May 17, 2022

on consumerism: dealing with door-to-door sellers | Weekend magazine

When I was a kid, businesses relied much more on salespeople who walked every block, knocking on every door.

Life was different then. There was no internet allowing people at home to shop effortlessly. Also, at that time, there was a good chance that someone was home during the working day.

These days, too often no one is home, as everyone in the household has to be at work to pay for all their purchases. The easier it is to buy, the more we buy, whether it is necessary or not.

Until the mid-1970s, my mother was a housewife. I was in the front row when I was a little boy watching the vendors come by.

I liked the Fuller Brush man. He let us touch samples of the company’s brushes. Some were extremely soft, others hard, because people’s needs differ. Some plastic brushes existed, but most had wooden handles. I still have a few of those brushes, 50 years later. They work and feel good. I believe these brushes were better than any store bought brushes.

Door-to-door salespeople came pushing vacuum cleaners. My mom bought one. But first the salesman plugged it in and let her have a try.

Then came a World Book encyclopedia salesman. We bought a set. These books have been wonderfully crafted. First class binding, which is why they lasted. They helped me a lot with my homework. I still have the full set and refer to these books at least once a week. This seller did not carry the complete set of 20 volumes. He probably only had the first or the first two books with him. Customers could view sample volumes before deciding to purchase.

But from the mid-1970s things changed. If the vendors kept knocking, we weren’t home to answer. The last one I remember was a cable TV salesman, trying to sell a subscription. Cable TV was so new we hadn’t heard of it. My mother, as usual, signed us up. She always let others influence her.

It was the first time I remember people selling services, instead of tangible products, door-to-door.

Almost every home seller these days offers a service, not a product that they keep in their car.

Like the salesman for an Internet service provider who knocked on my sister-in-law’s door last year. She and her husband politely let him in and heard his spiel. My relatives thought the man would leave his card and let them think about it. But that’s not how many salespeople work. Too many people are trained to get in and stay inside.

He pressured (but not coerced) them to sign up for a month of “free” Internet service. The seller convinced them to sign a statement – ​​which they signed, without reading it, just to get rid of the pest.

But that night, they thought about the stress of changing passwords and notifying the companies they transact with online. So the next day my sister-in-law called to say she wanted out of the business.

No dice. The seller said the company would call in three weeks to set up the installation for the “free” month of service, at which time they could decline the offer. Eventually the device arrived and it was the responsibility of my loved ones to return it.

My friends, this seller was like many others I’ve met over the years – once he got your ear, he didn’t let go.

Tip: If a salesperson knocks on your door offering to sell you a product and has samples, and you’re interested in the product, then don’t hesitate to invite the person in and have a look. Otherwise, don’t let them in.

Don’t be tempted by the sudden appearance at your doorstep of products or services; remember, you’ve gotten by so far without whatever they’re selling.

Don’t feel obligated to do anything right away. Ask for their card. Say you’re going to sleep on it and come back to them. And if you want, call later to make the purchase.

But a consumer who makes a quick decision is looking for trouble.

Tip: If a salesperson is selling a service — as opposed to a product — don’t let them in. Say you’re not interested. Or, if you’re interested, ask for a map and say you’ll research the service before deciding. But don’t let them in.

It’s much easier not to invite a vendor than to have the one who’s already inside leave.

Letting them in will cost you in the long run.

Don’t be swayed by promises of “free” or “low introductory rates.” Whenever something comes “for free” or at a reduced rate, it means that you agree to purchase the product or service later at full price.

Instead, ask, “When the free (or discounted) period expires, what will my new cost be?” Let this number guide your decision.

Services may not be exactly as seller described. You could end up very disappointed.

In the past, customers could handle the samples and therefore knew what they were buying. They did not feel disappointed after the purchase.

But the world has changed.

These days, nine times out of ten, the salesperson offers a service you don’t see – or pushes a religion. They must be chased from your premises.

Unless it’s the Fuller Brush man.

Arthur Vidro is one of Eagle Times’ recurring financial columnists.