge problem in retail is the attitude towards returns for faulty items. I really dislike it when I need to return a faulty item and I’m met with suspicion, excessive questions, defensive behaviour, and eventually an unwilling refund ‘on this occasion only’ as though it’s a favour rather than something I’m entitled to.
    Spending time and money on clothes just to have them shrink or fall to pieces after one wash or wear (or worse, while you’re still wearing them!) is not a pleasant experience, so to then have to go back to the shop asap at the weekend, spend money on petrol and city centre parking, wait in a huge queue, just to get up to the till and be treated like a liar/criminal/luncatic/someone who doesn’t know to wear or wash clothes properly is an absolute disgrace. I think shops need to train staff to have a completely different approach, and focus on the level of inconvenience their customer has so far experienced and offer a sincere apology! If I’ve had to come back into store because of a fault with your product, do you really think I’m going to shop there if you also completely humiliate me at the till point and act like you’re doing me a favour by begrudgingly giving me my money back? Really hope some retrial managers read this and train their staff accordingly 🙂

  • MaryAnne Finch

    One of my biggest peeves is seeing employees on their phones. Not a quick glance at their phone but ignoring customers for whomever they’re talking/texting with or whatever they’re engaged in. On the same note, employees who are engaged in personal conversations with each other in front of me and don’t pause to finish my transaction but carry on the whole time, hand me a receipt and offer an insincere “thanks” as if I inconvenienced them for interrupting.

  • Charlie McDonald

    Hey Francesca,
    You are in the retail business too!
    Seems a bit silly to make all those suggestions but not actually implement them in your own biz.
    Regarding the March Upgrade, did you:
    1. Read the customer.
    2. Give sincere compliments to complainants
    3. Inform all staff and interested parties/consumers?

    I dont think you did.