Telling My Daughter the Truth about Her New 'Friend,' The Salesclerk!

by Frugal Duchess on 29 July 2009 33 comments
Photo: Zara J

I had to tell my daughter the truth. At the risk of hurting my baby's feelings, I had to tell her that the cool teenager in the 'tween-age clothing store was not really a friend. The 16-year-old salesclerk --so cute, so charming -- was more interested in my 10-year-old daughter's wallet.

I hope I did the right thing.

'Tween Queens

Here's the scenario: To kill time before a movie, my daughter and I wandered into a store that targets girls ages 8-12. It's a great concept. Driven by Miley Cyrus -- Hannah Montana -- and other young stars, the 'tween market for merchandise is hot.

Preteen girls have allowances and a desire for cute clothes and trinkets. As a frugal mom, I should have re-directed our window-shopping expedition. But my daughter wanted to check out the bright store, which featured videos, magazines and other gear from various Nick Jr. and Disney stars.

Immediately, a salesgirl in a ponytail and jeans, swooped down on us. Before I could say "bling-bling," the cute salesclerk had picked out several outfits for my daughter, complete with a cute matching cap.

Long Lines, Short Time Frame

With our movie about to start, we did not have time for the dressing room or the lengthy cashier line. My daughter promised to return. After the movie, my daughter gushed about the really nice salesclerk as we ran back to the store. (What was I thinking? Clearly, I had 'tween fever!)

"She was so nice," my daughter said. "She spent so much time with me. I just want to go by and say 'hi' to her. I promised her that I would come back after the movie."

Shopping Reality Trip

At this point, I halted in the middle of the crowded mall.

"She's not really your friend," I blurted out. "She just wants you to buy all that stuff that she picked out for you."

"You mean she doesn't really like me?" My daughter is visibly distressed.

I soften up and carefully select my words.

"Sure, she likes you. But she also likes your business. She wants you to buy those outfits. She makes more money when you spend more money," I said.

Reconsidering the Merchandise

When we returned to the store, my daughter made a big effort to track down and wave to the friendly salesgirl, who at this point was best-buds with another little girl and a huge stack of trendy clothing.

My daughter studied the cute plaid hat. It was $15. I mentioned that the hat might be cheaper --marked down -- in a few months. But I still let her decide if she wanted to spend her hard-earned money, (she works as a mother's helper), on the little cotton cap. My daughter returned the hat to the display. She'd rather save her money and besides the line was still so long.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

What would you have done? Would you have told her the truth about the salesclerk? Should I have continued to let her believe that the cool clerk was a friend?

Editor's note: Sharon Harvey Rosenberg (The Frugal Duchess) will be joining Wise Bread as a full time blogger in August. In the mean time, she'll be dropping by with a few guest posts a week.  You can find more great tips from Sharon in her book Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money or in Wise Bread's new book 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Can't wait until August? Here are other great posts by Sharon on her blog The Frugal Duchess. Enjoy!

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Guest's picture
prufock

I don't have kids, so I'm not sure what I would do. I don't think you did anything wrong; you clued her in to a little piece of the "real world." I can see how you might worry that you're prematurely making her world-weary and jaded, but it's probably better to have someone teach you these things before you learn them the hard way.

Guest's picture
Beth

I don't have kids either, but I have many years working in customer service and I think you did the right thing. It's the job of the sales person to be friendly and helpful and to please the customer, not for the customer to please the sales clerk. It's funny how often these two roles get reversed.

Guest's picture

Better for her to learn that lesson now before she tries to buy friendships. Unfortunately, it's not just salesclerks that will be nice to you if they think they'll get something from you.

Guest's picture
David C

I really think that you did. I began introducing our son to the realities of the marketplace at about that age (much to my wife's chagrin). It wasn't a popular position for a while to inject such notions into his life. Now at 18, almost 19 (where did the years go?) he is far more savvy that I was at even 25. He has learned that money is a finite resource(unless you are the US Tresury) and that salespeople are there to take some of that resource.

