Laptop: Office Depot salespeople lie about inventory if you don't buy extra laptop accessories

According to a report from Laptop, several Office Depot employees have been lying to customers from whom they don't expect to make a "good" sale:
According to several LAPTOP readers, including a current Office Depot employee we interviewed, the retailer’s sales staff are under such intense pressure to sell such “attachments” as Product Protection Plans or Tech Depot Services that many will tell customers who turn down these services that the computer they asked for is not in stock, even when it’s sitting right there in the stock room.
It sounds like bad eggs, not systemic company-wide policy.
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26 Responses to Laptop: Office Depot salespeople lie about inventory if you don't buy extra laptop accessories

  1. Anonymous says:

    In order to keep my job as a cashier at a chain store, I have to mention our store’s member card to every customer who comes to my register. On top of that, I have to mention two of the benefits of membership. Every time. No exceptions. This is because corporate sends secret shoppers to our store several times a year. If the secret shopper comes to my register and I fail to mention the member card, or if I mention the member card, but fail to mention two benefits of membership, then I get to have a private meeting with management.

    And if the customer does not buy a membership, then I have to try to collect their email address. Every. Time.

    Some customers don’t seem to understand that I hate asking these questions as much as they hate answering them, and that the only “perk” I get from the exchange is continued employment.

    It’s all the joys of working on commission without, you know, the commissons.

    So I’ve been trying to brainstorm a way that customers could let companies know that they don’t enjoy being harrassed every time they shop…but I fear that companies will interpret “Your policies are unpleasant, I want you to change them,” as “Your clerk was unpleasant to me, I want you to fire her.” Any ideas?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I worked for Best Buy as a computer salesman a few years ago and we had the same policy. People would walk out with a $300 e-machine and $700 of ‘necessary’ accessories, or nothing. I had many ‘Talks’ with various levels of management because I didn’t comply. Although the practice was against corporate policy, the behavior was promoted by contests run at the corporate level that gave incentives and bonuses to the management of stores with good revenue : accessory ratios.

  3. Anonymous says:

    My Office Depot started (and will finish) liquidation 1 month after Circuit City (same shopping center) did. The market was way, way oversupplied here, even for the DC area.

    An unhealthy level of idiotic corporate pressure, a lack of customer service, and simple competition drove the weakest of these stores into the ground.

    In five years we’ve gone from 5 staples, 2 best buys, 2 office depots, & 3 circuit cities to 2 best buys, 4 staples, & 1 Microcenter(yay!).

  4. kengor says:

    So, instead of making a small sale on just a laptop, they rather not sell at all? Huh?

    Reminds me of the last time I went to Burger King. I didn’t want a soda, and then they tried to bargain me down to a small fries. Then they explained that they “ran out” of hamburgers.

  5. Anonymous says:

    1st the scams, yes I have had them happen to me, people sending customers to my store to save their numbers, but can you blame the associate? A tech associate is hired and fired based in part by the attachment rate the person can get.

    This can be good for the customer if kept in check. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen someone go to buy a printer and consistantly push me off from helping them with the sale, only to find them coming back to the store 30 min later to buy a cable and ink, then for the next 6 months bitching to me about how much ink their photo printer uses in their office. Office printers are not the same as photo printers….
    So while it can be good for some customers, obviously some people only want the advertised item. Well when an associate is faced with finding another job, or preventing you from buying a laptop, what would you do? Yes the job sucks but it does pay the bills. Instead of blaming the associate, how about blaming the upper management that puts pressure on the district and store managers to get those attachment rates?
    Furthermore, you seem to think that box retailers make all sorts of money on these things. I can verify not. In my district we have the highest average margin on laptops. Care to guess what it is? 5%, 10%,15%? NO, we (on average) make -1% on every laptop we sell. So, if you really dont like the convienice of going to a brick and mortar retailer and want to purchase all your electronics from reviews from annonamous people over the internet instead of from people who literally test these machines constantly. Go right ahead. Mom and Pop are dead, but brick and mortar are getting weak too.

    Now for those ‘pesky’ warranties. Sometimes they are simply not a good deal, and if I could spare asking for them on those circumstances believe me I would. It makes me feel like a fool to ask a customer to spend 1/2 the ticket price to buy a warranty. BUT unlike Best Buy, and Office Max, many OD warranties are cash back warranties. It breaks you get your money back. How much do you pay in health insurance? What is your return? Now, you buy a printer, costs $100 I can pretty much gurantee you that the rollers, or the ADF if it has one will start jamming in year 2, guess what? for $10 (10% up front) I could sell you a plan to get your original $100 back to buy anything in the store. Just relate that back to your health insurance.

