Sunday, March 01, 2009


A reader from Miami took a part-time job selling women's shoes in a department store. After being on the job for five weeks, he sold a pair of shoes to a woman who, after the sale, saw that a friend of hers was also working in the shoe department that day.

"According to the rules of working on commission," my reader writes, "once a customer is yours, he or she stays yours from start to finish. It is the salesperson's responsibility to ask the customer whether or not he or she has already been helped. I always ask, because I want to avoid any confrontations with my co-workers."

Once the customer saw her friend, however, it was the friend whom she had help her find two more pairs of shoes.

"I rang her up for the one pair I got for her," my reader writes. "And then her friend rang her up for the other two.

"There is a way for one employee to ring up another employee's customer," he adds, "and still give the commission to the employee who brought them the shoes, but it is up to the ringing employee to do the right thing and honor the commission."

Would the other salesperson credit him for the sale of the other two pairs of shoes? My reader wasn't sure, so right after ringing up the customer he printed out his own sales statistics. When the customer left 10 minutes later, after being helped by her friend, he printed out his sales statistics again.

He wondered whether he'd see the extra two pairs credited to him, but was surprised to see that not even the one pair he had personally sold was still listed.

"My sales number had decreased by the exact commission on the price of the shoes I had sold that woman," he writes. "Not only did (the saleswoman) steal my customer, but she had her friend return the shoes I sold her, only to resell them along with the other two pairs she bought."

My reader did not confront his co-worker -- "It wasn't worth the $3.97 I lost to her," he writes -- but he can't help feeling that he was wronged both by the sale of the additional two pairs of shoes to his established customer and especially by the return and resale of the pair that she had bought from him.

Can't a friend sell another friend a pair of shoes?

Of course she can. Had the customer sought out her friend to begin with, there would have been nothing wrong with tossing the commissions her way.

Once the customer had made the initial purchase from my reader, however, his co-worker was obligated to honor the fact that the customer was his. If she convinced her friend to return the shoes she had already bought and buy them again, it not only did her colleague an even greater disservice but also was a de-facto acknowledgment that she knew the customer to be his and took the commissions regardless.

It's quite possible that the co-worker knew her friend's taste in shoes better than my reader did, but that doesn't outweigh the store's established practice. The right thing for her to do was to help her friend, if she wanted to, but to credit any sales to her colleague.

c.2009 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

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