Guest's picture
GT0163C

When I was about 14, my church Sunday school class did a section on advertisement analysis, asking what the ads were really trying to say and sell. We talked about "The American Dream" and what society says is really important. There wasn't a lot of gospel content in the lessons, but it was an incredibly useful set of lessons for me. It really opened up my eyes to advertisements and marketing and such. These are lessons that need to be learned by everyone and at a young age. I don't know what that age is as I don't have kids, but it seems like the daughter in the story was at the right age to start learning about this.

Guest's picture
Justin

You were right in teaching her how the "real world" really operates. Great sales people always seem to suck more out of you then you ever expected. Luckily you got the opportunity to teach you daughter a life lesson.

Guest's picture
Brent

I think one of the most useful skills to teach a young one is a resistance to marketing. They try and get you to buy with emotion rather than reason. Rather all purchasing decisions should be made by a careful question "Will this be a good life improvement to cost ratio". Sales people, Ads, Slogans, and sales are designed to adjust this subconscious ratio, but being mindful of it will lead to a more balanced life.

Guest's picture
Deborah

You certainly did the right thing. I wish I didn't learn the hard way like I did. I moved out of my parents house as soon as I was legal and as a result, I suffered for many long months. I was short on cash, constantly trying to find creative ways to make a quick buck, and burnt out. I wish my parents had taught me the value of money and I wish I would have stayed home a little while longer so I could have saved my money instead of having to buy everything myself out of pocket. I would have a had a vehicle and everything that I wanted and needed a lot sooner. It's never wrong to educate your children. You're doing a wonderful job!

Guest's picture
Rosa

With the right balance, too - of course the clerk likes your daughter, but that's not the point of the relationship at all.

I grew up with salesmen - my grandfather could sell anything to anyone, he literally started out selling refrigerators to people who didn't even have electricity yet (start your payments now and when the line hits your town, you'll have an electric icebox to plug in!). So I knew the difference between a friendly client relationship and a real relationship early, and it's been good for me overall.

Not just for sales-resistance (though after six years selling advertising myself, i'm pretty immune to it) but because looking at how that clerk works might help your daughter learn a valuable skill - she's going to be selling herself to schools, employers, potential friends, mentors, etc for a long time.

Guest's picture
Lorenzo

I have a tweener, too. Every such teaching opportunity, I am trying to illustrate the differences between the appearances people present, or how she would like them to be, versus the frequently more unpleasant realities. She's a naturally happy girl (may we be spared teenage angst!), and I don't want to make her paranoid, but I do want her to exercise some skepticism in her interactions with the world.

Guest's picture
Guest

I think you did a great job. I'm fortunate to have a boy (age 5), so he's not much interested in hanging out in the clothing stores. However, when we do go somewhere he likes, such as the bookstore, we set a limit going in, such as today you can get one book or you can spend a certain amount. That cuts down on arguments. I'm also trying to get him to understand that once you spend that money it's gone, so perhaps you'd like to save it to get something you really want in the future. There are only 2 stores I shop in at our mall, and I never go in unless I have coupons, or scouted out something I new was going to be on sale ahead of time. It's taken me a long time, but I've learned that impulse buys lead to debt, and those dollars can better serve my family elsewhere.

Guest's picture
DivaJean

I've probably been there!

My tweener was in much a similar circumstance- back in February. For birthdays, we give our older kids the options of big party, small party w/ bigger present, or biggest present. This year, my daughter opted for biggest present- a shopping spree to the tweenie stores she's been dreaming about. Salesgirl had no other customers in the store at the time- so she was keenly aware of trying to upsell and make $$$ off of us. I basically told the girl that my daughter and I didn't need help. My daughter was of course mortified. Throughout our shopping experience, I was able to point out to her how basic stuff was marked way up in places like this. She was keyed into the coming color palattes of spring- lots of turquoise and light green was out at the time. Once I got pointing out to her how basic the clothes really were- just in different colors than she was used to seeing in drab February- she too began to identify the rip offs-- and steered herself towards sales. She ended up doing remarkably well for herself on the money I had budgeted for her to spend (like 3 pairs of shoes, 3 pairs of pants, 2 dresses, 3 shirts and some accessories) versus the one or two things she would have gotten otherwise.

