Last weekend I was buying some DVDs with friends. It's interesting how salespeople can sum you up and often come up with accurate summaries of what
you're going to buy. For instance, my friend, a "hardcore" movie buff and someone who is able to debate the merits and demerits of foreign directors with ease was shown a pile of foreign films. As soon as he finished selecting (and salivating) out of each pile, the shopkeeper pulled out a new bunch. He
would've been there forever, if we hadn't intervened.
As for me, after spotting season four of Grey's Anatomy, a drama about doctors that I love, I was quite content to just stand around with the others and chat. The salesman noticed me, and without saying a word, pushed six-in-one movies towards me. I was instantly hooked. I like six-in-one sets because they always seem like such a bargain. Also, it's so much easier to keep track of one DVD as opposed to six. I bought one set, even though I must have filtered through several, a set of 'chick-flicks', which is the kind of easy entertainment I like watching on TV, as opposed to movies I'll actually make the effort of going to a theatre to see.
It struck me then, how we all look like a certain type of cinema consumer. If I was making these judgements, say, it might be kind of easy to see which friend preferred dry, British comedy (the investment banker, who doesn't wear a tie and whose laugh is measured), the one I could sell Oscar-winning movies to (a copywriter, who wears her hair medium length and looks like she doesn't get much time to go to the cinema), the client for my obscure movies (looks somewhat disdainfully at the bigger movies, definitely never buys a six-in-one set and doesn't have to read the back of the DVD to figure out what the movie's about.) It's a rather fun game, match the movie to the consumer, I wondered what I'd sell my mom (nothing with guns on the cover) or my best friend (definitely something with underappreciated but still fairly major actors) or my former roommate (old Hindi movies).
I am clearly, then, someone who looks mainstream. When I asked for animation, one of the salesman's eyebrows lifted just a little, but he began to show me six-in-one sets of those as well. When he saw I pulled out Disney from the lot he gave me, he reached under his table to give me more stuff. Five DVDs later, I was happy, but still hiding my bag with its lowbrow selection from my friends.
As a journalist, I have to be fairly intuitive, in order to ask the kind of questions I need for a good story. But it never struck me just how intuitive salespeople have to be. In order to sell something, you have to properly assess someone, figure out in a couple of glances what they'd like and what you can successfully hawk. It's easy, of course, when someone just walks in and asks for what they want, but when you have a browser, someone who's not entirely certain they want to go shopping that day, you have to be subtle and yet be able to let them know that you have exactly what they want. I see it in bars all the time, bartenders tend to gravitate towards couples--groups of friends are far more likely to drink more without prompting but couples can go either way. You have to murmur, "More drinks?" while keeping a distance, just as their first drinks are finishing and four out of five times, you have yourself a repeat. People who order fancy cocktails, most likely won't linger, people who drink beer will have to be thrown out after the last call, people who drink hard liquor with a mixer will have to be kept an eye on.
Similarly, to compare it loosely to our shopping expedition, people who choose six-in-one selections will be happy with one or two DVDs, while people who are pulling out foreign films you never heard of are more likely to stay and spend more money. They've definitely got our number.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine