Are Tech Salespeople a Dying Breed?

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Illustration: Harry Campbell
There's nothing more annoying than a hovering salesperson when you don't need one--and nothing you miss more than a knowledgeable one when you want advice. Recent developments, however, suggest that the informed, helpful sales rep may have become an endangered species.

The most alarming example of this trend: Earlier this year, Circuit City decided to fire 3400 of its most experienced (and highest-paid) salespeople and replace them with lower-paid, less experienced employees. So what happened? Store sales for the subsequent quarter went down by some 5.6 percent from the same period a year earlier.

Now I can't prove that Circuit City's personnel policies caused the drop in revenue--the company blames the decline on unrelated market factors such as plummeting flat-panel television prices and poor customer uptake on pricey extended warranties--but I am less likely to go there the next time I want help picking a tech product.

A Good Experience

Instead, I'll return to Fry's Electronics, A huge regional superstore that is notable for the quirky decors of its retail outlets (the one in Silicon Valley has a Wild West look, while branches I've visited in Southern California are based on Alice in Wonderland and a sort of jungle theme).

I received great sales help during a visit to the Palo Alto, California, store recently. I arrived with a general idea of what I wanted--a networkable hard-drive case that I could use with a couple of old hard drives--but a knowledgeable sales clerk not only did an admirable job of spelling out my options for me but also showed me where to find all of them (for some reason the Netgear product that I ultimately bought wasn't displayed with the rest of the hard-drive enclosures). That guy earned his commission.

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