Dan Kang

A breakdown of how I was talked out of $100

Receipt of $100 of face products

Last Friday, I went to the mall with only the intention of looking around and checking out the shops. Not once did I suspect that I’d be walking out with $100 worth of skin care products.

Before I get into what happened, you need to know what kind of consumer I am. I’m the type of guy who will spend an hour at Target choosing between different types of bedding and incessantly compare reviews on Amazon between two heaters with the same rating. If I have the option, I will most certainly purchase a product item online because that way I’ll have the most information and time available to make the best decision.

None of that happened on Friday.

I saw a tall, handsome man who was enticing passersby with skin care samples and asked him if he could share some tricks he’s picked up in the art of selling. The idea of convincing people to pay you money for something has always fascinated me, and I thought I could learn a thing or two from someone who does it day in day out. Although he was a bit perplexed as to why I wanted to learn about this if I didn’t work in sales, he was willing to entertain me.

Lesson 1: Become a friend to your customer.

One of the first things he told me was that he tries to get familiar with the potential customer by getting their name, where they’re from, why they’re at the mall that day, etc. This made sense, because by gaining the customer’s trust, you put yourself in a position to sell something to them. At this point, I learned that the salesman’s name was Adir and that he had finished mandatory service in Israel before coming to the States.

He motioned me over to one of the booths, and asked for my permission before putting some kind of gel on my hand. It was then that I realized that this was no longer a friendly conversation but that he was trying to sell me on his products. Game on.

Lesson 2: Make your customer afraid of losing out on a disappearing opportunity.

The gel that Adir put on my hand transformed into chunky white clumps, and Adir told me that they were dead skin cells removed by the gel. When he asked me what skin products I use, I told him that I only use daily facewash for washing up after waking up and before going to sleep. He asked for clarification a couple times, not because he couldn’t understand me but because he couldn’t believe that facewash was all I used. He and I both knew that he was going to have a hard time selling to someone who didn’t care enough to spend money on skin care products.

He opened up a catalog conveniently sitting on the booth, and told me that there was a special going on today. Only today. I had a hard time believing this, and I thought it was like one of those marketing pages on the Internet where there’s a special price only for 24 hours… every 24 hours. Adir insisted that the sale was only for today, that it was ending on Saturday night. It was Friday so his claim didn’t make any sense, but I didn’t bother correcting him because I wasn’t interested anyway. He enthusiastically informed me that although the normal price for the gel was $100, it was marked down to the special price of just $69.99. I just looked at him blankly and recalled a section in a psychology book I’d been reading on how humans are irrationally afraid of losing out on disappearing opportunities. Too bad I didn’t really want to buy some magic gel.

Lesson 3: Convince your customer that he wants the product.

Adir wasn’t fazed by my lack of excitement, and he proceeded to show me a moisturizer and a facial cleanser. Throughout our conversation, he repeated stopped, motioned to the gel, the moisturizer, and the cleanser, and asked me, “Which one are you most impressed by?” I thought these breaks in conversation were odd, but I obliged him by pointing to the gel that had come off in clumps of dead skin cells. I didn’t actually care for any of the three products, but that one seemed to me the coolest since I hadn’t seen something like that before. Only in retrospect did I realize that the explicit act of me pointing to a certain product in response to his question made me internalize the thought that I was impressed with the product. In essence, the simple question implanted a desire for the product a la Inception.

Lesson 4: Make the purchase decision seem like the most rational decision.

When I showed hesitation about making a purchase, Adir asked me how much my jeans cost. Unluckily for him, I had purchased the pair of jeans I was wearing at Uniqlo’s grand opening for a measly $15. When I told him, he quickly changed the subject of his question to my shirt. $3. Also purchased at Uniqlo’s grand opening.

I understood what he was trying to do, despite the fact that it wasn’t working so well in my case. By getting a customer to acknowledge that they had spent a considerable amount of money on clothes, he would then convince the customer it would only make sense to spend a considerable amount on taking care of your skin. Adir recovered both gracefully and comically by telling me that while I may have many shirts and jeans, I only have one face so I should treat myself. I laughed, but I still wasn’t sold.

Lesson 5: Make a personal offer that your customer can’t refuse.

I looked Adir in the eye and told him that while I appreciated him taking the time to talk to me, I wasn’t going to be buying anything today. At this point, Adir said to me, “You know what? Because you’re such a nice guy, I’m going to do something special for you.” And with that, he quickly made over to the other side of the booth.

I stood there not knowing what to do, with the secret hope that he was going to shower me with samples of everything he had shown me so far. Maybe I was going to walk off with some of this stuff for free!

Adir motioned for me to join him on the other side, and he repeated himself: “Because you’re such a nice guy, I’m going to do this just for you.” He busted out an old school calculator, and punched in the original cost of the gel ($100) and the original cost of the moisturizer ($100). The number 200 glared at me from the calculator. He then brought his voice down to a whisper and told me that he would sell me the gel at the special price and add in the moisturizer completely free of charge. Completely free of charge. Just for me. The psychology book I brought up earlier also had a section on how humans become completely irrational when it comes to free things, and I had the luxury of experiencing this firsthand. With the new number 69 seducing me, my strong “no” quickly changed to a “maybe”, and then to a “yes”. Not once did it cross my mind that I should take a moment to look up these products that I had never heard of before to make sure that these products were actually worthwhile and that I was receiving a fair price. Nope.

The entire time, Adir kept repeating how he was making an exception just for me because I was such a nice guy and how I can’t tell anyone else about this because it’s a secret just between him and me. Extremely, extremely effective. Not only does this make me irrationally afraid of losing out on a good deal, it makes me think that Adir is being an amazing friend and that I’m making the most rational decision by taking advantage of this secret offer. All the punches packed into one.

Lesson 6: When you get your customer to a “yes”, don’t stop.

Right before I handed Adir my debit card, he stopped what he was doing and turned towards me. “You know what, I’m going to do something else just for you.” He took out the calculator again, pressed in 50, cleared it, and pressed in 25. “I’m going to give you the facial cleanser half off because I think you deserve it.” Saying yes to this offer happened much more easily and quickly than my first yes, because I was already in a mindset of making a purchase. What Adir used is a classic sales technique called “upselling”, where you offer something in addition to the original purchase. I even called him out on it, saying “Oh man, here comes to upsell”, but knowing what was happening didn’t change the outcome in the slightest.

In the end, I went from not being interested at all to purchasing over $100 worth of skin care products. As soon as I walked away with the booth, my brain repaired itself, and I googled “Dead Sea cosmetics”. Surprise, surprise. Many others had been suckered in just like me. However, it was too late to do anything about it, as the bottom of the receipt had in fine print the devastating words “No Refund. Exchanges only.”

Am I embarrassed about what happened? Of course. I was masterfully manipulated, and I have little choice but to admit that I received an unexpectedly expensive lesson in the art of selling. I got exactly what I had asked for.