    It is absolutely absurd to think that all OD associates are crooks, and would you like to know the funny part? I’m classified as a ‘cashier’ not a tech sales. So next time someone is checking you out at the register, and you think I’m some kind of ignorant fool that doesnt know my ass from a printer, just think with 2 questions I know how quickly your printer will fail, and how much your going to pay through the nose on ink. :)

    This has been long, and thank you for reading it. Hopefully this has let you see more into the eyes of retailers because it is quite obvious many of you have never done it. It is art, and it is hell. But it pays the bills.

  6. Halloween Jack says:

    This is why we can’t have a nice economy.

  7. Kyle Armbruster says:

    I worked for BB for a little while. While I never said there wasn’t a computer in stock when it was, I did often help two or three other customers before pulling their laptop if they turned down the bullshit service. Why? Because while I was helping other people, the laptop person might get impatient and leave, or find another, newer sales person to get it for them, not realizing that having that laptop sale with no bullshit attached would result in being yelled at by the boss and eventually having his hours cut… a lot.

    In comparison to a lot of the shenanigans I saw (mostly on the part of my boss), I can’t say that I was a bad apple for doing what I did. If the customer was still around after I’d helped everyone else, I’d apologize profusely and sell them the naked laptop and take my beatings.

  8. mellon says:

    Hunh. This is why I tend to buy stuff from Newegg…

  9. strider_mt2k says:

    Pretty stupid over the long term as the base sale likely is applied to your base pay, unless they pay differently.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I understand the metric: the accessories have a higher gross margin than the laptop itself, so the company is trying to encourage the sales staff to sell accessories. But unless they’re actually losing money on the laptops, some district manager needs to kick some asses between their shoulder blades. They are there to sell stuff to the customers, not to try to game the performance evaluation system. Sheesh..

  11. ill lich says:

    I’m sure this is common in a lot of stores. I had a friend who worked at Guitar Center, and every morning they were trained in ways to trick customers into buying accessories and warranties they didn’t need (not exactly the same thing, but a very pushy sales policy).

  12. Anonymous says:

    I used to work as a tech associate at OD, we never did anything like this, but there was a ton of pressure to sell the attachments.
    It seemed like that was the only way the store made money.
    If you got a customer to buy a protection plan or case/accessory/etc you got a small bonus, but if you didn’t I never personally experienced any chastising or threats other than “do better”.
    At the end of the day, week, month, management looks at attachment percentages, and you’re supposed to be hitting goals. Goals, that I should add, are ridiculously unattainable most of the time.
    Maybe a manager or enterprising associate came up with the “out of stock” idea, but when I left a few months ago, this would have been looked down upon at my store. Certainly would help the percentages though.

  13. dculberson says:

    Yeah, Office Depot way before Best Buy. Not that Best Buy is perfect, or even that good, but it’s way less duplicated in the market.

  14. FreakCitySF says:

    theres a sucker born every minute? If we report on all the tricks to pull bucks from suckers we are going to sink this economy, right now it’s just a poseidon adventure

  15. Jimmy says:

    So which will be the next to fold? Best Buy or Office Depot?

  16. Baldhead says:

    There is a huge emphasis on adding to the sale (though my feeling is that extra warranty on computers is a good idea- but pretty much only computers) and not only that, but adding only company- approved items. Convincing somone to buy a whole trilogy instead of just part 1 doesn’t count but getting them to buy a bottle of pop does, even though the sale becomes a lot smaller.

  17. Anonymous says:

    This really isn’t uncommon at all in any chain store. The point of a business is to make money. Why be surprised when they do whatever they can to make money?

    I worked electronics, I’m sorry, “Business Machines” at Staples for a year. I was better at selling accessories and service plans than anyone else, because I’ve studied the psychology of a sale and I was willing to lie in almost anyone’s face about what they needed. No service plan covers accidental damage. None. But try selling one by answering truthfully as soon as the customer asks you if it does. You can’t; the only way to do your job is to lie and cheat people, and if you aren’t making the store any money, management won’t care why, just that you aren’t making the store any money.

    Admittedly, customers in these stores are always such rude entitlement freaks that I often had no moral qualms about it, but this is the reality. The employee is pressured to force the service plan on you because it is nothing but pure profit for the store. I actually told people this often as a last resort: “Well, don’t tell my manager I said it, but we want you to buy it because as long as nothing goes wrong with your laptop, that’s just money in our pockets. But since we want you to buy it, and we want you to tell your friends and family that it’s a good idea to buy it when they come to buy a laptop from us, if that laptop ever so much has a scratch on it you can bet they’re going to fall head over heels to make you happy, no matter what.”

    This is, of course, untrue. The fine print on service plans at Staples actually includes, in addition to not covering accidental damage, “Does not cover damage caused by Acts of God.” They will do anything in their power to not hold up to the service agreement, which likely doesn’t cover the problem anyway.

