blog banner

Downsold! The Art of Giving Away Money

by Travis Miller

This weekend I had the pleasure of being "downsold" twice in one day. Let me explain. First, I went into Franklin-Covey to get some new planning material for 2008. The bill was $130. The guy and the girl proceed to explain to me that if I buy some extra item I would get a discount. Intelligently, on Franklin's part, this promotion was a bundle promotion to encourage you to buy multiple, specific items and receive a discount. But I didn't need the extra items. The bundle wasn't really an appropriate option for me. It just so happened that if I added one little item to what I happened to be getting, I would qualify for the bundle discount in the computer. So the guy goes over and picks out a $10 booklet and adds it to my order. The overall price goes down by about $4. He feels so proud. He says, "Look, you get this for free and you save $4!" Well, the booklet he gave me was totally unrelated to my order. In fact, it wouldn't even fit in the size I was buying. It was a throwaway - and he picked it because it was the very cheapest item I could get to qualify for the discount. Basically, the employees were working the system. Apparently for my benefit. (Maybe they get a spiff for selling the bundle.) But the guy paying the rent sent out extra merchandise and took in less money than he would have if they had kept their mouths shut. Does this qualify as employee theft? I don't know. But I do know that I wasn't asking for a discount. I wasn't looking for a bargain. I just wanted the specific items and I was willing to pay full price for them. So why force a discount on me? Not good. Later that same day I wandered into a Costco because a friend told me I could find a particular item there. Namely, a leather bound writing journal that would fit into my new planner. So I head up to the counter to ask about getting a membership. She gives me the run down and I choose the corporate membership and hand her my amex. She hands it back to me and says, "why not just look around first and see if you find what you're looking for, then you can pay for the membership at the checkout line." OK... So, I look. Don't find it. I leave with no membership. But had she just swiped the card I would have bought the membership and left disappointed that I didn't find the journal but neutral about having a membership. I suppose she did me a favor. But I didn't ask for it. So, the question is whether or not it's right for employees to "downsell" your customers if they don't ask for it. Costco is in the business of selling memberships. Franklin's in the business of selling paper and leather. There's nothing wrong with selling those items and making your profit. You don't need to force a discount on your customer to satisfy them or give up the sale all together. In fact, the Costco membership has a 100% guarantee. I had already told myself that if they didn't have what I was looking for, I would give the membership a try to see if it could benefit me another way. But thanks to the kindness of the clerk, I'll never know.