Retail Survival: 12 Types Of Customers You'll Encounter This Holiday

by Shawn Mitchell

For years, I have sold computers in big box retail. While I see a wide array of customer stereotypes throughout the entire year, the holiday season brings them out, full throttle.

Dealing with certain customers can be difficult at times, but retail workers cope with it, roll with the punches and move on with a smile that never falters in the face of consumerism.

Whether you're the customer or an associate dealing with the customer, much can be learned from the nature of shopping. Here are many of the consumers you may witness, whether you are one, or you're the one working for them:

1. The “I just want to get this product and go” customer

The customer just wants to grab the item and ring out as quickly as possible. No protection plans, no questions, no nothing!

Advice for the Customer:

What many customers fail to understand is that Walmart is probably the only big box retail store where the expectation is to grab and go.

At any other store, such as Best Buy, HHGregg or Sears, it’s the employee's job to ask questions to enhance the experience. So, before you cut them off, let them do their job.

Advice for the Employee:

Never falter! While you can certainly speed up your process to get the customer out the door, never cease to do your job. If a customer complains, it’s whatever. A manager isn’t going to be mad at you for providing quality customer service.

2. The “just looking, I don’t need any help” customer that needs help two seconds later

Yes, we’ve all been there. We ask customers if they need help finding anything or if they have any questions, and they shoo us away, saying they’re “just looking.”

As we begin to walk away, they have an "aha!” moment that, yes, they do have questions.

Advice for the Customer:

Don’t be so quick to the defense if you’re going to ask questions immediately after declaring you don’t need help.

Advice for the Employee:

Ask open-ended questions that don’t set you up for the “just looking” opportunity. Like, “What brings you in today?” Or, a conversation question like, “How is the weather? I’ve been here all day.”

Customers are more likely to let you build trust if you’re sincere in your interactions.

3. The doesn’t-speak-English customer

We spend the next 15 to 20 minutes trying to hunt someone down who can translate for us.

Advice for the Customer:

Be patient.

Advice for the Employee:

Be patient.

4. The “price-match this obscure seller” customer

Most retailers offer a price-match guarantee now. A lot of customers feel like they can hop on eBay or and just find any seller who has a listing to do the price match. But, it doesn’t work like that.

Advice for the Customer:

For retailers to honor a price match, it typically needs to be a local retailer with a verified ad, or in some cases,, as long as it’s an item fulfilled by Amazon.

Advice for the Employee:

Explain the store policy and the added benefits of shopping with your business.

5. The customer who wants to know all the details but has no idea what any of it means

How fast is this computer? Nine times out of 10, the number I regurgitate to the customer means absolutely nothing to him or her. What this customer wants to know is whether it’s fast or not -- period. You get these types of questions all the time.

Advice for the Customer:

Before you ask a question, try to know what answers you’re seeking out. Sometimes, the question you present for the associate isn’t always the one you’re looking to ask.

Advice for the Employee:

Try finding analogies to translate tech lingo for novices. I will often compare AMD and Intel processors to Dodge and Chevy engines when asked which is better.

Brand-wise, it comes down to preference because, ultimately, they both perform the same function; maybe you know someone who’s had better experience with one over the other. Performance wise, it just comes down to which model you’re looking at.

6. The know-it-all customer

This is the customer who comes into the department and acts as if he or she knows more than every single employee, and is a complete jerk about it.

And, then, to top it off, he or she says something completely ignorant like, “This computer doesn’t have as big of a hard drive.

It only has 4GB, and the other one has 6GB,” failing to recognize the difference between RAM and a hard drive, ultimately making you want to bang your head against the counter.

Advice for the Customer:

Stop it! Who are you trying to impress? There’s no need for you to hold your knowledge over anyone else’s head, and it looks even worse if the associate can see through it.

Advice for the Employee:

If it’s not affecting your ability to close a sale, then don’t bother trumping this customer. You should always present the real facts so the customer is able to make the most informed decision possible, but, as tempting as it is to make them feel like an idiot, make sure you tread lightly on how you approach.

7. The indecisive customer

This is the customer who makes the employee grab three different versions of the same item because he or she can’t decide on a color. Thanks a lot, Apple.

Advice for the Customer:

When it comes to things like color preference, try to have your mind made up ahead of time.

Advice for the Employee:

Suggest a choice for the customer, and personalize it to his or her needs and/or wants.

8. The self-entitled customer

“I’m buying a lot of things today, can’t you give me a discount?” Hundreds of customers come through those doors spending thousands of dollars every day, and then, you have the one customer who thinks he or she is the exception.

Advice for the Customer:

Retail doesn’t operate that way. Unless it’s a price match or a coupon, customers don’t get discounts at their leisure, so stop begging.

Advice for the Employee:

Explain the store policy. If the customer asks to speak with a manager or someone in charge, just say,

I’m in charge of this transaction at the moment, and while I can certainly call the store manager over to address your concerns, I can assure you the answer will be the same. That said, if you still want to speak with a manager, it’ll be a couple minutes, or I can get you taken care of right away at your convenience.

If the customer insists, let him or her talk it over with a manager. It’s the customer's time. Just make sure you are aligned with your manager on the same ideals.

9. The anti-Windows 8 customer

Do you guys have Windows 7 computers still?

Whether it’s Walmart, Best Buy or HHG, the question is still asked. And, the answer is still no; we do not carry computers with Windows 7 installed in-store.

Advice for the Customer:

It’s a new day and age, friend. Technology is inevitably changing, and retail stores are paid to adapt. You’ll just have to come to terms with that.

Advice for the Employee:

Art of the demo. Show the customer the value of the new operating system, and how it can be used to enhance his or her experience.

10. The creepy, but welcomed regular customer

This customer never buys anything. He or she might talk to us, just roam around, or maybe just use one the computers for personal use. This customer wanders aimlessly, but harmlessly.

Advice for the Customer:

Keep doing what you’re doing -- no harm, no foul. Just don’t ask for my phone number or send me flowers.

Advice for the Employee:

Leave ‘em be. You get used to it.

11. The high expectations, low investment customer

This person wants a gaming computer, but only wants to spend $300. Really?

Advice for the Customer:

We live in "get what you pay for" world. If an item is the cheapest one among all the other ones comparable, you should be asking yourself why it is cheaper, and what you can get for the money you have to spend.

Advice for the Employee:

Full disclosure: Always be real with your customers. If you try to bullsh*t them, they're going to return their purchases, anyway.

12. The "where is all the help?" customer

The customer has been waiting a solid five minutes to get some help, impatiently tapping his or her foot, and prodding the associate to hurry up with the current customer so he or she can finally get some help.

Advice for the Customer:

Slow down. Understand that companies have labor budgets, and we don't make the schedule. So, instead of making our jobs more difficult to try and make your life easier, why don't you just step back and smile while we try to get to everyone as quickly as possible?

Advice for the Employee:

While it would be nice to get to that grumpy customer quicker, don't rush yourself in a way that is going to cheat the customer you're working with already.

The best way to handle a high traffic scenario is to address the people waiting, but continue to work with the customer in front of you. Say something like,

Ma'am, we'll be right with as soon as possible. Here's a copy of our ad, and a list of our services you can glance at while I finish up with this customer. Thank you for being so understanding.

When you acknowledge and appreciate your customers, they are more likely to be patient with you.

There are probably several other kinds of customers not listed here. Which distinguished customer group have you helped this year? Below, in the comments section, share your experience or story.