You are doing a great job teaching her about the realities of shopping and business transactions. Salespeople are not friends; there is business involved.

Guest's picture

My daughter is 13 now, and it doesn't get better with age, not the least of which since the marketing culture seems to target young girls especially hard. They seem to understand that if you can tap and cultivate the shopping bug early you'll have a customer for life.

The only things we've found to work are avoidance (stay out of stores completely) and saying NO. Since we love our daughter as much as we do, any discussion beyond NO turns into a debate we're bound to lose.

Our son went thru a bit of the shopping bug stage, but it seems less important to boys once they discover sports and girls. The stores don't seem to play up to boys as much either. There must be marketing studies on this that they all follow.

Guest's picture
Gayle

End the illusion early and she'll be a smarter shopper when she's spending more than $15. Good job.

Guest's picture
Jesse

I think that you did it well, and tactfully, also. I don't remember a time when I DIDN'T know that salespeople were out to get my money first and foremost, however, if I HADN'T know this fact, I would have loved to have heard it said that well. I am making a note to tell my own daughter in such a tactful way (she's only 4 now, but it's never too early!) I say great job mom! :D

Guest's picture
Guest

I don't think you can teach anychild too early. In our culture of predatory capitalism, the sooner a youngster becomes suspect of any relationship involving business the better. I clearly remember telling my 14 year old foster son that the clerk at GNC knew essentially nothing about nutrition & could care less if the suppliments he bought would work or were safe. He is now 20 and just starting to become a jaded consumer. Perhaps he learned his lesson with those "free" Extendz male enhancement pills that signed him up for a recurring charge that overdrew his checking account! I went through the roof that he got suckered financially by some slick con to make him think he should have a bigger pee pee.

Guest's picture
Amanda

I think you did the right thing in telling her - kids have to learn some time that they're (people in general!) are viewed as consumers in stores, and assessed in terms of their spending potential. If she knows now, she won't get sucked into the spending trap!

Guest's picture
Guest

What? Maybe the clerk was just trying to help the kid get a good deal for what little they had, or simply be nice.

Just because you don't fawn over the clerk being the girls BFF doesn't mean that the clerk has a negative motive. Some people out there really are nice. Why ruin your kids fun and good outlook for the world for absolutely no reason? The kid will learn that some people screw you over in time, but it is highly, highly doubtful that that occurred here. Leave your poor kid alone, and let her live as a kid a little while. Sheesh.

Guest's picture
Guest

Rereading your rant to the poor kid, what is your problem? Why would you do that to the girl? She's got enough insecurities and obstacles as a young kid/teen as it is. Why sour her childhood with your paranoia that everyone is out to get your money? I'm glad you're not my mom!

Guest's picture
Myriad

Don't listen to those people being rude.

if you're a decent mother, your daughter will get over some random lady at a store not genuinely liking her. It's way more important to teach her about money, saving, and being thrify because those are things that will make her a safe, healthy adult, and more importantly, help her to teach her future children how life works.

What isn't important are petty little mall friendships now, what's important is that your daughter is equipped for life and will learn the skills that she needs to pass on one day.

Guest's picture
Wendy

Nice comments, "Guest," project much? How is any of what she said a "rant?" And assuming the child has insecurities and obstacles is just weird--if the little girl thinks this random salesgirl is now her friend after such a quick meeting, sounds like she has quite a lot of confidence in herself. Or at least, it's another way of looking at it.

I think she told the truth in a very gentle but effective way.