    But try making the sale by admitting any of this. And then try keeping your job when you don’t make sales.

    Also: I see some comments here talking about how laptops and printers and such have a small profit margin and that stores should be happy to just have a small profit margin rather than just make no sale. In reality, the store is lucky if that profit margin is as much as twenty dollars. If the item in question is on sale, there shouldn’t be any doubt that they are losing money on it. This is called a “Loss Leader;” the item has an irresistible price, and the loss is made up for when the salesman convinces the customer to spend what they’re saving on attachments and a service plan. If they spend, in total, as much as they would’ve spent on a full-priced laptop, the store makes ten times as much as they would make selling only the full-priced laptop.

    In short, as a customer, do not ever delude yourself into thinking that a major retail chain cares about you. They care about their bottom line. Customer Service is an illusion designed to make you feel comfortable spending money. Stores don’t exist because someone said “It will be so much fun selling electronics or office supplies!” They exist because someone said “We can make so much money while we have fun selling electronics or office supplies.” Low level employees working the floor are just caught in the middle, but they will do whatever it takes to get as much of your money is possible when the choice boils down to ripping you off, or losing their job and not being able to pay the rent this month.

  18. Daemon says:

    @7 – Actually, Best Buy is almost perfectly duplicated by Future Shop – they are owned by the same company and (around here at least) are almost always locted within a block of each other, and as far as I’ve been able to tell, carry the exact same merchandise.

    Office Depot and Staples seem to have a similar disfunctional relationship.

  19. Anonymous says:

    They are there to sell stuff to the customers, not to try to game the performance evaluation system.

    Is it pleasant, the weather on the planet where you live?

    They are there to carry out the policies management sets. If they don’t sell products, nothing happens. If they sell products without service plans, they get called on the carpet, possibly even publicly, for selling products without the extras.

    The result is as you see, better not to sell it than to sell it without the service plan and get humiliated. Upper management sets the rules, the employees just play by them.

  20. ripplepoppy says:

    This is endemic to corporate america and hurts the people on the front lines. They think that the employee making $7/hr really gives a sh!t about helping out the company’s bottom line? Why should I make that effort and annoy the customer only to support a company that doesn’t support me? My time is wasted here!
    But in the case of commissioned employees, IDK how that works.
    Barnes & Noble used to evaluate employees’ potential for raises based on the number of memberships they could sell. Best Buy does it, restaurants do it (lol, they oughta offer extended warranties on the food), department stores do it (would you like to open a Shmoffshmoff’s credit card? The interest rate is only 26%!!)
    Will my fellow workers behind counters please stand up and help me tell employers “This is ridiculous and customers don’t want it! If you can’t figure out how to operate your business without this “service” then we’re all in trouble!”
    Oh wait, we already are. The precarious system is toppling, isn’t it?

  21. Finchypoo says:

    $5 on Office Depot, Staples or Office Max, pretty much the same store anyways.

  22. bcsizemo says:

    God no wonder I hear so many people bitch about retail and how “superior” online buying is…

    I’ve worked retail, and thankfully not in this setting. And frankly there are just some things I am going to keep buying from a big box store until they close, like a TV…

  23. mdh says:

    They are there to sell stuff to the customers, not to try to game the performance evaluation system.

    This is (writ small) what just happened to Wall Street.

    Gaming the performance evaluation system. well said.

  24. EyeSpy Guy says:

    Customer: Young lady, please fetch your manager for me.
    Manager: What seems to be the problem sir?
    Customer: I would like to take a moment to compliment you on your clerk. She has been a gem. I really think she is doing a wonderful job.
    Manager: Nice of you to say so, sir.
    Customer: But this bullshit? Where she has to ask me the same dumb questions every time I come in? That is not fine. I’m a regular customer here, and I don’t like being hassled more because I come here more often. I want you to stop that.
    Manager: Really, sir?
    Customer: So, if your nice clerk has to go through her worthless script to me one more time, I swear I will never spend another dollar in this store. Mister, you should treasure your customers, and your repeat customers most of all. By our grace we keep your doors open. Now show a little respect. Have a nice day.
    Manager: …

  25. Anonymous says:

    No, it doesn’t sound like a few bad eggs. It sounds like a horrible policy (punishing employees for failing to push services on the customer that they don’t want or need) that is forcing their salespeople to do this.

    It IS systemic. It IS rooted on the corporate level.

  26. elisd says:

    “It sounds like bad eggs, not systemic company-wide policy.”

    I dunno, it sounds like the employees’ actions are a direct result of the systemic company-wide policy of evaluating salespeople on their accessory attachment rate more than their total sales.

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