| Financial services
For some reason, when you hit a certain age, those simple purchases that you’ve made plenty of times before, such as buying a car or shopping for a gift, suddenly seem to require an ability to navigate a patronising salesperson. At best you might end up grimacing through being called “dear” a few times, but at worse you could receive bad service or even get ripped off by an ageist sales rep.
According to BBC research, 1 in 5 adults in the UK believe they have experienced ageism, and the number was highest in the 55-64 year old category with 27% reporting to have experienced it. Common experiences found across studies included people speaking much louder and slower than necessary, speaking only to a younger companion and ignoring elderly persons altogether, asking if an older person is lost if somewhere not usually associated with the elderly, and giving an older person a demeaning nickname such as “dear” or “geezer”.
There are lots of misconceptions about older people, and younger salespeople might try certain sales tactics with you based on these assumptions. Here are just some of the tactics we’ve heard of being used on older customers:
“Well I’d hate for you to have to say no to those family days out with your grandkids simply because you’re not willing to go for a car with a larger boot”
Some people will ask about your family and lifestyle simply to be friendly or to help them recommend the best product to suit you. But sometimes a salesperson will assume that older customers are more sentimental than others and try to use this to their advantage to try to guilt or coerce you into a sale. If a sales assistant starts making presumptuous comments that make you feel guilty or uncomfortable then this is a red flag.
“It sounds as though you’ve done a lot of research into cost efficient petrol cars, but really we should be asking whether petrol cars are more cost efficient than diesel…”
We have numerous comedy shows to thank for the ‘easily confused’ stereotype that fuels a lot of ageist behaviour (think Grandpa Joe from The Simpsons) and most salespeople have a bag full of tricks designed to confuse people into a sale. One of the most favoured is a swift subject change.
To illustrate how this might work, let’s take the example that you’re looking for a car that doesn’t require much petrol to run. You’ve done your research and are making some strong points about the cars you have looked into, but subtly the sales assistant shifts the discussion to debate the pros and cons of petrol vs diesel cars with you. Now your points don’t quite apply to the argument anymore and you feel on the backfoot; are you right to still want that petrol car you researched previously, or should you be considering the diesel car that the salesperson is now leading you towards?
This is a tough trick to pick up on, but listen to your gut if you start to feel out of your depth or uncomfortable. It could be that the sales assistant is purposely trying to confuse you.
“You might be happy with the basic model now, but what if you decide to travel more when you retire? You don’t want to regret not buying something a bit more robust…”
You’ve probably come across this tactic plenty of times before from store assistants trying to sell you those add-ons that are supposed to protect you in the future. The idea is to worry you that you’ll make a decision that you’ll regret further down the line, and ageist sales reps will sometimes play this card with older customers, under the presumption that they’re incompetent and reliant on others. Sometimes the concerns raised will be valid, and you will need to consider some ‘what if’s in your decision-making, but watch out for a store assistant who seems to be playing on your fear of making the wrong decision.
“I don’t think we’ll find anything better than this one, shall I make you a cup of tea before we go over the contracts?”
Most sales assistants have targets and certain products that they’re expected to push, and so even if there’s a more suitable product available for you, they will steer you towards the ones they want to sell. This is a common tactic used on most customers, but sale assistants are sometimes more bold with this with older customers, under the false belief that the elderly are more easily manipulated. If a store assistant only shows you one product and seems reluctant to consider any others then this is a big red flag.
“We have a fantastic special offer on at the moment. Today only, if you buy this model then we’ll throw in a free MOT in 12 months’ time! You really don’t want to miss out…”
This tactic goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. The sales assistant will bombard you with information about a product, thinking you will be easily overwhelmed, and then at the end they’ll throw in a free gift to make the deal seem better than it is and manipulate you into making a purchase. Again, this is commonly used across all ages, but an ageist sales assistant might rely on this technique a bit more if they have stereotyped you as being easily confused or reliant on others.
“I can see you’re a smart barterer so I’m going to pull some strings with my boss and see if I can knock £50 off that price for you…”
This is a very common tactic, and many sales assistants will stoop to it with older people, insultingly assuming that you’ll be grateful for the attention. The salesperson will act as though they’re doing you a personal favour when giving you a discount and will probably throw in a “flattering” remark for good measure. Sales assistants will only ever give you the offers and discounts approved by the company, so don’t be tricked into a ‘special offer’ for the wrong reasons.
“That’s a very good question, and I can basically answer it by telling you about ESC, ESP and DSC…”
This is the oldest trick in the book and one that you will have seen politicians use countless times during those election debates. The sales person is enthusiastically responding to your question, and seems to have lots of great things to say about the product, but they haven’t actually answered what you asked. Some will dance around the subject, some will steer their answer to a subject they want to talk about, but many will fill their answer with technical jargon that they assume older people will be unfamiliar with, in the hope that you will be too embarrassed to ask for clarification. If you ask again and still can’t get a straight-forward answer then you should ask yourself what the salesperson might be hiding.
“This bit isn’t important; you can read it when you have time later. For now just sign here and we’ll get you on your way…”
In particular this trick is used when it comes to signing contracts and/or handing over your money. The sales assistant doesn’t want to give you time for second thoughts or to change your mind, so now it’s a sprint to the end before you spot that hidden fee in the contract or start thinking about that cheaper car that you were considering an hour ago. Many salespeople will rely on their assumption that older people will be too polite to speak up, so be sure to take your time, read contracts thoroughly and ask questions if you’re unsure. Never worry about wasting a salesperson’s time.
These situations can be uncomfortable, and it can be difficult to know how to assert yourself without causing any further embarrassment or losing your temper. Here are some tips on different ways you can turn a situation around and avoid bad service from ageist store assistants.
If you’ve suffered because of an ageist sales assistant then there are services available to advise you of your rights.
You are protected against discrimination, harassment and victimisation based on your age under the Equality Act. If you feel that you have been illegally discriminated against then you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service for advice.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act stops salespersons from using high pressure selling techniques, hiding important information or misleading the customer. If you can show that the seller committed an offence under this act and it influenced your decision then you have the right to end the contract and get a refund if it has been less than 90 days, to get a discount on the price paid, or to seek damages. The Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to assess your situation and advise you of your rights.
If you find a fault with your car or product within 6 months of purchase and cannot get a satisfactory response from the car dealer then your first point of call should be the Citizens Advice Bureau. You have rights that require that the car matches its description, is of satisfactory quality, is fit for purpose and is roadworthy. If you did not buy the car from a dealer then your rights are slightly different, but you may still be able to take it to small claims court if you have proof beyond reasonable doubt.
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