We've been watching Dead Like Me on Hulu, and this salesgirl's strategy isn't a new one, (I remember it from when I was a tween and my Dad would drag me to Wet Seal. I had a very different reaction however) and I couldn't help but think of it when I read this post as it's pretty close to the scenario that plays out in "Shallow End." (Season 2, Ep. 4 Yes, I am a dork and looked it up.)
Except her mom doesn't clue her in that it's part of the salesgirl being good at her job so when she goes back all dolled up in the clothes she was sold and sees her new BFF using the exact same lines and strategy, she feels betrayed and ashamed.

Educating our kids on boundaries and the roles people play in this world isn't a bad thing.

Guest's picture
Sharyn

And I have. I've told my kids more than once that just because commercials or salespeople say something doesn't mean it's true. I hope they're growing into savvy and thoughtful consumers with some gentle guidance from me.

Guest's picture
Jenn

(found your article on Consumerist)

i teach tenth and twelfth grade, and I can't tell you how many of my students succumb to sales techniques. They HAVE to acquire the newest, best, most shiny, new objects. In fact, one of my students last spring ecstatically told me that she had "befriended" the head salesclerk at a local luxury store, so she could be in the loop when new stuff arrived. It seemed to make her feel important, which is so sad.

I think you did your daughter a favor in two ways: A) by letting her earn her own money and thus be responsible for her purchases and B) by disabusing her of the notion that every friendly person is a friend. Frankly, I think the second element is the most important--understanding that difference can have implications for her personal safety, as well. I just shudder about how many "friendly" adults are out there being "nice" to kids.

Guest's picture
Jean F

There is an episode of the TV series Dead Like Me which deals with this exact thing. George's little sister Reggie is "befriended" by a salesperson at the mall, buys lots of stuff and comes back later to see the salesperson using the same lines on another customer.

Guest's picture
Guest2

I understand that at that age there is no way the brain has developed to comprehend those type of concepts such as sales and advertising etc. However most people now a days consider retailers and business evil and just out for your money with no regard for being personal. Which is universally false and unwarranted. Many stores are trying to help in any given situation and trying to recommend what is right for you. If you encounter a sales person and do not want help feel free to say 'I'll help myself' which is fine I do it all the time and a good lesson to teach an up and coming consumer. The flip side is to make sure you don't turn into a hypocrite and complain and complain and complain about customer service because you did not want to be helped. The problem with our consumer culture is that we villify and treat all retail workers who work very hard for what they get horribly because it didn't fit our insane idea of customer service (i.e You get whatever you want immediately without regard to the process.) If we feel the need to bash and trash companies that is well within our rights and is fine if we are treated bad but the majority of the time people are really trying to help you. So please avoid being a hypocrite. Trying saying this and let me know why most Americans are like this. "Listen little Judy here is how being savvy works, you are going to go into this store, you are going to ignore the salesperson and help yourself. After you have found what you want at the most generous price, you are going to buy it and bring it home. You are going to find out that you really didn't like it or didn't work for what you need. You are going to march right back to that store and demand that as the customer that they were in the wrong and blame the first salesperson you ignored. You will also comment that the advertising was somehow misleading and are going to contact some type of government official and report them and close them down, that'll show'em. After that we will begin sewing our own clothes, growing our own food, slaughter Jimmy our delightful pet pig because we closed all grocery chains for misplacing a sign on accident and read by candlelight because the grid was shutdown due to our efforts to demand an electric bill less than $50. That my little Judy is being savvy."

Guest's picture
An Uncle

As an uncle with a neice and a nephew who have wealthy parents, you totally made the right decision. Especially as a former sales clerk. Part of the job is schmoozing the customer. If you want your daughter to grow up frugal and well adjusted, and not be one of those people who goes shopping to soothe their depression or other negative life feelings, she needs to understand that buying the attention of a "friend" is not a good idea.

Guest's picture
Guest

You can't start early enough teaching your children to be smart and savvy shoppers. I've never had a whole lot of cash to spend on clothes or other things for my children (single parent 4 kids) but I did teach them how to shop sales and watch for bargains. My ex was amazed when my youngest came home from a shopping trip with one complete outfit of name brand clothes from the skin out, including shoes, for the $20 that he gave her to spend. They've learned where to shop, when to shop, and what to look for when bargain hunting. It's an important lesson to learn, that the sales clerk isn't your friend, but there to part you from your hard earned cash. Better she learns now, from her mother, than later down the road through hard experience.

Guest's picture
Antispin

Haha- by ending with three questions, the authoress has generated 27 comments so far! She is actually selling her article and those commentators have been unable to resist "buying" into the topic, despite it being about resistance to marketing!

Taken hook, line & sinker!

Guest's picture
Guest

I think you should teach your daughter the basis of marketing, and especially how retailers suck in tweeners (DivaJean's story is a good one- its never to early to learn that the clothing in the display windows and the newest "trends" are marked up, and are usually the same things you can find in the clearance rack).

However, there is a fine line between cynicism and frugality. It's likely the 16 year old sales girl was an hourly employee (especially since I'm guessing the store is "Justice" or something along those lines), and was actually exuberant and thrilled in her new position. Unless it's a high priced clothing store, very few clothing store employees work off of commission. I think that maybe your daughter affixed a "role model" status to this girl (albeit temporary), and I doubt the sales girl had predatory motives. As good as your intentions were (and I do commend you for teaching your daughter critical thinking skills, especially when I see my 14 year niece drop $$$$ on the newest trends), children need less "boogeymen" in their lives.

It was also a good move on your part to let your daughter decide whether or not she wanted to buy the new hat. When I was young, my mother prohibited me from buying clothes outside of Target or Goodwill, which instilled a deep hatred of those retailers until I was in college. When I received my first paycheck at the age of 16, I immediately fled to Forever 21 and Wet Seal and went crazy. When I realized that all my hard work computed to two pairs of pants and a sweater, I quickly reorganized my priorities and began to bargain shop; but it took my own mistake for this to happen.

Guest's picture
Guest

Part of a parent's responsibility is to prepare their children for the real adult world and that includes learning to handle money wisely.

Guest's picture
Winni-Pig

An attitude that salesclerks are only in it for the money contributes to treatment of them that is disrespectful and mean.

Sounds like the young clerk here had only a few years on your daughter and was probably just as excited about the new product as your daughter.

Doesn't mean that you shouldn't encourage strong boundaries, but at the same time you need to remind her that the clerk is just human, too.

Guest's picture
Concerned Parent

And in that instant, this woman set her daughter down the path of low self-confidence, cynicism, and mistrust. Imagine all the poor child could have achieved in her lifetime and all the happiness she could have experienced if she weren't emotionally and mentally crippled.

Think of your own life. Would it be any different if you had more confidence, more motivation, or better morals? Your parents control these factor. You do not. You are a product of your parents' conditioning. You are a mini-version of your parents. So sad.

Guest's picture
Chas

I think that the mother was 100 percent right for telling her young daughter about the saleswomen. I think that it is wrong to lie to your children in almost every single situation regardless if it may hurt their feelings at the time.

This reminds me of a similar incident i had when growing up. I was brought up in a christian home where we were always taught to tell the truth no matter what. Around christmas time in 1st grade my all my classmates were talking about how they couldn't wait for Santa Clause to come and give them all kinds of presents. Always the curious kid i asked my mother "Mommy, is Santa Clause real"? My mother could of been like most other mothers at my age and let me believe in the Jolly Old man in the read suite who comes down peoples chimneys and gives them presents. She chose instead however to be truthful and tell me that there was no such man and that the presents came instead from our parents and loved ones.

I fell that this was a good decision by my mother and by the mother in the story. I think that there is nothing wrong with telling children the truth even if it may hurt there feelings at the time.